In reading this piece in the Washington Post earlier this week, I realized that we really are coming to the next great depression in America.
The article, an adaptation of Bruce Springsteen's intro to Someplace in America: Tales From The New Great Depression, reminisces about a book that came out 30 years ago, by the same authors, filled with pictures and stories of ordinary Americans just struggling to get by.
That book — “Journey to Nowhere,” by Dale Maharidge and Michael S. Williamson — put real lives, names and faces on statistics we’d all been hearing about throughout the ’80s. People who all their lives had played by the rules, done the right thing and had come up empty, men and women whose work and sacrifice had built this country, who’d given their sons to its wars and then whose lives were marginalized or discarded. I lay awake that night thinking: What if the craft I’d learned was suddenly deemed obsolete, no longer needed? What would I do to take care of my family? What wouldn’t I do?
Without getting on a soapbox, these are the questions Maharidge and Williamson posed with their words and pictures. Men and women struggling to take care of their own in the most impossible conditions and still moving on, surviving.
Gentle readers, is this not the same thing we've been talking about for the past (over) three years? What happened to this country, the political rut we are stuck in, occurred be cause we as citizen's were too blinded by the glitter of a small economic boom to see failure coming. What has happened to this country has happened to this country before, yes, in the poverty and layoffs of the 80s - where manufacturing jobs started on their inevitable decline - but also in the wake of the "roaring twenties."
Extremes, dear ones, are not sustainable.
The failure that we didn't see coming - how stupid were we. Plants started shutting down in the midwest and the south. The family farm started getting eaten by the factory farm. Wages were cut in half and half again (The great book Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town, by Nick Reding details well what the loss of these types of jobs has done to our country). Towns started to die. This started in the 1980s.
But what did we do? As citizens?
Sure, we donated to FarmAid, but FarmAid still exists. Thirty years later we're still begging for donations to help the family farm. And, maybe, in some places, this is coming. And maybe, as more people really want to know where the food they're eating comes from, we'll see their lives improve. We'll see.
We bemoaned the loss of "real American jobs." We watched Roger & Me. But what else did we do?
Did we "buy American"? Maybe.
Did it help? Not so much.
Because those American cars, at least parts of them, were being manufactured in Mexico and Taiwan and loads of other places where the labor was/is cheap and labor laws barely existent.
What we did not do, gentle ones, is look at the core problem.
What we did not do is to invest in education.
What we did not do was look at spending money now to teach people to be more prosperous in the future.
My generation, Generation X for those of you who pay attention to those things, is the first generation to be, overall, worse off than the one before it. Let's not let it keep getting worse for the ones who come after us.
Let's let our leaders - the ones in office, they work for us, you know - know that we want them to think long term. That we want them to invest in education and innovation. That we want them to look beyond creating 5,000 for the next 3 years and figure out how to create 5,000,000 over the next thirty.
Let's learn a lesson from our past - for once - and push push push for an American where there is a priority placed on learning to the highest level, of the skills that will build a future and carry us forward into the 22nd century.
Sure, we won't be around to see it, but that doesn't mean it's not a worthy investment.