The moon, thinning fast, was white and floating on a patch of apricot in a sky of patchy blue and rolling gray when Koko and I went out walking this morning. The mountains, darkly capped with fluffy swirls, held the threat — or promise — of rain.
Birds trilled and sang, their voices vibrant in the temporary absence of whistling wind that at various times in the past few days threatened to rip my car door right off its hinges when I opened it.
We soon ran into my neighbor Andy, and as his dog, Momi, chased chickens that Koko, in leashed frustration, could only covet, our conversation rambled through dogs getting hit by cars, cat allergies, lawsuits and alternative medicine before settling in on the economic situation, which is far less likely than the day to turn sunny.
A friend in real estate told me he’d been chatting with A&B’s economist, who said he wasn’t expecting real estate sales to pick up until 2017. Meanwhile, the credit counselor leading a symposium I attended as part of my part-time job said home values aren’t expected to return to their prior levels for at least another 12 years.
As I told Andy, the counselor reported that while she’d been seeing about 300 clients per month on the Big Island in recent years, the number jumped to more than 800 in 2009, with about three-quarters of the clients declaring bankruptcy.
Andy said it annoyed him that people are allowed to write off their debts, or renegotiate their tax bills, because it means that other people will have to pay more.
“You’re sounding like a Republican,” I admonished, before telling him that the counselor had said the recent rise in bankruptcies, foreclosures and debt consolidation was not caused by folks seeking to shirk their responsibilities.
Instead, she said, they simply can’t pay their bills, given the combined effects of the imploding housing market, greedy banks sticking it to credit card holders, who in some cases are paying an insane 40 percent interest rate, and, of course, job losses.
Andy, pointedly ignoring my question about whether his disdain for bankruptcy meant he was an advocate of debtors’ prison, said he’d been reading an interesting article in The Atlantic Monthly about how joblessness — now at about 10 percent, with the average duration of unemployment surpassing six months for the first time since the feds began keeping such statistics in 1948 — affects people, particularly men.
“They start beating their wives and kids more,” I said.
It’s true. According to the article:
Last March, the National Domestic Violence Hotline received almost half again as many calls as it had one year earlier; as was the case in the Depression, unemployed men are vastly more likely to beat their wives or children. More common than violence, though, is a sort of passive-aggressiveness. In Identity Economics, the economists George Akerloff and Rachel Kranton find that among married couples, men who aren’t working at all, despite their free time, do only 37 percent of the housework, on average. And some men, apparently in an effort to guard their masculinity, actually do less housework after becoming unemployed.
And as the article also reports:
The weight of this recession has fallen most heavily upon men, who’ve suffered roughly three-quarters of the 8 million job losses since the beginning of 2008. In November, 19.4 percent of all men in their prime working years, 25 to 54, did not have jobs, the highest figure since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the statistic in 1948. At the time of this writing, it looks possible that within the next few months, for the first time in U.S. history, women will hold a majority of the country’s jobs.
Joblessness tends to corrode marriages, the article reported, with W. Bradford Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, noting:
It may sound harsh, but in general, he says, “if men can’t make a contribution financially, they don’t have much to offer.”
Well, especially if they aren’t doing the housework, either.
The article went on to say that Kathryn Edin, a professor of public policy at Harvard, and an expert on family life, "fears that marriage is being supplanted as a social norm by single motherhood and revolving-door relationships."
And that trend is apparently not good for men, or the rest of us, either. According to the article, communities with large numbers of unmarried, jobless men take on an unsavory character over time as the guys get into drugging, drinking and crime. Or as Wilcox noted:
“Marriage plays an important role in civilizing men. They work harder, longer, more strategically. They spend less time in bars and more time in church, less with friends and more with kin. And they’re happier and healthier.”
That trend is apparently not good for kids, either:
But a large body of research shows that one of the worst things for children, in the long run, is an unstable family. By the time the average out-of-wedlock child has reached the age of 5, his or her mother will have had two or three significant relationships with men other than the father, and the child will typically have at least one half sibling. This kind of churning is terrible for children—heightening the risks of mental-health problems, troubles at school, teenage delinquency, and so on—and we’re likely to see more and more of it, the longer this malaise stretches on.
Yet even those social woes don't reflect the full extent of the fallout from down economic times, according to the article.
One study showed that college graduates who entered the job market during previous recessions hadn’t closed the income gap even 15 years later, despite raises and promotions, and they were less likely to work in professional occupations. Another study found that long bouts of unemployment provoke long-lasting changes in behavior and mental health among young people, including depression and a heavy drinking habit as they approached middle age.
Other studies link joblessness to a decline in physical health, with two researchers recently finding “that particularly among men in their 40s or 50s, mortality rates rose markedly soon after a layoff,” according to the Atlantic Monthly article. “[T]he lives of workers who had lost their job at 30… were shorter than those who had lost their job at 50 or 55—and more than a year and a half shorter than those who’d never lost their job at all.”
While income inequality usually falls during a recession, indicating that everyone’s sharing the pain, that hasn’t happened with this one. According to a new study by the Spectrem Group, the number of U.S. households with a net worth of $1 million or more than $5 million is on the rise. And according to Labor Department data:
If the current trend continues, then the American income gap will resemble that of Mexico by year 2043.
Not surprisingly, a lot of folks aren’t handling the economic crisis well. As the Atlantic Monthly reports:
One National Journal poll in October showed that whites (especially white men) were feeling particularly anxious about their future and alienated by the government. We will have to wait and see exactly how these hard times will reshape our social fabric. But they certainly will reshape it, and all the more so the longer they extend.
And that's something that all the reporting on the economy hasn't really touched on.