It has occurred to me as we enter this latest Labor Day Weekend that for this generation (actually every generation since “the Greatest Generation”) this holiday weekend is a very ironic one.
The US government has begun to refer to the current recession as “the Great Recession”. No doubt such a reference is was coined out of fear that if the term Depression was used, panic would ensue. That idea is interesting on many levels. On one level the assumption that panic would ensue if the word Depression is used suggests that the majority of Americans know what the Great Depression was. That may be the first faulty assumption. With the current state of the education system in this country (of which I am part), it is not a huge leap to suggest that many young people today could not recite many facts, ideas, concepts or opinions as they relate to the Great Depression. I may go so far as to suggest that a large majority of citizens under the age of 25 know very little about the Great Depression. So to suggest that the government purposely does not use the word Depression when describing our economic situation because of the reaction it might cause is suggesting that our populace is well-versed in American History and appreciates the major events that have shaped it.
Another level on which the choice of terms when describing our economic condition is interesting deals with contemporary history itself. Although the US did rise out of the Great Depression, most acknowledge that the rising from the ashes was a direct result of WWII. If that is the case, and most do believe that to be so, then the US economic flaws which caused the Great Depression were never really fixed. Of course there were monumental pieces of legislation passed by the FDR-led government designed to “re-form” the economy, unfortunately though most of the wage-price issues were not addressed. Furthermore, the effects of mobilization for WWII and the subsequent boom after the war gave most the idea that our economy was fixed so those wage-price issues were never examined on a public level therefore leading to the false impression that the US economy was back on track. It was not…and it still is in disrepair! So as far as history is concerned, the Depression ended with WWII and the economy was once again healthy by the 1950s.
A third idea that comes to mind when mulling the government description of our current economic state is the complete ignoring of the Energy Crisis of the 1970s. When the OPEC nations finally understood the power that they wield, the US public should have realized then the major flaw within our economy. We had based most of our economic growth and success on cheap oil. Once the oil was no longer being sold to us at such a cheap price, our economic house of cards began to crumble. And it still crumbles to today under the weight of energy related inflation. Whether it is the production of gas-guzzling cars which caused the US car manufacturers to suffer, or the relocating of factories overseas in order to avoid rising labor costs which were a result of a ballooning cost of living, the US never reacted to this OPEC-led extortion of the free world. How the US should have reacted is up for debate – as is everything obviously, but the point is the US has been in an economic quagmire since the Great Depression and no major effort or sacrifice has been embraced to try to rescue our sinking nation.
And therein lies the irony. We celebrate the working American this weekend while the economy continues to free fall. We are mired in a “double-dip” recession which is on the verge of being declared a “Great Recession”. The unemployment rate continues to rise (despite the fancy categorizing and manipulating of the numbers) as the creation of jobs stalls. Labor Day sales, and Back-to-School pricing will fill stores with plastic-toting debt-saddled citizens looking to make themselves feel better in this gloomy atmosphere of earthquakes, hurricanes, and unnecessary war. Beaches, pools and backyards will be bustling with people hoping for on last hurrah before the stark reality of watered down curriculum and a bleak economic forecast hits with full force.
We are delusional to think that half-hearted government rhetoric and legislative bandages are going to repair our damaged economy; an economy that has been damaged since the 1930s. Maybe it’s time we let the bottom fall out. Maybe it’s time to admit we are in the beginning stages of another Great Depression. Maybe it’s time the more current generations face the reality that our lives may not be better than the generations before us.
And that’s why the Labor Day Holiday is so ironic. Those that are celebrating the most, have the least for which to celebrate.