The Personal, Unfair Recession
That graph comes from a sobering survey released by the Economic Policy Institute. There's a tendency to talk of joblessness as a "lagging indicator," which is pretty bloodless. As pollster Geoff Garin said, however, this is a very personal recession people are experiencing. Almost 60 percent of voters are near to someone who has been laid off. More than 60 percent of voters are near to someone who has had his or her wages cut.
On some level, this is almost a bit hard to believe. Unemployment has risen substantially. But it's not gone from 2 percent to 20 percent. The survey, however, says what it says. People aren't reading about the recession. They're living in it. In response to this, you'll sometimes hear members of the administration argue that the situation could be much worse. That's entirely correct. But voters don't viscerally get could-have-beens. They get what is actually happening, and they don't like it. In fact, they more than don't like it. They don't think it's fair:
When the financial crisis hit, there were a lot of political comparisons with the Great Depression. It seemed like an opportunity. But in retrospect, there was a gaping difference between the Depression and the Recession. The Depression hit individuals. The bank run consisted of voters lining up outside banks. The policies meant to correct it thus focused on individuals. FDIC insurance, for instance, protected the deposits of individuals.
The Great Recession took place in the so-called "shadow bank" sector. The bank runs consisted of banks making runs on other banks. The policies that protected assets protected the assets of banks. The biggest recapitalization efforts did not recapitalize consumers, but financial institutions.
This was all done, of course, for the benefit of individuals. Of voters. The economic logic behind preserving the financial sector was bulletproof. But the electorate is not composed of economists. And all they know is that the banks got a lot of money, and this is the worst recession in memory.
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