The Recession Effect

Two stories in today’s papers, one in the Boston Globe and the other in the New York Times, combined with a sudden flurry of foreclosure activity at the office reminds me that the lagging  job creation numbers are not just statistics for economists and government agencies to toss around.  The effects are real and are clearly taking their tolls.

This from the Boston Globe this morning

Requests for reduced alimony and child support payments have surged, and the emotional toll of lost jobs, slashed pay, and uncertain futures appears to be driving an increase in other family problems.

“People are increasingly agitated, and it’s incredibly emotional,’’ said Paula M. Carey, chief justice of the Probate and Family Court. “They are out of work, struggling to keep their homes, and all of that takes a toll. Every day, in every court, you can see it.’’

The same economic turmoil that has prompted more families to seek judicial relief has also made courts less equipped to provide it. Steep budget cuts have left the family courts roughly 40 percent understaffed. There have been cutbacks in court-appointed guardians and probation officers who try to mediate disputes before they are brought to judges, increasing judges’ caseloads and creating delays. Financial constraints have forced more clients to represent themselves, which has tended to further slow proceedings.

You have to worry about the impact on children and teenagers.

One day last week in Courtroom 2 of Boston’s Edward W. Brooke Courthouse, more than 50 cases came before Judge Joan Armstrong – an unrelenting succession of single mothers pleading for more support, some fathers saying they can’t pay, and couples grimly agreeing their marriages were beyond repair. Some had lawyers with expensive suits and leather briefcases by their side; others stood alone. Most traded accusations. Few found common ground.

Looming over nearly every case was the heavy weight of financial distress, and parent after parent described for the judge an economic situation hanging by a thread. As the day began, stacks of thick folders were piled high on the judge’s desk, and in quick succession a mother won permanent guardianship of her daughter, a 19-year-old with Down syndrome; an elderly woman in a shawl, after gazing imploringly at the ceiling as though for guidance, won her motion to extend by a year a restraining order against her former husband; a woman requested a hearing on reducing her child support payment.

What I really fail to comprehend is the Republican position that we can’t increase the deficit to create jobs and to fund a jobs program.  Don’t they understand that putting people back to work not only helps reduce the stress on them, but also means that they help support the economy by paying taxes?  Putting funds into the Highway Trust Fund and other transportation projects as my congressman, Mike Capuano, has proposed would allow states to proceed with infrastructure programs and hire people.  The current stimulus programs are a start, but much more is needed.

More than half of the nation’s unemployed workers have borrowed money from friends or relatives since losing their jobs. An equal number have cut back on doctor visits or medical treatments because they are out of work.

Almost half have suffered from depression or anxiety. About 4 in 10 parents have noticed behavioral changes in their children that they attribute to their difficulties in finding work.

Joblessness has wreaked financial and emotional havoc on the lives of many of those out of work, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll of unemployed adults, causing major life changes, mental health issues and trouble maintaining even basic necessities.

These are the results of a new poll announced today in the New York Times.

With unemployment driving foreclosures nationwide, a quarter of those polled said they had either lost their home or been threatened with foreclosure or eviction for not paying their mortgage or rent. About a quarter, like Ms. Newton, have received food stamps. More than half said they had cut back on both luxuries and necessities in their spending. Seven in 10 rated their family’s financial situation as fairly bad or very bad.

But the impact on their lives was not limited to the difficulty in paying bills. Almost half said unemployment had led to more conflicts or arguments with family members and friends; 55 percent have suffered from insomnia.

This graphic illustrates some of the results.

And of course many of the long term unemployed can’t afford health insurance – even the COBRA payments – so they are unable to take care of the health issues resulting from the stress and anxiety creating even more stress. 

Nearly half of respondents said they did not have health insurance, with the vast majority citing job loss as a reason, a notable finding given the tug of war in Congress over a health care overhaul. The poll offered a glimpse of the potential ripple effect of having no coverage. More than half characterized the cost of basic medical care as a hardship.

I realize that the Obama administration is trying to talk banks into lending to small businesses which create jobs, but without a real public jobs program to put people to work so they can begin spending and paying taxes I am afraid that foreclosures will continue increase, domestic violence will rise,  and the overall level of violence will continue to increase.

One very interesting result of the poll was who got the blame.

In terms of casting blame for the high unemployment rate, 26 percent of unemployed adults cited former President George W. Bush; 12 percent pointed the finger at banks; 8 percent highlighted jobs going overseas and the same number blamed politicians. Only 3 percent blamed President Obama.

Those out of work were split, however, on the president’s handling of job creation, with 47 percent expressing approval and 44 percent disapproval.

The Republicans may seem to have forgotten who allowed the economic crisis to happen, but it appears that the unemployed have not.  But clearly, the Obama administration and Congress need to act quickly.

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