Stop the presses. The country is in a recession. Cars on 125th Street didn’t screech to a halt; folk on Pitkin Avenue in Brooklyn didn’t send chain texts to a dozen people each; and guaranteed, no one on Webster Avenue in the Boogie Down Bronx called News 12 to confirm this old “new” news. Back in the summer of this year as government officials and economists played fast and loose with the obvious, Dr. Kirkland Vaughns, an associate professor at Adelphi University, told the AmNews, “For many people of color, this is not a recession, it’s a depression. If whites were unemployed at this 50 percent rate, they’d be calling it a depression.”
Last month, the government reported that employers cut 240,000 jobs in October. This brought total job losses for the year close to 1.2 million. This, plus the Wall Street to-and-fro spurred a private organization called the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) to officially announce four days after Thanksgiving what any free-meal serving, volunteer-staffed, community-focused spot could have told them for free: The country is in a recession.
Someone should alert the NBER that on Friday there will be another jobs report and analysts are predicting more bleak figures, the worst job numbers in decades.
“Low-income communities have always suffered from recessions,” said Councilwoman Leticia James. “We are in the midst of a depression in urban cities throughout the nation. This is nothing new to us. But it is more severe, more pronounced. People from low-income communities are the last to get hired and the first to get fired. Unemployment in our community has always been in the double digits. So,” the Brooklyn councilwoman told the AmNews, “we are asking President-elect Barack Obama, Gov. David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to bail our communities out. We want our bailout.” In June, Vaughns told the paper, “People are really losing faith in the system. I think that’s why Barack Obama’s message of change and hope is so powerful–because people are really in a state of despair…It’s worse than is being reported.”
The NBER announced Monday that America’s recession began last December. Armed with the employment numbers, plus the fact that the nation’s gross domestic product is looking like it will be in decline for the second consecutive quarter, the nonprofit group of academic economists determined Friday that the country indeed was in a recession.
With the big three Detroit car companies still on the hunt for additional federal funds and banks and big companies consolidating, restructuring and some straight-out folding, some economists are citing the woe-be-gone days of the 1981-82 recession. Others are muttering about the Great Depression and the need for President-elect Barack Obama to launch his new administration with a President Franklin Delano Roosevelt-type New Deal, circa 1933.
According to Forbes.com, “This is the 11th recession since World War II, and at 12 months, already among the worst. The previous 10 recessions lasted an average of 10 months. Only recessions in 1973-75 and 1981-82 were longer, each lasting for 16 months.” The recession is a global one, with Japan and Germany among the nations admitting that their economies have been in a downward spiral.
President George W. Bush said he was “sorry it’s happening.” On Monday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said there is a strong possibility of further interest rate cuts. While the recently decimated U.S. money markets have been roller-coasting, attempted upswings occurred after President-elect Barack Obama’s multiple cabinet announcements with an economic hit team and foreign affairs squad that seemed to have quelled the frenetic rumblings in some quarters. “From an historical perspective, we are in somewhat of a paradox,” said Vaughns, a professor of clinical psychology and psychological analyst. “This is the first time that during a terrible economic crisis that white folks have not collectively turned against the Black people–we got Obama. In the midst of an economic decline, white people did not vote against their own interest, and they got beyond their own immediate white skin and didn’t allow their race to be used against them.”
The learned head doctor explained further, “It’s always been talked about race being used against Blacks, which is true. However, race is also used against whites by the white power structure in that it serves as a red herring to blind them to their own miserable plight. W.E.B. DuBois referred it as the ‘psychological wages.’
“This time, the usual schematic didn’t work–white folks rejected it. McCain played into it; even Hillary said, ‘I’m white’; even Bill fed into it. [But] the people chose the man–a Black man–who they felt would get them out of this economic slump.” The recession has already hit the majority of the Black community, Vaughns assessed. “For us, it’s like a depression. It’s like a tsunami going through our community with the economy on one hand and the prison industrial complex on the other.” Dire are the times, he said. The solution to getting through the crisis, the doctor surmised: “We survive by clinging together and focusing on issues to save our children.”
But blind gravaliciousness has usurped the good common sense gene of some folk, charged Kha Sekhem Wi, a Newark-based community advocate. “Look at what happened at Wal-Mart when the security guard was trampled to death. Our people are crazy materialistic, and we’re caught up in this European matrix. So what we didn’t suffer from before, we’re suffering from in spades now.” The effect is that too many people are living by the laws of conspicuous consumption and hankering after showy products like big-screen TVs too big for their rooms, humongous vehicles they can’t afford and garments with price tags whose single purchase could pay rent or mortgages.
“The majority has given up on our spirituality for toys and games and everything material,” said Sekhem Wi. “Everything is based on what you drive and clothes you wear–so you are being judged on how you look.” This unfortunate lapse in focus, he said, has meant that other more noble qualities are suffering from arrested development. It is no better illustrated than the pattern of behavior after a crisis.
“Other groups pull together; we respond as individuals. If you take Katrina or even the present economic situation; they haven’t made us focus and come together. We don’t focus on cultural economics. If we abided by the seven principles of Kwanzaa, our strong economic unity would happen automatically. We have commercialized Kwanzaa, and we don’t own it. “Surviving this recession would take us taking the Kwanzaa principles seriously and utilizing them 365 days; us having faith in each other; trading and building with each other. We need to have 3-, 5-, 10- and 15-year plans based on cultural economics.” Since the predictions are that the recession will be around until the middle of next year and since both Gov. Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg have the fear of severe cuts hanging over New Yorkers like the Sword of Damocles, folk are really utilizing the adage “trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents.”
Harlem rep, Assemblyman Keith Wright, told the AmNews, “I am the chair of the Social Service Committee, and I know that the poor have seen recessions and inflation, and they know how to adapt better than others–you don’t see them jumping out of windows. “Does that mean that they want to be poor? No. Does that mean that the state government should balance the budget on the backs of the poor and the middle class? Absolutely not. These are dire times, but poor people are resilient. They know about survival. The rich can learn a lot about survival from the poor.”