Dereliction of Duty

The New York Times published a depressing and frightening graphic today titled "The Geography of a Recession" which represents the unemployment situation across the country, by county:

[Click to go to interactive map in new window.]

Possibly even more scary is the accompanying article, in which the author makes some rather stunningly bad assertions based on alarmingly stupid premises.

For one, he claims: "The Great Recession of 2008 (and beyond) is hurting men more than women." That link leads back to another NYT article, which I wonder if he even bothered to read. Although it does report that women stand to outnumber men in the American workforce for the first time ever, it also notes:
Women may be safer in their jobs, but tend to find it harder to support a family. For one thing, they work fewer overall hours than men. Women are much more likely to be in part-time jobs without health insurance or unemployment insurance. Even in full-time jobs, women earn 80 cents for each dollar of their male counterparts' income, according to the government data.

"A lot of jobs that men have lost in fields like manufacturing were good union jobs with great health care plans," says Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. "The jobs women have — and are supporting their families with — are not necessarily as good."
The article goes on to provide examples of two families, in both of which a wife went to work after her husband lost his job. Nasreen Mohammed "works five days a week, 51 weeks a year, without sick days or health benefits" for $30,000; her husband made $150,000 at a corporate job with paid benefits before being laid off. Linda Saxby earns "practically nothing" as an assistant librarian at the local high school, requiring her family to live primarily off their savings; her husband made $225,000 in an executive-level position before being laid off.

Only in some fantasy world where having a job at all is a better predictor of security and quality of life than what kind of job one actually has does the statement "The Great Recession of 2008 (and beyond) is hurting men more than women" make sense. That women are employed in greater numbers does not mean that men are being "hurt more."

In fact, given that men who are laid off will have made more and ergo had more opportunity to save than their female counterparts before losing their jobs, it is highly unlikely that men are being "hurt more" by layoffs than women. Anytime massive layoffs strike, people who have had less opportunity to stockpile savings are most "hurt."

Which brings us to the next ludicrous claim: "Clearly, [the stock market crash] has hurt wealthy and upper middle-class families, who own the bulk of stock, more than others."

This is technically true, if the only definition of "hurt" is "lose the most raw dollars." But on what planet is a $2 million portfolio that loses half its value really more "hurtful" to its owner than a $100,000 portfolio that loses half its value? That's literally the difference between another entire year's survival (at least) after losing a job, or a life-altering ability to pay for healthcare twice as long after a catastrophic injury or illness.

Which is to say nothing of the individuals and families who don't own stock at all, but are nonetheless subject to the reverberating effects of the crash. Are the working poor really "less hurt" by the crash than wealthy and upper middle-class families whose portfolios took a hit, but are by no means struggling to put food on their table every night? The suggestion is infuriatingly daft.

It's no wonder this country's economy is in a bloody shambles, when this is the kind of economic reporting that goes on in the paper of record. The average reader, who leaves hir critical thinking skills at the door, is being asked to feel sorry for men and the wealthy—even though the average reader would look around at the men and the wealthy in hir life and say, "Well, they're not doing so bad." It's literally providing the justification to not care.
Hard as it may be to believe, the crash will also help a lot of young families. The stocks that they buy in coming years are likely to appreciate far more than they would have if the Dow were still above 14,000. The same is true of future house purchases for the one in three families still renting a home.
Well, la-dee-da! What positively splendid news! Never mind where these rosy-cheeked robber barons will get their first jobs, or from which of the nation's crumbling financial institutions they'll secure the loan to purchase their white picket fences. And never mind that the national infrastructure is so devastated they're practically as likely to die in a bridge collapse as see their IRAs mature. Pish-tosh—details!

We are a representative democracy. It is our duty to provide the accountability that D.C. sorely lacks. And we are derelict in this duty because we have forgotten it even exists, and because we are told by the people whose job it is to call us to duty that we should just take it easy.

Don't worry, America. Everything will be fine.

Except that graph already tells us it isn't.

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