Last week the stock market made a great leap forward. "Dow Leaps to Record" the Wall Street Journal blazons on its front page (3/6/13). The news weekly The Week quotes Bernard Condon of the AP: "The stock market is back." ["Markets: Dow soars to a record high" 3/15/13] Investors and other social parasites living off of unearned capital gains are celebrating getting back the $11 trillion dollars eaten up by the Great Recession. The Week says this is seen "as another sign of recovery." The Wall Street Journal hails it as "a key milestone in the long slog to recovery from the financial crisis."
This remarkable "economic comeback" is even happening under the Obama administration-- which the Wall Street Journal and other right-wing prognosticators and prevaricators of presidential malfeasance have been telling us is running the economy into the ground and scaring investors away from the markets because of its anti-business "socialist" proclivities. Paul Krugman in The New York Times (3/8/13) quotes the op-ed of one these negative Nellies, Michael Boskin who advised presidents Bush 1 & 2 on economics: "Obama's radicalism is killing the DOW." Whose policies were it now that brought the stock market and the economy crashing down? I think they were those of the presidents being advised by Michael Boskin.
Now to be a wet blanket. The resurrection and coming again of the DOW is only one expression of the economy. The fat cat expression. What about people at the other end of the economic blight-- how are they faring. While the bankers and speculators who caused the Great Recession are partying on Wall Street the nation's homeless are increasing in numbers. After reading the front page of the same issue of the Wall Street Journal celebrating "recovery" we find a quite different story on page 6: "New York City Leads Jump in Homeless."
New York City prides itself with being the leading city in the U.S. and under Mayor Bloomberg it has become first in the nation in homeless families. The city also set a new record for its homeless shelters-- 50,000 souls a night in January of this year. Revealing, the WSJ says "an unsettling national trend: a rising number of families without permanent housing." Higher stock prices and bigger bonuses for bankers do not a recovery make.
According to the Coalition for the Homeless (using numbers from January provided by New York City) 1% of all children in the city are in shelters (over 21,000) which is up 22% over last year (corresponding increases for Boston and Washington D.C. were 7.8% and 18% respectively). Mary Brosnahan, of the Coalition, said: "New York is facing a homeless crisis worse than anytime since the Great Depression." Some recovery!
Resources to help keep families in their homes have been cut by the Obama administration, advocates for the homeless say, in order to concentrate on the "more visible" problems-- i.e., getting those unsightly homeless from sleeping on the streets and in public areas where they can be, God forbid, seen. So the money goes for shelters after the fact, not to keep people housed before the fact. But this did not start with Obama-- it goes back to the Bush years as homeless families have increased 73% since 2002 in New York City alone. The city reflects national trends. It has, for example, gotten back, in gross numbers, all the jobs lost since the Great Recession" began, according to the WSJ --but not really, as the the jobs are lower paying than those lost--- you don't come out even getting an once of silver for an once of gold just because you still have an once of something. When asked to comment the Department of Housing and Urban Development did not respond.
For the crisis in New York City the Bloomberg administration said it was the fault of, that abstract beast, "the economy." Seth Diamond, NYC's commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services (a whole department for this!) was quoted in the WSJ as saying, "The economy is very different in the past years, and that is a substantial change. We understand we have an obligation to continue to work with people and provide shelter for those who need it, and the economy is nowhere near where it was."
Was it the fault of "the economy" that the State of New York ended aid to help people who got out of shelters to keep their new housing-- thus forcing them back out on the street? Ending that program resulted in a 35% increase in families in New York City shelters alone.
Was it the fault of "the economy" that in 2005 Mayor Bloomberg (forgetting his "obligation" to help people) ended a program from the 1990s that had been created to set aside some federal housing units and vouchers managed by the city for homeless people so they could get out of the shelters and live normal lives? We can't accept that being homeless is the "new normal."'
No, it's not the fault of "the economy" it is the fault of politicians that prioritize aiding the rich and well off at the expense of everyone else; of politicians who would rather see children thrown out on the streets than raise, even minutely, the taxes on the bloated incomes of the rich squeezed out of the labor of working people as well as grants and subsidies they get from the Congress corrupted by lobbyists and corporate contributions.
The "Great Recession" is not over and never will be no matter how high the stock market goes as long as homelessness, unemployment, low wages, and the persecution of unions and their members continues. The American people voted for a progressive government and they must now unite to see that the forces of reaction which refuse to recognize the choice of the people are driven from the centers of power and an end put to their obstructionism and attempts to undermine popular democracy. Only then will "Happy Days Be Here Again" or at least the possibility for them.
Thomas Riggins, PhD CUNY, is a retired university lecturer in philosophy and ancient history and the former book review editor for Political Affairs magazine.