I did not intend this blog to become a mouthpiece for social activism. But I do have to say that the feedback I’ve received from some of my recent posts has been overwhelmingly positive. So, while my aim is to keep most of my posts on the light-hearted subject of minimizing, the topic has changed my focus to why so many people are currently minimizing, or changing their habits of consumerism … and the affect our behaviors are having on our national economy. This, in turn, makes me ponder our economy and wonder how the [insert expletive of choice] we got here …
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with some friends and neighbors who are facing varying degrees of financial hardship … ranging from moms who are trying to feed their families on a very tight budget, to salesmen who are 100% commission-based–and therefore are struggling to make ends meet since the economy tanked a few years ago. Add to that, the number of friends who were owning and operating lucrative small businesses only to see their clientele disappear along with their incomes. In fact, just this week, I’ve spoken to two different families whose homes are in foreclosure in spite of the fact that until a few months ago, they had never missed a payment in 20+ years.
Again, I don’t care where you stand politically. You can blame the crash of the housing market on the government’s failure to regulate the banking industry, or the greed of Wall Street fat cats. You can even blame the individual consumer for biting off more than they could chew and making irresponsible decisions when it came to their payments. And, while you can blame predatory lending, there were also a lot of predatory buyers who took advantage of the lending and received large lump-sums of equity when buying a house, and then never made a payment … just took the equity from the banks and walked away with cash in their pockets, with no intention of ever living in the house … ultimately letting it go back to the bank in foreclosure. So, we could sit here and have a huge finger-pointing debate about who caused this mess and who should take responsibility for it now.
Or … we could take a look at our friends and neighbors who are now struggling to survive and figure out how we’re going to help them. I think if you really took a moment to think about it, you would realize that you know a lot more people than you think who are struggling. It’s just that there is so much shame associated with financial hardship that very few people are talking about it or willing to admit it. But really think for a moment … how many people do you know who are currently unemployed? Do you know any small business owners who are struggling to find clients? How many of them have done contract work but not yet been paid for it? When was the last time your neighbor made a mortgage payment? Do they have health insurance? How much do their co-pays cost? Do you know? I bet you’d be surprised.
I just read this article on CNN today … I was shocked by several points. First, did you realize that 1 in 7 Americans lived below the poverty line in 2009 … and that number is only increasing? 1 in 7 people you pass on the street is poverty-stricken today. Makes sense, since 28% of my community eats from the local food bank. What’s more, the government subsidies and safety net are about to run out. From health care to unemployment and homeless services, the huge stimulus package of 2009 has nearly run out. So, while many of America’s poor have been served, what about the people who are just now losing their jobs and homes and health care, as a result of the economic downturn of the last two years? Where is their safety net?
Again … politics aside … what can we do as friends and neighbors? I understand that very few people have expendable income these days, so financial contributions are not necessarily feasible. We’ve talked about contributing to the local thrift stores and volunteering to make a difference. Tomorrow, my children and I are going to clean out our pantry and the depths of my kitchen cabinets to donate the cans of Cream of Mushroom Soup and Whole Wheat Spaghetti that this family is never going to eat. None of us can move mountains. But collectively, our small donations and gestures can change our community.
Even if you don’t have “stuff” to contribute, how about lending an ear to a neighbor who just needs to talk? Or cry.