In previous posts, I have written about the desultory state of the American economy and the misery that it is inflicting on greater and greater numbers of Americans. And although the life styles of most Americans have a reassuring constancy, they are being played out against a background of growing darkness and despair unlike anything seen by the majority of Americans alive. It seems to be rapidly becoming a black or white scenario for people, either they are doing fine or they have fallen by the wayside and have little to look forward to.
One quick reality check would be to call the homeless shelters in your area and see how many of them have beds available. This is a good way to gauge your local community’s economic health from a viewpoint that you do not normally experience. Here in Vermont, there are currently no beds available on a state-wide basis (although a sparse handful come and go every other day or so), with the average stay in a shelter increasing to well over a month’s duration. This crisis in homelessness is only going to worsen in the next few years, and, so far, no one is doing anything about it. Shelters are not being constructed to absorb the growing number of families and individuals who need them. A recent visit by a UN investigator found the situation shameful, saying, “The housing crisis is invisible for many in the US. I learned through this visit that real affordable housing and poverty is something that hasn’t been dealt with as an issue. Even if we talk about the financial crisis and government stepping in in order to promote economic recovery, there is no such help for the homeless.”
And it is not simply the impact of homelessness which may be utilized as a measuring rod against which to gauge the dilemma, but rather the viability of the job market as a whole and its ability to lift the homeless back into mainstream society. The Pew Center on the States has recently examined the current situation and has found that 9 states, in addition to California, face extremely difficult fiscal problems. In Florida, for example, the state has run out of unemployment money, and as of the first of the year will increase the rate at which businesses contribute to the unemployment fund by over 1,000%. The obvious impact of this will be that businesses, especially smaller businesses in Florida, will be hiring as few employees as possible. This will not stimulate the economy or lead to economic growth. In New Jersey, the incoming Republican administration is trying to slow down current spending to alleviate an anticipated $8 billion dollar shortfall. With these, and other, bellwethers visible on the horizon, it should be clear that 2010 in America is going to be a year of suffering for an increasing percentage of the populace.
Behind these specifics, there is the growing specter of hunger in America. Although long considered unthinkable, there are more and more Americans going hungry already. Food Stamp benefits are at record levels, but even so, some go hungry in this nation. And as the economic crisis deepens, we are in danger of becoming a nation of “haves” and “have nots,” much like any third world country. And again, nothing is being done to prepare for the obvious. Food pantries are begging for donations; soup kitchens, having limited monies available, are having to cut back on the quality of their meals in order to feed the growing number of hungry people that are attending the meals. In the world at large, 1 in 6 goes hungry at some time during the year. And last year in America (in 2008), the same number, 1 in 6, went hungry at some point, and a third of these are children.
And behind these unsettling facts, is the erosion of the US currency. With the vast amount of dollars created to fund the banking system, the growing imbalance of the trade deficit, and the deepening budget deficit, has come the awareness by foreign governments that the dollar may be ending its role as the dominant international currency. Since so much of the American economy is pure consumerism and we are already importing so much more than we export, the weakening of the dollar holds significant peril for the average American consumer. With the states in crisis, common citizens falling into homelessness and hunger, and the Federal government unable to stem the tide of need which is beginning to embrace America, the outlook for 2010 looks grim indeed.
And let’s not even discuss 2011.