The growing employment crisis – Time for a revolution?

If you have wondered what the consequences might be of the large numbers of closed businesses and vacant lots throughout Spokane and around the United States, increasing unemployment is an obvious, clear, and direct result.

In the month of June 2011, according to the US Department of Labor, the US economy created 18,000 jobs.  This follows the month of May 2011 in which 54,000 jobs were created nationally.  While these numbers represent an average of 1080 new jobs/state and 27 new jobs/county in Washington state in May, they represent a third of that — 360 jobs/state and 9 jobs/county in Washington — in June.

I addressed this in a previous post here, mentioning that high schools in Spokane county graduated approximately 4500 students in June 2011.  If we take the state’s population of 6,724,540 and divide it by the 39 Washington counties, the average county population in Washington state is 172,424.  Spokane county, with a population of 471,221 according to the 2010 census, is 2.74 times larger than the average Washington county.  So rather than 27 jobs in May and 9 jobs in June, the extrapolated numbers would be roughly 75 jobs in May and 25 jobs in June.

These 100 total jobs in Spokane county in May and June clearly indicate a severely failing economy.  With unemployment at 9.2%, representing 21,300 unemployed people out of the county’s 236,900 member workforce, these 100 new jobs provide employment to just under half a percent of those unemployed persons, even as thousands of new graduates enter the workforce, not to mention in-migration from other parts of the state and country, as well as political refugees being resettled here by the US government.

This is a vicious cycle.  Major corporations are making record profits.  Our main thoroughfares are full of the McDonald’s restaurants, the Starbucks cafes, the Home Depots, Walmarts, Payless, Safeways, Walgreens and many others.  Yet more than 20 thousand workers are unemployed, underemployed and desperate.  And, of course, the real numbers are even worse.

These corporations — many of them transnational corporations worth billions — do provide employment, though the profits leave our communities.  How can we do a better job of keeping these funds in Spokane?

What if conscientious people became more concerned about the quality of economic justice than in the quality and convenience of their fast food?  What if progressive people became connoisseurs of a fairer distribution of their dollars through the local economy rather than than connoisseurs of the taste of their corporate latte?

Our main streets have already been devastated by big box stores.  Are we really making the best choice in the spending of the few dollars we spend?  Are we trying to keep them in our community?

With the economy unable to provide employment to increasing numbers of people, isn’t this the time for innovation?

We just need to get our hands some of those trillions of dollars that we the taxpaying people of this country gave (or rather had given by our dear federal legislators) to rescue the criminal US banking syndicates in 2008.

Is it time for a revolution or what?

Talkin’ about a revolution


Walk a mile in my shoes

Aware from friends and from first hand experience about the ongoing nature of harassment by police and private security forces on the streets of Spokane, I am reprinting here this piece I published on my blog SpokaneRacism in early 2008.  The reality of class and poverty in Spokane is worked out every day year round in the heat and cold of a city that for more than a century has used state power to control the under-class, subjected to discrimination, recrimination, red-lining, physical abuse, human rights abuses, and even murder at the hands of city officials.

This is dedicated to Harpman, Michael, Saelee, Jennette, Ryan, Maria y Jesus and hundreds of members of urban tribes, kids living under bridges, people making the circuit, those abused in government offices, and those that will visit the Sheriff’s “mental health facility” tonight or get their “medication” on the mean streets of Spokane, or get the hell beat out of them trying to beg, borrow or steal a meal, or homeless and pregnant, or just looking to find a place to sleep tonight in this town. Spokane, so close to perfection, they say…

Walk a Mile in my Shoes

Spokane Police officer: “I have a job…to get these shit bags out of the park”

You may have read the Spokesman-Review article about the September 19, 2007 forum/chat with Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick. The article referred to Carmen Jacoby, an outreach worker from the Community Health Association of Spokane (CHAS).

I was present at the forum when Jacoby told of being on a “bridge walk” with WSU nursing students at the 4th and Monroe Bridge Park. She described how a Spokane Police officer showed up. Jacoby told Chief Kirkpatrick and the public how she attempted to ask the officer a question to which he answered, “Who are you?”

Jacoby responded to the officer, at which point he told her, “I have a job to do. I have to get these shit bags out of the park“.

Offended by the officer’s remark, Jacoby asked the officer for his badge number. The officer then told her to move back or he would put her in the back of his patrol car.

The Spokesman-Review’s report on Jacoby’s statement to the Chief at the forum reads, “Jacoby said the officer used an obscenity to refer to the homeless”.

The obscenity used by the officer to refer to the homeless was “shit bags“.

Chief Kirkpatrick is known for promoting her “zero tolerance policy” on misconduct. Apparently it does not apply either to calling citizens “shit bags” (or “faggots” for that matter) nor does it extend to threatening to put community professionals in the back of your patrol car for asking for your badge number.

Would it be exaggerating to say that the Chief’s once impressive little PR line about “zero tolerance” and her other little ditty about “you lie, you die” are starting to sound a little hollow?

God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes, ’cause then you really might know what it’s like to sing the blues


Payday Loans, Pawn Shops and Keystone Light

As should be well known to every human being who has lived since man’s ancestors first stood up and grabbed a club in the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey, thousands of politicians, economists and corporate media flacks wishing it to be does not a growth economy make.

Reality insists on rudely intruding into the delusions of those who have never out of necessity been forced to step into a payday loan “store” or to leave  a family possession at a pawn shop so as to put food on the table or to cure what ails them by throwing back a few pounders* .

Is “optimism” in the face of an overwhelmingly negative reality a sign of a “healthy outlook on life”?

Or is it an indicator of persistent denial coupled with the luxury of relative prosperity and the intent to maintain both at all cost?

You tell me.

I still prefer the harsh reality derived from a “ruthless criticism of everything existing” to the optimistic pipe-dreams of those who ignore the high personal and social cost of daily living in a capitalist paradise, of overwhelming human lose, and of throwing back a few pounders.

(*By the way, a “pounder” is a cheap and popular alcoholic substitute for the wide range of medical treatments, psychological help, and medication that an ever increasing number of people in Spokane and the U.S. will never have access to nor be able to afford.  With a payday loan, one might be able to retrieve the kid’s bike from the pawn shop, pay the utility bill, cover part of the rent, and still be able to fill that prescription for a six pack or case of Keystones to help kill the pain and forget for a night those damnable politicians, economists and talking heads with their well-fed, medically-insured optimism.)

Payday loans, pawn shops and Keystone Lite near (ironically perhaps) Market and Liberty in northeast Spokane

Common wisdom — That ain’t no bum, that’s a scam artist!

Spokane has a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, the national average.  While this is a 0.6 percent improvement from April 2010 to April 2011 for Spokane, it still represents 21,500 people out of a civilian workforce of 236,700 people in the Spokane metropolitan area.

Many people in the area are living without work, relying on public benefits such as food stamps.  Some sell plasma.  Others recycle cans, prostitute themselves, do odd jobs, dance, busk, etc.

And some panhandle…

Yet a common belief, expressed even by compassionate, ‘liberal’ people, is that these panhandlers and others are shiftless, scamming ‘us’, and, worse yet, probably making more money than you or me.

A corollary to this is the idea that you and I are supporting with our tax dollars large numbers of individuals — recipients of public assistance or “welfare” benefits — who could just go out and get a job if they really wanted to.

Let’s see: the US economy fails to keep up in many months with the numbers of new entries into the job market, not to mention those already unemployed and looking for work as well as those who have given up working, and we are supposed to believe that people just need to comb their hair, pound the pavement for a while, and voila!  The greatest nation on earth, blessed by the Lord God Almighty, founded on the proposition that all men are created equal, will provide them with a job, perhaps a job that will be mind-numbingly repetitive or inane, or a job that endangers their physical health, or a job that barely make ends meet for their families, but a job none-the-less.

This is part bald-faced lie and part wishful self-delusion.

The jobs are not there.  The economy is an evident failure with years of hardship and suffering ahead for tens of millions.  The poor will be with us always, say the Christian preachers and believers.

And yet, this fine society believes that you can and should just go out and get a job.  Period.  If you are not working, it is probably because you really don’t want to, or you are an alcoholic or drug addict, or you are a slacker and like it that way.  And if you are hungry, well, there are food stamps, food banks, and food lines.

Message:  You don’t have to stand on a street corner and remind us that there is true desperation in our community and that — from our school system, to our prison system, to our war machine, to our social safety net — we are on a path to “failed state” status among the world’s so-called ‘most advanced developed nations’.

In other words, we don’t want to see your sad, unwashed face.  We don’t want to have to figure out to do with you while we are stuck at the stop light, trying to avoid your eyes or wondering if we shouldn’t at least just smile or wave.  You are supposed to go away.  And besides, you are probably just a scam artist, making more money that we are.

(Note: I for one don’t believe that “we” are being exploited by panhandlers and others seeking to survive and “earn money” in our society.  Just as there are many reasons that one might choose to or be forced to panhandle, there may be reasons one might choose not to hand them a quarter or a dollar bill or $5.  But the idea that in an economy with millions of unemployed people they can all simply “decide to get a job” is statistically and factually impossible.  Therefore, given that the human animal will not, generally, simply go starve to death in a corner, as a society we are going to have to seek solutions, including from time to time being inconvenienced and forced to face the inadequacies and failures of our society and species squarely in the eye.  In fact, the true exploiters in our society and world are people beyond our reach, an ultra-elite class of people who buy our politicians, control our media, buy up our commons, and degrade our humanity through their Freidman-esque philosophy that “the social responsibility of business is profit, not people, not social justice, not quality education, not universal health care, but rather and exclusively, profit. If there is hope for capitalism — I for one am a socialist — perhaps it lies in Citizen Capitalism and the Peaceful Revolution, i.e., “If a new capitalism –  our capitalism –  is to emerge from the chaos of recent years, it must be properly values-based and values-driven. It must focus on shared interests and recognize a healthier, purer and more transparent, radical democracy. It must be citizen-led – and wholly accountable to we, the people. And we must be accountable to one another.”)

1. Spokane unemployment statistics —

2. Spokane unemployment statistics —

3. Denver, Colorado has claimed that a thousand panhandlers there make an average of about $50,000 a year for a total of $4.6 million among them.

4. The Poor Will Always Be With Us, Just not on the TV News —

5. The US as failed state — a large number of authors have addressed this concept, pointing the fact that the US currently meets many of the commonly acknowledged characteristics of a failed state.

6. Citizen Capitalism and the Peaceful Revolution —

Robert Reich — The Truth About the Economy — 5 Points in 2 minutes

This  is a pretty standard liberal, Democratic party, ruling elite analysis.  It provides no alternative model, no escape from growth, empire, and elite rule.  It presumes that the solution for the country, the economy, and middle class is to re-inflate the economy and return to our profligate, unsustainable consumption.  As explanation, Reich is worthwhile.  As an alternative to business as usual, he provides nothing.


Reflections on the economy — How bad is it? — June 2011

In May 2011, the US Department of Labor reported 54,000 jobs were created nationwide.  Let’s create some local and regional context for these 54,000 jobs.

The May jobs number represents an average of 1,080 jobs per state or an average 27 jobs per county in Washington state.  On Friday, 6/10/11, some 140 students graduated from Rogers High School in little Newport, Washington alone. Lewis and Clark High in Washington’s second largest city, Spokane, will graduate about 380 students this year. In 2010, Spokane County high schools altogether graduated 4901 students.  Statewide in 2010, at total of 60,835 students graduated from Washington state high schools.  Were each Washington state graduate to work one week of the year on one of the 1,080 jobs created in May in Washington state they would all be “employed”.  Well, yes, for a week.

(If these students have no income, if they are not residing in their parents home, and if they “purchase and prepare” food for themselves only, they each qualify for $200 in food stamps in the state of Washington.  Large numbers of young people across the country — some numbers put it at a few million — now ‘couch surf’, live in parks and cars, and otherwise live “off the grid” of traditional employment and conventional living arrangements. At least no one “starves” in this country, eh?)

On 4/24/10, Joe Biden predicted the US economy would create 500,000 jobs/month though it has not created that many jobs in any month since he announced that. Meanwhile, the US economy would have to create 250,000 jobs/month for 66 months to return to Dec 2007 unemployment by end of Obama’s second term.

As an indicator of the booming nature of the US economy, for the first 5 months of 2011, the Canadian economy has created between 2 and 17 times as many jobs per month (per one million of population) as the US economy.


Whose town? Their Town — Wells Fargo, Chase, and Washington Trust Bank

Whose town? Their town.  Wells Fargo, Chase, and Washington Trust Bank dominate the Spokane skyline.  

(Click photo to enlarge)  Photo by: David Brookbank  

Banks bearing significant responsibility for the catastrophic collapse of the US economy now dominate the Spokane skyline and make unprecedented profits even as ordinary citizens struggle with unemployment, foreclosure, uncertainty, and despair.