Rain clouds don?t hold a candle to the economy

By By James Sewell

By James Sewell

Gray skies tend to darken my mood. I want to sleep longer, eat later, brood more often and in general I just feel down. I consider this to be natural, and don’t worry too much about it8212;allowing this tendency to be medicated is something I wish to avoid.

The Labor Department estimated 598,000 people lost their jobs last month, and 3.6 million have shared that fate since Christmas 2007. With those numbers, it’s hard to be in a good mood on the sunniest of days. And the reality might be even worse than the official numbers, with the unemployment rate as high as 7.6 percent.

Utah has been relatively fortunate, accounting for only 24,600 of those lost jobs, with an unemployment rate of 4.3 percent. But since we here in Utah take a certain pride in being behind the times, the country’s situation might not strike home for a while longer. Just wait.

It is possible that access to student loans, especially private loans issued on the basis of credit-worthiness, will become significantly restricted. We need to focus on how to educate more students through a variety of academic and vocational programs that will fill future labor demands, not penalize would-be students for a low credit score based on the missed payments on their credit card with usurious interest rates, and denying them an opportunity to increase their ability to contribute constructively to not just the economy, but society as well.

I know many people with advanced degrees who cannot find work within or outside their fields. That’s a lot of time and energy invested for shaky and uncertain prospects. The anti-intellectualism of the past decade must be replaced by an acceptance of intellectual endeavours as valuable ends in themselves.

Last week I complained about U President Michael Young’s and Dr. Lorris Betz’s handsome compensation packages, but overall they’re just two drops in a big bucket.

It seems like our culture has worshipped at the altar of easy and abundant wealth for too long and is still in denial about the depth of our problem. Wealth was once upon a time used to create things: infrastructure, solid institutions, solid communities. But the Wall Street of the recent past has been using wealth for its own ends: to create more wealth, which then went mostly to the people who created it. The rich get richer.

The trickle-down economists were right8212;the immodestly generous year-end bonuses went to pay for hip apartments, fancy cars, haute cuisine, housekeepers and new TVs. The demand for this stuff employed a lot of people: brokers, salespeople, delivery drivers, cabbies, manufacturing workers, pedicurists, etc.

In turn, these folks bought houses and cars of their own, and sometimes stretched the limits of what they could afford and now are in trouble because the demand for their labor has disappeared, and their mortgage payments are ballooning over time. The poor get poorer.

What are we going to do as a society to fix these problems? I like buying organic groceries and riding my bike, but I see a lot more of the latter and much less of the former as economic pressure increases on the non-rich segments of society. I mean, now I have to worry about eating peanut butter? One of the few items that is cheap but rich in protein and fat? What the hell else am I supposed to eat on my dollars-a-day food budget? What kind of country are we living in?

I want to live in a place that values education and social consciousness and wants to reward me (only moderately) for working toward meaningful ends. Surely the United States of America, the greatest country in the world, is able to do this.

Or is it?

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James Sewell