Friday, February 28, 2014

Signs the Economy is Bad: February 28, 2014 edition

Welcome to another edition of "Signs the Economy is Bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular (as in when I have time and/or feel like doing it) feature where I scour the Internet in search of the oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. Sure, pundits may say things are getting better, but what do they know? And to show not all is bad, once in a while we look at how good the uber rich have it.  

1936 Soup Kitchen, Great Depression

A theme this week is hidden stuff. Whether the government "hides" the poor or actions have unintended consequences and create poverty, the poor are still there and the economy is still bad. A lot of bad things can happen that lead to the poor house that many people do not think about or that even occur to them. Let's have a look.

  • According to a new study by economists at Ohio State University, "household wealth is still down 14 percent since [the] recession." Apparently things are not as peachy as the Fed would have us believe. If you are middle aged, and you are not wealthy, odds are good things are not good for you. According to the article, "those who suffered the most were people aged 35 to 54, Olsen [one of the study's authors] said. In 2012, they were 27 percent below their peak net worth recorded in 2006." Story via Chattah Box
  • You know what else can keep people poor and no one really thinks about it? Incarceration and the criminal justice system. It is not just that someone may have a prison record, and then they find it hard to get a job once they get out of prison because no one wants to hire them (though that is still a problem). There are other ways in which the criminal justice system in the U.S. helps keep people poor and thus keep the economy bad. Here is an example of an issue: "the widespread suspension of driver’s licenses for various offenses unrelated to driving." If you can't drive, very often you can't get to work. You can't get to work, you don't get paid, and you end up unemployed, and then the horror spirals down from there. In fact, as the article notes, " you don’t have to be jailed or even convicted to get pulled into poverty’s revolving door." Another example: in at least 43 states, you can get your license suspended for not paying child support. Now I understand that not paying child support should be punishable somehow. But denying the non-paying party of the resource they need to make an income in order to pay that child support makes no sense whatsoever. Just what the fuck do you expect the person to do to make money if they cannot work? And how do you expect the parent waiting on that child support payment to get anything if the person owing cannot work because you (the state) took their driver's license away to "make a point"? It's government stupidity and vindictiveness at its finest. Story via
  • Meanwhile, the federal government has not really updated their formulas that measure and define poverty in a while. The federal government still uses an old pretty much obsolete formula from the 1960s based on a trip to the grocery store. However, "cities, states, advocates and academics have known for years that this measure of who is poor undercounts millions of Americans. They know that the 1960s-based formula ignores modern living costs, such as today's cheaper food but higher housing and other expenses." The result of the slow failure of the government to update is that a lot of people get under-counted in poverty statistics. You have less people to count as poor, hey, the economy gets "better" and things look good, right? It's outdated bullshit, and it is time the government gets with the program. This is also why, as an instruction librarian, I teach my students to be thorough and look at various sources, evaluate them, and then come to conclusions. Story via AlterNet
  • In the meantime, according to Gallup polling, in the United States, 14% of those aged 24 to 34 are living with parents. I wonder why that is. Well, according to the report, "potential roadblocks on the path to independence that may force young adults to live with their parents longer, including a weak job market, the high cost of living, significant college debt, and helping care for an elderly or disabled parent." We have discussed on this blog before about the crucial role that the crushing college debt, today's form of indentured servitude, has on college graduates and their economic prospects. 

 But not all is bad. For some folk, the uber rich, well, let the good times roll:

  • Walmart is doing just fine. Sure, they don't pay their workers a decent, living wage, but the Waltons and their behemoth oppressive corporation is doing just fine. Why, recent revelations show that Walmart was the recipient of government largesse to the rhythm of $150 million in government subsidies. Here is a radical idea: instead of taxpayers, that would be us, paying Walmart employees, maybe Walmart should be paying its own employees and do so with a decent, living wage. The article includes a link to a study by the nonpartisan watchdog Good Jobs First that highlights not only Walmart, but other big corporations that love to get free money from the government. Now those corporations playing fair, providing good jobs, and paying their fair share for the goods and services they receive from the government and communities? Not so much. Story via TruthDig
  • Another industry that is doing well? The gun industry. It seems that hating President Obama is a stimulant for the gun industry. In fact, the gun manufacturers have had records in gun production as a result of the Right Wing gun fondlers demonizing the president.  But do not take my word for it. According to the article: "'Barack Obama is the stimulus package for the firearms industry,' said Dave Workman, senior editor of Gun Mag, a print and online publication of the 2nd Amendment Foundation, a gun-ownership rights group."I guess on the positive, the factory workers at Smith & Wesson and other gun makers have a little more job security. Keep in mind this does not necessarily mean that more people are buying and owning more guns. Further from the article: “'We see the percentage of households owning guns declining,' he [Brian Malte, senior policy director of the Washington-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence] said, 'and that indicates that those who already own guns are buying more of them.'” So, not everyone in your neighborhood will have a gun. Now, that one guy, you know the one. He has been buying a few more to add to his stockpile, making up for those of us not buying. Story via Bloomberg News.
  • And yet another business doing well: beard implants. Yea, it seems hipsters, including some hipster librarians, like to have their beard patches and goatees, but some of them are just not man enough to grow a beard. Before, we would point and laugh at their pathetic attempts to grow some fuzz. We can still laugh and point, but they don't have to suffer for long anymore. Now these follicle-challenged fellows can just go get some beard implants.  According to the piece, "facial hair transplants are hot right now among young, stylish men, who pay up to $7,000 to enhance their visible manhood." Story via New York Magazine.
  • Some governments are also doing well. For instance, the state of Colorado is doing very well. They recently legalized marijuana in that state, you know, to get more tax revenue, bring some money in. Well, turns out they are bringing a lot more tax revenue than they expect. Let's all sing, "happy days are here again. . . . " Story via Business Insider.
And finally this week, let me give you something a bit uplifting in spite of the bad economy and the poverty:

  • Via the blog Poor as Folk, a great resource on poverty topics as well as tips for those who have to live with low means (hey, even applicable to those of us not on the street), a small piece of using the library to meet your entertainment needs. I like the idea of library loot; I may start doing it in this blog once in a while as well given I do use my public library regularly. What? You really thought I buy all that stuff I read? This one is worth reading.  And when you are done, why not take a stroll over to your local public library? 

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