Last week, the Obama administration and the media began portraying the economy is a more favorable light, asserting that we’re at or near the bottom of the recession. Today, looking for good news anywhere they can find it, the Los Angeles Times claims that “Southern California home prices may be stabilizing,” because the median home price remained steady for the third month in a row (albeit at half the market’s peak in 2007). That may calm a few nerves, but my sense is that most people are well-aware of the continuing precariousness of the economy. Foreclosures continue to rise – a 24 percent increase in households at risk of foreclosing in the first quarter of this year – and jobless claims are over 6 million people for the first time ever.
Whether we’re at the bottom, nearing it, or still far away, many, many people are having a very difficult time during this period. Last week, I attended a session with about 40 community organizations that serve the poor and homeless in Los Angeles, and they reported that they are seeing a whole new swath of people coming to them for help. They’re seeing formerly middle-class people unfamiliar with how social safety net systems work, people who lost jobs and were evicted, increasing numbers of families and an overall increase in demand for basic services. Here’s a sampling of what they reported:
- An organization that runs a day shower program has seen a 180% increase in people coming in.
- A large shelter has seen a 35% increase in families that they are serving and 60% increase in women, and they are having to turn away 150 people a night.
- A winter shelter program had increase of 630% families looking for emergency shelter; two-thirds of them became homeless due to foreclosure, eviction or job loss.
- An employment services organization has seen a 60% increase in people coming in at the same time there has been a 10% drop in jobs people can apply for.
Clearly, for a growing number of people in this country, whether we’ve hit the bottom of the recession or not is academic; they’re already there.