Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Rethinking Populism part 2: The Nation Gets It

By The Nation I of course mean the progressive journal.

I've grown increasingly tired of the chorus of blindness and deafness to the economic crisis floating around. It is not my intention to start a blog war or a bunch of drama with this, but I'll just say this: Layoffs are not an opportunity to "find yourself." Being broke is not fun. Unemployment--if you can even get it--isn't the same amount of money you'd get working. Health insurance disappears. People with multiple degrees don't start businesses from the ground up and miraculously succeed during downturns, let alone crises of this magnitude. They go hunting for any job they can get, and the ones they take that they're massively overqualified for? Guess who isn't getting those jobs.

When Chris Hayes at the Nation notes that:

Biden is "really pushing hard" on "a more progressive populist approach to economic policy," says Mike Lux, the transition's liaison to the progressive movement. "I'm just delighted that there's somebody with his clout that's doing this, otherwise our side would be in a lot worse shape."

He isn't talking about Biden being out on the campaign trail stoking up angry white folks. He's talking about recognizing that people on the street are suffering. He's talking about an awareness that this crisis isn't simply about "Zombie banks" (though the use of that term makes jokes about the zombie apocalypse a hell of a lot less funny). It's about real people losing jobs or unable to find them. And while Larry Summers is off in la-la land trying to make economic policy that still somehow fits his deregulation fetish, Biden's wife is teaching in a community college and he's still connected to the rest of the world.

But what I really wanted to call your attention to was this piece, a collection of stories from Nation readers who have found themselves unemployed and are struggling.

On January 14 I was told that because I was the last one hired in my department, I was to be laid off. I had heard about the procedures for layoffs, but still I was surprised by how I was treated: I had to clear my desk immediately (my computer was already locked), and my co-workers could not even look me in the eye, nor did my boss say goodbye. I have not heard from any of them since that day, and I don't expect to.

It saddens me that so many people of my generation are in the same boat: overeducated, underemployed and in over our heads in student loan debt. It is hard not to be angry at my parents' generation for their years of out-of-control consumerism and lax regulations. Fortunately, a lot of us are ready and willing to work hard to right so many wrongs.

The stories are hard to read, because they remind me that in only a few months this will be me, looking for a job in the worst economy I've ever seen, with student loans coming due and my health insurance cutting off. There are more here.

In January 2008 I was given a choice: take a 50 percent reduction in salary or be let go with three months severance pay. I chose severance, mostly due to the fact that I could not survive on the new salary. For the last year I've worked as a sales rep at another company for considerably less, trying to build a client base that took me years to get previously. I've burned through my savings just to get by and I'm unable to sell my house for what I owe on it even despite doing things the "right" way when I bought it. I have to stop paying the mortgage so I can pay for doctor visits for the kids and groceries. I can't afford the minor surgery and physical therapy to get a back problem fixed completely so I get by at the price of a dependency on pain meds, but hey--at least THOSE are generic and cheap. Despite a BA and management experience my attempts to find another position have been unsuccessful.

At the bone, this is what I mean when I say we need to rethink populism. Understanding the people that are suffering when we aren't, and supporting each other when we are. And especially, after the comments that have come up so far on the subject, recognizing the reasons why everyday people get angry and buy into xenophobia and all it entails.