Are We Being Too Complacent About the Economy Crumbling Around Us?
A New York Times headline Friday horrifyingly screamed "651,000 Jobs Lost in February: Rate Rises to 8.1%, Highest in 25 Years."
And according to the Bureau of Labor statistics, almost all sectors of the economy are affected: retail dropped 40,000 jobs over the past month, and 608,000 since December 2007; jobs in leisure and hospitality fell by 33,000; the financial sector lost 44,000 jobs in February, and on and on.
Yet, according to an article recently published on AlterNet, one-third of Americans aren't worried about losing their jobs.
Do they know something we don't know? Is the stat a testament to that vaunted American optimism? Or have Americans been fattened into complacency by years of relative wealth (for some)?
Our readers had much to say about the shocking statistic:
davy writes that it's hardly surprising that people go into a deep state of denial in difficult times. "As a retired therapist, I can safely say, that in my experience, denial is what people are best at."
Many readers agreed, arguing that Americans are overly -- and unwisely -- complacent:
Jay Randal writes:
Years ago, I worked for Builders Square in Florida, a rival to Home Depot, and at that time I realized the company was going downhill into bankruptcy. I told some of my fellow employees to start looking for other jobs. A few of them laughed at me and said their jobs were secure. I was proved right, when all the Builders Square stores closed in Florida, and everybody lost their jobs.
Some Americans live in a bubble of unreality and refuse to believe the economy is sliding into another depression. They will continue to believe their jobs are secure until the very day they receive pink slips.
kegbot1 points out that aversion to reality is a characteristic shared by all Americans.
Virtually all Americans live in a bubble of unreality. It could be the sine qua non of Americanism.
But some readers point out that complacency will end when there is no more food on the table:
More specifically, no one is asking the question of what happens when tens of millions of adult Americans with no serious job prospects at all, and can't feed their families, start to turn to rage -- in the best-armed country in the world.
I bet they think about worst-case scenarios at the White House (perhaps this gives Obama night sweats), but no one is talking about the possible conclusion of all of this.
Maybe Americans will go like sheep to live beneath the underpasses and quietly expire out of sight and mind of the elite.
But maybe not.
and_abottleofrum has a different interpretation for why many Americans idly stand by as the economy crashes around them: an abiding faith in the God of capitalism:
For some Americans, saying the economy is going down is tantamount to saying God is dead. The infallibility of the economy in the good old U S of A is an article of faith for many people. To think the economy is mortal, and now mortally wounded, is too much of a blow to the basic assumptions on which they've led their lives and planned out their futures for them to handle.
Blue Heron agrees:
I think maybe the problem is that Americans have venerated corporations for so long, with slick fantasies of stocks, shiny new cars and bonuses, that even now they are afraid of criticizing that culture. I get the feeling that the denial is all about protecting this delusional little fantasy.
Well here's some reality, folks. I was laid off from Apple five months ago, and not even as a full time employee, but a "permatemp." Never heard of that term? Then I'd really suggest you do your homework. I had worked for Crapple for almost three years, full time with no benefits, and I did hold a high-profile position. They laid me off on a Sunday, then sent back my office equipment, most of which I had to purchase, by FedEx and all broken.
Because Apple misclassified me as "self-employed," I did not qualify for unemployment benefits. Remember, I worked on-site, full time and was managed and told what hours to come in. What we are dealing with here is a total denial and erosion of workers' rights that has been building up for the past two decades and now has reached crisis point. If we all stay in denial, we will be denied everything, and the CEOs will still be laughing all the way to the bank. Hilarious, isn't it? Still feel like bowing down to the Man?
LeftWright also points out that Americans have been brainwashed to worship capitalism:
This is all by design, due to the intentional miseducation and massive propagandization of the American people.
Soviet-style state capitalism died due to starvation.
American-style corporate capitalism is dying due to exhaustion.
The people of each locality and the world need to rise up and create a new, sustainable system that honors real work and celebrates every individual.
I hope that you and yours are well.
The truth shall set us free. Love is the only way forward.
Bizatch! argues that it's not so much the cult of capitalism that has brainwashed Americans, as the cult of positivity:
It is no secret to many of the other posters on here that most Americans cannot bear to think bad thoughts ... or, even though they might think them, to censor themselves from expressing them. This is the cult of positivity in effect. I see it all the time. My friends are loath to admit the crisis is as serious as even the timid broadcast news has been saying, and I'm often brusquely cut off and accused of being a "total downer" for saying what is openly evident about the situation.
But others find fault with the study and point out that a lack of anxiety and concern does not equal complacency.
One-third of Americans aren't worried about losing their jobs --> one-third of Americans think their jobs are "safe" --> one-third of Americans are crazy?
Those are pretty big (il)logical leaps there. As a freelancer who's living on a shoestring, I don't for a minute think that my income is "safe": my bigger clients could cut back so much that they stop sending work my way, and if they all stopped hiring me tomorrow, I wouldn't be eligible for unemployment. But having been freelancing and/or working for very small businesses for most of my adult life, I've grown accustomed to uncertainty, and I'm frugal to the point of cheap. So I wouldn't tell a pollster I was "worried." Concerned, maybe, but not worried. Crazy? Maybe, but it's a pretty high-functioning crazy.
And while we're at it, don't knock denial. Without working denial mechanisms, we'd have a hard time getting through the day. If you get into a car, you could get maimed in an accident. If you step off the curb, you could get run over by a bus, etc., etc. If your worry about the possibilities gets out of control, you never leave the house -- and maybe break your neck in a fall down the stairs. Don't you ever wonder how people in war-torn places manage to keep putting one foot in front of the other, even when they could get hit by shrapnel or blown up by a mine? Don't knock denial.
CV also points out that crippling fear is not productive:
I'm one of the "crazy" 32 percent -- although I wasn't a participant in the poll. I'm not "scared witless," because I know that whatever happens, I will survive. … But one must be really flexible -- and that's tough if you're raising a family. Whatever the circumstance, being "scared witless" does nothing but paralyze your creativity and ingenuity.
Badkitty, however, writes that it is nevertheless important to be prepared:
I agree that being "scared witless" is not helpful generally, but understanding how scary things can get is important in preparing for the worst. I set up my family's life so we could always live on one income, which has worked very well for us, until December when my husband lost his job (I have been unemployed since June). Fortunately, that only lasted two weeks, although we could barely live on two unemployment checks (well, we did have to ask our parents for help on the health care costs). But if one of us is working, we can make our house payment (less than $600 a month) and buy food and pay bills.
Artkansas posits an optimistic interpretation of the findings cited in the article:
Only half as many people believe their job is secure as believed that Saddam had WMDs.