Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Recollections of the Great Recession: Corporate America and the political right worked together to pummel the unemployed

(In the video above, we see FDR advocate for an economic bill of rights. Among these rights, was the right to employment.)

There are two things I will remember most about the Great Recession. First and foremost, I will remember how a lot of Americans turned their backs to their fellow citizens when the going got rough. Instead of placing blame where blame belonged (e.g., corporations that sent jobs overseas and big financial institutions that engaged in multi-billion dollar frauds), millions of Americans chose to blame unemployed workers, low-wage workers, and public sector workers. It was amazing and horrifying to see how a banking crisis was converted into a crisis of "the unemployed are lazy!!" Regarding this type of phenomenon (people turning their backs to their fellow citizens during stressful times), Robert Reich recently said: "You have so many people who are afraid of downward mobility they are going to put up fences and separate themselves from the people who are even more needy than they are."

The second thing I will remember most about the Great Recession is how Corporate America and the political right teamed up to pummel the unemployed. It was a 1-2-3-4 beating that worked like this:

1. Punched in the face: Corporate America--via layoffs, job outsourcing, and massive fraud that brought down the economy--caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs. 

2. Punched in the gut: Corporate America--via employment discrimination against jobless workers and the hoarding of profits--showed little interest in employing, or helping to employ, the jobless. 

3. Shoved to the ground:  The political right engaged in an endless barrage of insults against the unemployed (see, e.g., here, here, here, and here). And this incessant message of "the unemployed are lazy" was certainly internalized by many employers who, in turn, became reluctant to hire the unemployed.   

4. Kicked when they were down: As if losing one's job, facing employment discrimination, and being ridiculed as a "parasite" or "taker" were not enough, the political right worked feverishly to reduce, cut, and block government assistance for jobless workers, like unemployment benefits, food assistance, and Medicaid. Senate Republicans even blocked legislation that would have created a public jobs program for unemployed veterans.

(In the audio above, we hear why New Deal policymakers preferred public work programs--for example,  the CCC & WPA--over other forms of assistance like long-term cash relief or reliance on charity. The WPA was so successful, that even Ronald Reagan praised it in his autobiography. Sadly, today's right-wing movement has scoffed at Reagan's positive view of a public works program for the unemployed, and has instead chosen to embrace the extreme political cruelty that has being directed against the jobless for the past 6 years.)  

So, let's sum up the 1-2-3-4 pummeling of unemployed Americans: (1) Corporate America starts the beating by causing mass unemployment; (2) Corporate America then practices employment discrimination against those very same people; (3) The political right then lays into the unemployed with a merciless barrage of insults and insinuations of laziness; and finally, (4) the political right works obsessively to deny government assistance for the unemployed.     

To add to the insanity, there's a very real possibility that Americans will soon vote to give the political right complete control of our Congress. What an amazing and utterly terrifying display of cruelty that would be: Politicians focused on demonizing the less fortunate, and an electorate that is eager to back them up. Is it any wonder that the American Dream is dead and that the suicide rate in America has increased dramatically? We have a significant portion of the voting population saying, in effect, "Yes, we like how you insult the unemployed! We like how you try to punish them by cutting off their food assistance!" What a nightmare America is today, for people who value compassion, justice, and rational thought.  

(Harry Hopkins, head of the WPA, once said: "The things they have actually accomplished all over America should be an inspiration to every reasonable person and an everlasting answer to all the grievous insults that have been heaped on the heads of the unemployed." Sadly, reasonableness is something that is sorely lacking in America today. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

No comments:

Post a Comment