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A Reading Suggestion

Given what is going on in this country you really should read The Grapes of Wrath. There is a great movie made from the book, but it only covers half of the book. In the actual book the story of the Joad family is interspersed with the story of the Depression. You read a chapter about the Joads, then you read about the conditions around them.

People will complain that the book is a real “downer”, but they should be aware that Steinbeck softened the truth, as he has admitted. The actual conditions were worse than what is presented in the book. Steinbeck visited the migrant camps, and decided to “improve” the conditions for fear that the truth would obscure the story of the book.

Some people are talking about seeing “green shoots” in the jobs report, because not as many jobs were lost as in previous reports since the beginning of the year. There are millions of fewer jobs to lose now and the unemployment rate is still rising. Those aren’t green shoots; they are a demonstration that Wall Street’s golden bull is actually brass, and it is beginning to show the tarnish.


1 Jack K., the Grumpy Forester { 06.07.09 at 10:08 pm }

…the classified section of my local fishwrap has undergone a disturbing transformation. The employment section has shriveled down from a couple of pages to a handful of column inches, the weekend four-color car dealership ads have almost disappeared, and day after gruesome day there are one or two or five pages of legal notices in the agate normally reserved for baseball box scores. Almost all of them are the death knell of someone’s classic all-American dream, foreclosure notices telling anyone with good enough eyes or sufficiently corrective lenses that another family is about to move back into the column labeled “Renter”…if they’re lucky…

It really doesn’t matter anymore what the underlying reason is for why that’s happening; the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in the local counties ranges from 15 to 19 percent and comes pretty close to rendering moot any talk about sub-prime mortgages. Businesses big and small (some of them long-time fixtures on the local scene) are failing every day, and the only reason job losses are starting to slow down locally is the simple fact that – as you say – there are just simply less jobs to lose. We’re right on the edge of living even that softened story in Steinbeck’s novel, and there isn’t even any promise of a ‘California’ out there that can motivate people to lash their belongings onto the old Hudson and start driving in that direction…

2 Bryan { 06.07.09 at 11:10 pm }

As soon as you said it the truth struck me – during the depression there were still open areas where you could make a fresh start, this time there aren’t. There is no place to go to start over because everyone is in the same shape.

Even people who should be in good shape, like guys who retired from the military and started working for contractors to subsidize their retirement pay are worried that they are in trouble, because all of the “stuff” they own, is currently worthless – no one is buying. They borrowed too much assuming their equity would cover it, and there is no equity.

Too many local businesses have been using the owner’s HELOC as a line of credit, and it is drying up. Even if they are selling stuff, they can’t get credit to restock. It’s a mess, and we had a 2% unemployment rate three years ago, and now they say it’s around 7%, but that doesn’t include the construction workers, because theyalmost never qualify for unemployment insurance the way things work in Florida. Construction is at a stand still until the Air Force starts building for the new units coming to Eglin.

My Mother says this is what she remembers from her childhood, and her father had a steady job during the Depression.

3 cookie jill { 06.08.09 at 10:35 am }

I’m sure the actual rate of unemployment in CA is hovering about 14-15% irregardless of what the “fishwraps” are saying.

Even if you find someplace to start over, employers are using people’s credit rating to disqualify folks for even miniscule jobs….so if you’ve lost your job AND your house…good luck on getting either one of those back.

cookie jill´s last blog post..More H2Woes from the Golden "Crispy" State

4 Badtux { 06.08.09 at 11:05 am }

The employment section of the San Jose Murky News has looked like that ever since Craigslist, monster.com, and dice.com took off. For about five years now it has consisted only of get-rich-quick scams, no actual jobs. It’s part of why newspapers are dying — they did not move their classifieds online when the Internet came along because they viewed their business as creating fishwrap, and thus lost eyeballs.

Regarding the hardships of rural America, rural America has been in a depression for the past fifty years, indeed, only temporarily ever escaped the Great Depression for a handful of years after WWII until the savings created by most of male rural America between ages 18 and 25 being drafted evaporated. The mechanization of agriculture required massive investments, massive debt, reduced the workforce needed by an order of magnitude other than seasonal labor, and has led to a corporate takeover of farming that has pushed individuals off the land because corporate bonds can get better rates on the market than individuals can get if they borrow at the bank. The former farm families did what people around the world have done at that point… they migrated to the city to find work. That was my mother and my father, fleeing the Grapes of Wrath of rural America in the late 1950’s. The problem today is once they flee to the promise of a ‘California’, there are no jobs or places to live there, unlike America in the late 1950’s where two refugees from the rural depression could find a job as a short order cook and a waitress, and a short order cook and a waitress could find a room at a boarding house no problem.

The problems in the timber industry, now… once again, big business bought up all the small sawmills and put them out of business to eliminate competition against them. The Martin Timber Company of Castor Louisiana? Gone, bought up by Willamette Industries (which cared only for the thousands of acres of timberland that Martin owned) and shuttered. When they harvest, they bring in their own crews from out-of-area instead of using the locals. It utterly destroyed the local economy, which wasn’t great shakes to begin with, being mostly based on retirees on Social Security and commuters driving 120 miles a day to and from the nearest industrial city. Which is experiencing its own problems, with the shutdown of the auto plant (which builds the Chevy Colorado/GMC Avalanche and the Hummer H3 which is a blinged Colorado) for much of this year on top of all the other factories that have moved out over the years (Western Electric phone switch factory? Gone. Chain saw factory? Gone. Refinery? Shuttered. Etc.).

So anyhow, as I keep pointing out on my own blog, it’s all about jobs. No amount of printing money and giving it to banks will create jobs for America and Americans. All it’ll do is make bank coffers plump, because they’re not lending because (duh) with all these unemployed / underemployed Americans, they don’t have anybody solvent to lend *to*. We need a bigger stimulus, like, *now*.

– Badtux the Economy Penguin

Badtux´s last blog post..Yet more uses for duct tape…

5 jams O'Donnell { 06.08.09 at 12:07 pm }

Even though Steinbeck may have watered down the misery it is still a harowing work. One of my all time favourite books

jams O’Donnell´s last blog post..Darya Dadvar in concert in London II

6 Bryan { 06.08.09 at 6:02 pm }

Badtux is right, and I’ve said it multiple times: jobs are the only way out of this mess. Until people have stable jobs they are not going to start spending money, they are going to save what they have. I see people talking about the danger of inflation, but there is no danger because you can’t have inflation if no one is buying.

All of the price pressure is downward, and until employment takes off that isn’t going to change.

State and local government are doing exactly the wrong thing is this situation – laying people off. Every person laid off is another consumer lost, and the deflationary spiral continues. Most jurisdictions have no choice because of the laws in their state, but it is the worst thing they can do.

We once had a timber industry in Northwest Florida, but St Joe Paper bought up the land, and now has decided that residential development is more profitable than paper.

The house across the street was built from trees that were on what is now a shopping mall, and were milled two blocks from here. These days most of the 2X4’s come from Canada.

Hell, even Henry Ford figured out that if you don’t pay your workers a good wage, there’s no one to buy your products.

7 ellroon { 06.08.09 at 8:17 pm }

Glad to say my daughter’s senior English class chose to read “The Grapes of Wrath” over Silvia Plath. Even shortened to fit the end of term, she got a really good look at what a bad economy does to people. The way things are going around the world, she’s going to see it up close and personal very soon…

ellroon´s last blog post..Republicans run for the closets…

8 Bryan { 06.08.09 at 11:43 pm }

Sylvia Plath or The Grapes of Wrath? Did someone alert the Suicide Hot Line?

Twentieth Century American lit is not the happiest of subjects, although it did soften the impact of Nineteenth Century Russian lit.

The degradation of the middle class has been going on since Reagan made it popular to openly attack unions and people who worked in manufacturing.

9 cookie jill { 06.09.09 at 6:07 pm }

Before Regan was Governor, California residents could attend the UC system colleges for very minimal pricing…if not free.

cookie jill´s last blog post..When in Cambria….

10 Bryan { 06.09.09 at 8:42 pm }

If it helped anyone who wasn’t part of the moneyed elite, it had to be destroyed – that is what the Reagan Revolution was all about, and that’s why their answer to any problem, if if they had to create the problem, was tax cuts.