Could Our Darkening Economic Clouds Have a Silver Lining?

As America's Misery Index soars, so must our Empathy Index.

How bad are things getting?

Beyond the obvious numbers -- 7.6 percent unemployment, 6,600 foreclosures a day -- the depressing indicators keep piling up, each statistic representing more pain and hardship.

The United Way saw a 68-percent increase during the past year in the number of calls for basic needs such as food, shelter, and warm clothes.

31.1 million people received food stamps in November, an increase of 13 percent from a year earlier.

In Arizona, there's been a 100-percent increase in the number of people seeking social services from the state.

In Contra Costa, California, 40,000 families applied for 350 available affordable-housing vouchers.

In San Francisco, food banks report a 30-percent rise in demand for emergency food assistance. In Lehigh Acres, Florida demand is up 75 percent.

If, as it now seems likely, unemployment hits 9 percent, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates the number of Americans driven into poverty will rise by 7 to 10 million -- on top of the 37.3 million currently living below the poverty line (and while that number is the latest from the Census Bureau, it's from 2007, before the worst of the downturn).

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