By Alan Caruba
The most enduring images of the Great Depression from 1929 through to the beginning of World War II for America in 1941 were those of homeless people, hobo camps, and of soup kitchens to feed the hungry.
During the Reagan years, the media was filled with stories of the homeless as if to refute any improvement in the economy under a conservative president. These days, however, as America’s national debt and deficit continues to spiral out of control, the poor and the hungry remain largely unseen and, most significantly, largely unreported.
About the only thing one can find on the White House website with regard to homelessness are statements about the way “green jobs” will solve the problem. The first stimulus package, however, increased the amount of money that the nation’s food banks received in 2009 so someone involved understood America has a problem.
The New York Times reported “a $100 million windfall of extra food…” Also reported was that “requests for emergency food assistance were up by 30 percent in 2008 over the previous year”, but the financial crisis did not occur until late into the last year of the second Bush term.
As the recession took hold one food pantry organizer noted that “the next layer of people” were showing up; “a rapidly expanding group of child-care workers, nurse’s aides, real estate agents and secretaries who are facing a financial crisis for the first time.”
A recent study by Mathematica Policy Research revealed that in 2009 more than 37 million low-income people were receiving emergency food assistance through a network of pantries, kitchens, and shelters. Recipients represented “a broad cross-section of America, including 14 million children and three million elderly.”
“Approximately 40 percent white, 34 percent were Afro-American, and 20 percent were Hispanic.” Though 36 percent of recipient households had one working adult, ten percent were homeless.”
“Most of the organizations providing assistance in the network were faith-based” and I can recall the outcry when the Bush administration undertook to provide funding to these organizations.
While the media reporting seems limited to official government statistics, currently citing unemployment at 9.4 percent, most observers believe that it is far closer to 17 percent and that figure would actually exceed the Depression era.
There were no safety nets in the 1930s. Ironically, the programs put in place, Social Security, and later Medicare, are now all but bankrupt or soon will be. At the time they were instituted there were approximately sixteen workers paying into the system for every recipient, but now it is down to two workers per recipient and these programs represent both a high level of taxation and an increasing drain on the nation’s economy as demographic changes increase the numbers eligible for them.
Entitlement programs, along with defense, represent half of the nation’s annual budget. The proposed Obama budget is widely regarded as bizarre for the amount of spending it proposes.
In its first year, the Obama administration largely ignored joblessness in order to pursue a vastly expanded Medicare “reform” whose details, whenever they became known, generated a massive backlash from Americans who rightly saw the program as an effort to take over one sixth of the nation’s economy, putting it under federal control.
Political observers all say that the Obama administration will now “pivot” and concentrate on jobs as the major issue this year. The Democrat controlled Congress, however, is doing little to adopt the factors that contribute to job creation.
Virtually all economists recommend a reduction in the tax on U.S. corporations, currently among the highest in the world, rendering them less competitive and unable to expand their workforce.
Beyond that, the great economic engine of small businesses have seen minimum wage requirements increase and a host of other regulations that punish all businesses when they are forced to lay off or fire employees; both discourage hiring. Meanwhile, huge pension and other benefits for unionized government related jobs are bankrupting the states.
The “solutions” of the FDR years did nothing to relieve the Great Depression and are widely seen as having extended it. These same “solutions” are being pushed by the Obama administration, particularly in regard to increased taxation at the worst possible time.
For now the homeless and hungry will remain invisible to most Americans, but the media will be able to ignore it for only so long and then it will have to be addressed.
Alan Caruba writes a daily post at http://factsnotfantasy.blogspot.com. An author, business and science writer, he is the founder of The National Anxiety Center.