By Larry Hales
New York FIST chapter
During an interview with WOR radio on Sept. 16, New York City’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, stated that the conditions of high employment in the U.S. could lead to social unrest on a par with what has occurred throughout parts of North Africa, the Middle East, Britain, Spain, Greece and elsewhere. His specific comment was, “You have a lot of kids graduating college can’t find jobs. That’s what happened in Cairo. That’s what happened in Madrid. You don’t want those kinds of riots here.”
The uprising in Egypt had more of a political character, the primary demand being against the corrupt and brutal Mubarak regime which had been in power for 30 years. But this was against a backdrop of an economic crisis that has led to large-scale unemployment around the world and rising cost of staples, fuel and other necessities. London was in response to state repression, again set against the scrim of the current economic crisis.
The crises in Spain and Greece are more general, although in those countries and in much of industrialized Europe, there are rising populations of immigrants who face disproportionate rates of unemployment and poverty, along with repression.
Bloomberg went on to talk about the effect the job crisis will have on future generations. He hits on, whether knowing it or not, the shrinking number of jobs available and the objective proclivity of the means of production to be constantly revolutionized, which means fewer workers being more productive. This in turn speeds up the chief crisis of capitalism: overproduction. Rates of profit fall, markets become glutted, crisis happens. The current and future generations grow up in a world more fraught with uncertainty, more dangerous, seemingly more cold.
As Karl Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto: “All that is solid melts into air, all which is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind.”
That the primary problems of this society are systemic becomes more clear every day. The fundamental contradiction of society, that between the exploiting and exploited classes, is also more apparent, especially as the banks continue cannibalizing the public treasuries and require government at every level to become more austere.
Bloomberg’s remarks started with the situation of recent college graduates, which is far less precarious than that of the general population. College graduates have an official unemployment rate of 4.3 percent, compared to 14.3 percent for people with only a high school diploma. For high school dropouts, it was 42.7 percent in April of this year.
The official unemployment figure for the general population is 9.1 percent, which means 14 million people. This figure, as large as it is, excludes discouraged workers who have stopped looking for jobs, as well as people who work only part- time while desiring a full-time job. Also not counted are more than 2 million prisoners. If workers from all these categories are added, the number is around 30 million.
Poverty rise hits oppressed communities hardest
As with all other indicators of economic and social well-being, the conditions of unemployment, especially chronic unemployment, increase with oppressed nationalities, specifically Black, Latino/a and Indigenous peoples. National oppression is a permanent feature of U.S. capitalism, so the disparate impact of suffering remains and increases greatly amongst oppressed people in times of crisis.
It is in the oppressed communities where the contradictions are most stark. While the mainstream media talk of a second or double-dip recession, depression-like conditions have long existed in oppressed communities.
Since 2008, official unemployment rates among all the oppressed have remained above 10 percent. At the present time, the rate for Black workers in general is 16.7 percent; for Black males it is 18 percent; and it is almost 47 percent for Black youth between 16 and 19 years of age.
Increasing poverty rates in the U.S., which are tied to unemployment, are an even greater indication of the declining conditions and raise the specter of social unrest or, more properly put, rebellions.
A total of 46.2 million people in the U.S. now live in official poverty — 2.6 million more than just two years ago. Breaking it down, one in five children lives in poverty. The overall poverty rate is 15.1 percent, the worst since 1993. Breaking it down, 27.4 percent of Black people live in poverty, 26.6 percent of Latino/as and 18 percent of all women.
And this is despite the fact that the poverty threshold for the U.S. is tragically low — at $22,314 a year for a family of four and $11,319 for an individual.
To put it into perspective, the U.S. Department of Agriculture broke food shoppers into four categories: thrifty, low-cost, moderate and liberal. A family of four was considered thrifty if it spent no more than $464 a month. This was in 2009. That comes to $5,568 per year — exactly 25 percent of the income limit that defines a family of four as living in poverty. Food prices in the third quarter of 2011 have remained high, according to agri-pulse.com.
The median gross rent in the U.S. back in 2008 was $824 per month, or $9,888 per year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. If a family of four paid the average rent and were thrifty shoppers, $15,456 of their income would go to food and housing alone. That leaves $6,858 for everything else: health care, transportation, clothing, etc.
The average fare for public transportation for a one-way adult ticket is $1.50, according to the American Public Transportation Association 2011 Transportation Fact Book.
In 2009 the average yearly cost of health care for a family of four was $16,771. That means a family of four just meeting the poverty threshold would not be able to afford it.
Ron Haskings at the Brookings Institute stated regarding poverty: “Safety net programs run by the federal and state governments are helping millions of families avoid poverty, but the programs could be subject to cuts at the federal and state level because of continuing deficit and debt problems.”
Last year, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program was cut by more than $10 billion, starting in 2014. Cuts to SNAP are being discussed again. Already the House of Representatives has voted to change food stamp benefits to a block grant, which would be a lump sum that could run out.
Bloomberg’s assertion that eventually there will be a subjective response to the objective worsening reality is correct. History shows that. Even the rebellions of the 1960s, while addressing the political repression that was rampant, were also an answer to the impoverished conditions in Black, Latino/a and Indigenous communities, along with anger against the draft and the war in Vietnam.
The repression has not gone away. From the murders of Ayanna Jones, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Alonzo Ashley, Bresnia Flores and James Craig Anderson to the occupation of oppressed communities, and the raids and deportations, racist repression exists, both legal and extra-legal.
Recently, a number of cities, including Philadelphia’s Center City and Cleveland, have implemented selective curfews because of flash uprisings of young, primarily Black men. Other cities are threatening to follow suit. Some 50 young Black people were rounded up the first night of the Center City curfew.
The responses of a few oppressed youth will only increase. But the crisis is systemic and intractable, so suffering will increase and will continue to disproportionately affect the most oppressed. The state will become more repressive. The seeds of revolt are planted and the prospects for rebellion grow by the day.
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