29 November 2009

The Real Recession

Greg and Sheila Dawson. Photograph © Stephen Crowley/The New York Times.

In The New York Times today is a nice trio of features on the explosion in the use of food stamps across the country. The explosion is among 'middle' and 'working' class people who never thought they would need to rely on public aid to feed themselves and their families - that is, until they are confronted with under-employment or lose their jobs altogether. There is a story, a photo essay, and an interactive map showing county-level statistics. I find interesting two virtually identical comments by men interviewed for the story:
"I always thought it was people trying to milk the system. But we just felt like we really needed the help right now." ~ Greg Dawson

"I always thought people on public assistance were lazy, but it helps me to know I can feed my kids.'' ~ Tyrone Mangold
These remarks brought to mind observations by economist John Roemer that I mentioned here last summer. Roemer speculates that the common experience of material insecurity induced by political economic crisis, because it distributes risk more equally, can lead people to support more solidaristic political-economic policies (say, universal health care or, in this instance, food stamps) because they come to understand that it is in their self interest to do so. Maybe so.

That said, the seemingly pervasive claims that the "recession" has bottomed out and that we are on the road to recovery seem hollow in light of these stories. And imagine if we had no "safety net," however thread bare and meager are those programs that have survived two-plus decades of right wing attack!



Blogger Public Squalor said...

And yet that region of the state continues to vote overwhelmingly Republican. While its true lower income tend to vote less why the disconnect between social safety net and the Democratic party?

29 November, 2009 19:50  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

My sense is that these families are only just beginning to process the reality - namely that you can work your ass off and remain poor. And you can lose a job and be unable to replace it - through no fault of your own. And .... so on.

There is so much demonization of the poor as irresponsible and lazy that these folks simply bought it. If you read the article the one fellow is still trying hard to make sense of himself as a responsible hard-working guy (which he no doubt is) and those others who buy suspect things with food stamps. Moralism is often a mechanism of self-defense. Moreover, it often is the only one available to working people who get the short end to regularly.

So the hope must be - and it is a political project - to offer the red-voting-working-poor-or-working-and-vulnerable the terms in which to articulate a more solidaristic view.

29 November, 2009 20:21  

Post a Comment

<< Home