No longer restricted to the homeless, dumpster diving is becoming a national sport. It’s now a middle-class athletic event.
Last week, while sitting in my car, I noticed a nicely coiffed young woman, neatly attired in jeans, approach a dumpster, remove the lid and hop in. Twenty minutes later, having rummaged through the refuse, she emerged, flashed a smile and said, “How’s this for a life. I’m now reduced to diving into dumpsters and garbage cans.”
There was no apparent embarrassment on her part; she seemed reconciled to what she had to do to make ends meet. Observing all this from the comfort of my Lexus while my wife was shopping and doing her utmost to increase a department store’s quarterly stockholder’s dividend, I was the one somewhat embarrassed, feeling like a voyeur. So I refrained from asking her several questions that came to mind.
What the politicians and economists so casually refer to as the “economic downturn” is, to this young woman and millions of other Americans, a desperate struggle for survival.
It is estimated that 14 million people currently are unemployed and 3 million are underemployed or no longer looking for work. The Great Depression of the 1930s put 15 million to 20 million Americans out of work and while the relative percentage of the current work force that is unemployed (9.2%) is considerably less than in the 1930s (25%), the absolute number of individuals suffering is frighteningly close to the depression level of mass misery.
And what are our elected representatives in Washington debating? It sure isn’t a comprehensive job-creation plan. Instead, they are focused on debt reduction. Don’t get me wrong, the size of the debt and the future cost of servicing it is a big problem.
But it is a long-term problem that needs to be addressed over time, with substantial cost cuts and revenue enhancement. These decisions should be based on a careful assessment of the complex alternatives and potential consequences of tax code reform, the feasibility of defense spending reductions and how to fund and restructure entitlement programs.
I believe unemployment to be the critical national concern. It has lingered too long without additional governmental action. Common sense tells us that it will only get worse if immediate and severe cuts in government spending occur.
A quick fix for the debt problem could throw millions out of work. Washington appears to be totally oblivious to the potentially negative impact on employment of an ill-considered cut in federal spending.
A dramatic shift in government fiscal policy is required. We must redirect our efforts toward rebuilding ailing infrastructure, aggressively researching and harnessing renewable energy resources and more boldly confronting the crisis in American education. They are all job-creating programs.
The effort can be largely funded by two tax measures — a small tax increase of 2-3% on the wealthiest 2% of our population, whose spending and investment habits will be unaffected, and the elimination of the billions of dollars in annual federal subsidies, tax loopholes and credits for corporations.
The major companies benefiting from this government welfare program are sitting on a trillion dollars of excess profits while waiting for some unrealistic degree of economic certainty to emerge before they will begin to invest and hire again. A carefully crafted, long-term approach to debt reduction, revenue enhancement and job creation will reassure the financial markets and address our country’s critical strategic needs.
But given the current climate in Washington, the odds are slim to none that this jobs-oriented approach to debt reduction can wend its way through the gridlock we call a Congress. Partisan ideology, vested interests, fear of being voted out of office and a total absence of courageous leadership on the part of our elected officials has stifled all efforts to find a logical compromise.
Both sides of the political spectrum generally agree that a basic function of government is the use of its unique powers to relieve human suffering. When a natural disaster occurs, Americans vigorously pressure our government to act swiftly on behalf of the victims. It’s ironic that we are so docile as a citizenry, tolerating the disaster that three years of high unemployment represents and so oblivious to the human toll it has taken on families and individuals.
The inability and blatant unwillingness of many legislators to find common ground is despicable. We need to forcefully insist that Congress and the president display the concern, creativity and energy that have historically been a hallmark of the American spirit when confronted by a national crisis. We need to begin an all-out war on joblessness here at home, and do it now.
PAT GRANT has lived in Glendale for more than 30 years and was formerly a marketing manager for an insurance company. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.