4 Ways You Can Tell the Economy Still Sucks
Toward the end of Bush's second term and all through Obama's, America (and the world) has been in economic decline. People like to point to various statistics on growth, employment, and inflation, but ultimately, all those amount to nebulous ink blot tests, sending ever-changing (and sometimes conflicting) signals. More telling than any graph or testimony from the Fed are the economic indicators we see every day, which tell us that nothing has gotten any better for about five years.
Good thing five years is the wood anniversary, because in this economy, most presents will come from IKEA.
Sneaky Job Listings
Despite all the hard times, there are still some people lucky enough not to be affected by the economy and stupid enough not to keep their mouths shut. They say things like "I don't know what everyone's talking about. I see plenty of job listings online." And then the conversation is over. Point proven. Success is out there waiting for you, they believe. You just gotta grab it! But I'd suggest that these folks take a closer look at the job listings they're touting, because they're not invitations to a brighter future, but proof of nothing other than corporate America's creativity in turning a profit.
There has never been and will never be a depression so bad that businesses can't come up with a listing:
"Fortune 500 company seeks energetic individual to assist in cutting costs and reducing overhead by ... murdering half our employees."
"Says here you must be proficient in wielding blunt instruments and Microsoft Excel."
Or sometimes they'll combine two jobs in the hopes of hiring one new guy to replace two older employees, even if the jobs have nothing to do with each other:
"Seeking Industrial Chemist/Panini Chef. Must be able to synthesize complex chemical compounds and make those adorable little sandwiches we like for the company picnic."
Creating jobs and sustainable careers is the hard part. Listing jobs is easy, and any close review of what's really being offered (or not offered) tells you far more about the economy than the number of entries on Monster.com.
Food Keeps Shrinking
One of the biggest signs of economic hardship is the hardest to see. That's because it's shrinking. Specifically, food is shrinking: boxes of pasta, cans of tuna fish. Increasingly, you're getting less food for the same money. The cost of raw materials is up, but with high unemployment, food companies are hiding the screwing you're getting, because increased prices would just lead to riots.
Hidden screwing is not like a sexy game of hide and seek.
For example, when I was a kid, you could make at least two full sandwiches from a can of tuna and have extra left over for some crackers. Today?
Pictured above: parent feeding child a full can of tuna.
So I guess my point is that politicians can point to their pie charts in an attempt to prove that the economy is on the mend, but odds are that pie no longer feeds a family of five.
Politicians Keep Playing to the Extremes Because There Are No Answers for the Majority in the Middle
I'm not going to blow anyone's doors off by taking the controversial position that most politicians spend their careers spewing mindless rhetoric about the economy. We all know that. But these days, the rhetoric -- still mindless -- just seems more polarized and impotent than ever.
You know who's not complaining more about the economy in the last five years? The very poor. Why? Because from the start of time, the very poor have been getting screwed. This is nothing new to them. And what about the very rich? Well, no doubt they've suffered losses, but for the kind of rich I'm talking about, they've been affected by how much of an estate they will be leaving their great-grandchildren. The people who've noticed the biggest change in the last five years are those in between.
Politicians call that the "middle-class squeeze," and that's about all they have to say about it, because they have nothing to offer. Instead, they stress their policy at the extremes. Republicans push for tax breaks for the very rich, while Obama comes forth with a plan to increase the minimum wage for the very poor.
"And cleaner streets for the homeless!"
A riot of the disenfranchised is brewing. More middle-class Democrats will soon not forgive Obama's minimum wage rhetoric just because he says the right things about gays and women's reproductive rights. An increasing number of middle-class Republicans will stop accepting that their party pushes tax breaks they're not rich enough to receive simply because the GOP is better friends with Jesus. People are getting fed up, and if there's a middle-class squeeze, it's because most of the hard-working Democratic and Republican voters are being shoved together in a desperate attempt to avoid the crap their parties are spewing at the extremes.
Socialism Is Seeming Less Scary
I have a friend who listens to a lot of conservative talk radio, and consequently, he sometimes says very foolish things. He'd been hearing a lot about how America isn't America anymore because we're becoming a more socialist nation. Now, typically, when conservatives say that, it's meant to scare Americans into fearing the death of everything America stood for: freedom, capitalism, and the American dream. And typically, when they go down that road, the Obama leftist pinko rhetoric starts to fly, but that's not where my friend was going with this.
He sees people willingly embracing increasingly more socialist notions of government assistance -- even being OK with being taxed for it -- and his natural conclusion is that America is getting less selfish. That we are caring about our neighbors more than ever before. My friend, of course, is wrong. America will never be that. Most of the world is not like that either. That's why, when you hear stories of people in Denmark and such hiding Jews during the Holocaust, you just kind of stop and stare at that kind of person who is something beyond holy. It's something we almost have no frame of reference for.
Much like the success of the band fun., it just makes no sense.
No, people are not getting better. People are getting more scared. People are realizing that the system is broken. Maybe it was always a lie, but it used to be a lot easier to shake your head at failures and say, That could never be me. That guy with no house and no money ... he must be lazy or stupid. He must have embezzled or abused drugs. There must be a reason he has nothing. But more and more today, we see people with two degrees and no money. We see people who undertook student loan debt, leveraging their future for jobs that simply don't exist to pay off that debt. We see white-collar professionals nickel and dimed into blue-collar existences. There are good people who've lost their homes and self-respect. The world has gotten so hard for so many that we know it can happen to us.
If Americans are less scared by the notions of bigger government and taxes providing safety nets against the abuses of capitalism, it's not because we care more about our neighbors. It's because we're scared for ourselves. These days, being taxed for social programs seems a lot more like purchasing an insurance policy for the day you draw the short straw in a rigged game. But that might look like human compassion, and I can see why my friend was confused. In any event, you'll know that the economy's actually getting better when everyday Americans start dumping on the poor again.
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