Austerity Kills: Economic Distress Seen as Culprit in Sharp Rise in Suicide Rate Among Middle Aged

I’m surprised, but perhaps I shouldn’t be, that a recent study hasn’t gotten the attention it warrants. It points to a direct connection between the impact of the crisis and a marked increase in suicide rates among the middle aged. This link seems entirely logical, given how many citizens found themselves whacked by a one-two punch of job loss or hours cutbacks combined with the sudden plunge in home prices. Normally, a last ditch course of action for most middle and upper middle class income members in the pre-crisis days, when things got desperate, was to sell you house and cut costs radically by moving into a much more modest rental. But that option vanished in all but the most stable markets (as in some flyover states that the subprime merchants ignored) due to home price declines trashing equity for all but those with small or no mortgages.

And you have the further psychological toll of the difficulty of re-inventing yourself if you are over 35. I can point to people who had enough in the way of resources and took steps that seemed entirely logical, taking courses to prepare them for a new career in fields with good underlying demand (see this post for one example; I can cite others) and got either poor returns on their expenditure of time and effort or had no success at all.

And the ones with enough options (bigger savings buffers or relatives who were willing and able to help) are the lucky ones. For all too many middle to upper middle income workers in America, when you fall off the corporate/big firm meal ticket, the fall is far indeed. As readers know all too well, the prejudice against older candidates as well as the unemployed is substantial, even if the reason for the job loss in no way reflected on employee performance (as in business failure or working for an acquired company when, in typical practice, the buyer went through the ranks of the purchased business with a howitzer). People who thought that having a college degree and a steady history of good performance at white collar jobs gave them a measure of security had that illusion ripped from them.

The summary of the article from the Science website (hat tip Dr. Kevin):

Suicide rates for adults between 40 and 64 years of age in the U.S. have risen about 40% since 1999, with a sharp rise since 2007. One possible explanation could be the detrimental effects of the economic downturn of 2007-2009, leading to disproportionate effects on house values, household finances, and retirement savings for that age group. In a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers found that external economic factors were present in 37.5% of all completed suicides in 2010, rising from 32.9% in 2005.

In addition, suffocation, a method more likely to be used in suicides related to job, economic, or legal factors, increased disproportionately among the middle-aged. The number of suicides using suffocation increased 59.5% among those aged 40-64 years between 2005 and 2010, compared with 18.0% for those aged 15-39 years and 27.2% for aged >65 years.

“Relative to other age groups, a larger and increasing proportion of middle-aged suicides have circumstances associated with job, financial, or legal distress and are completed using suffocation,” noted study authors Katherine A. Hempstead, PhD, Director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, NJ, and the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University, and Julie A. Phillips, PhD, Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, New Brunswick, NJ. “The sharpest increase in external circumstances appears to be temporally related to the worst years of the Great Recession, consistent with other work showing a link between deteriorating economic conditions and suicide. External circumstances also have increased in importance among those aged ?65 years. Financial difficulties related to the loss of retirement savings in the stock market crash may explain some of this trend.”

The US isn’t the only place to witness a rise in suicides as a result of increased economic distress. As the Wall Street Journal reported in 2011:

Two years into Greece’s debt crisis, its citizens are reeling from austerity measures imposed to prevent a government debt default that could cause havoc throughout Europe. The economic pain is the price Greece and Europe are paying to defend the euro, the center…

The most dramatic sign of Greece’s pain, however, is a surge in suicides.

Recorded suicides have roughly doubled since before the crisis to about six per 100,000 residents annually….About 40% more Greeks killed themselves in the first five months of this year than in the same period last year…

Suicide has also risen in much of the rest of Europe since the financial crisis began, according to a recent study published in the British medical journal The Lancet, which said Greece is among the hardest hit…

A suicide help line at Klimaka, the charitable group, used to get four to 10 calls a day, but “now there are days when we have up to 100,” says a psychologist there, Aris Violatzis.

The caller often fits a certain profile: male, age 35 to 60 and financially ruined. “He has also lost his core identity as a husband and provider, and he cannot be a man any more according to our cultural standards,” Mr. Violatzis says…

Victims once were typically adolescent males or old people facing severe illness, and in normal times suicide cases often involve a mixture of factors including mental illness, says local [Heraklion, Crete] psychiatrist Eva Maria Tsapaki.

But the economic crash has created a “new phenomenon of entrepreneurs with no prior history of mental illness who are found dead every other week,” she says. “It’s very unusual.”

It’s hard to imagine that suicides haven’t risen further. With the Greek economy continuing to contract, more have to have run out of resources and hope.

Even though economic distress is less acute in the US, there’s reason to think our society is even more vulnerable to suicide. We have much greater income stratification, so that even if someone can remain in his home after a large setback, he’s almost certain to be unable to afford to participate in the same social activities as his supposed friends can. And America is particularly bound up in the idea of career and financial success, seeing those who take a tumble as losers rather than victims.

This well-intentioned section of the Science write-up thus comes off as naive:

The authors caution that “increased awareness is needed that job loss, bankruptcy, foreclosure, and other financial setbacks can be risk factors for suicide. Human resource departments, employee assistance programs, state and local employment agencies, credit counselors, and others who interact with those in financial distress should improve their ability to recognize people at risk and make referrals. Increasing access to crisis counseling and other mental health services on an emergency basis, as is often provided at times of natural disaster, should also be considered in the context of economic crises.”

Um, HR departments are concerned solely with liability avoidance. And some parties like debt collectors seek to increase the psychological pain of those who are in economic trouble as part of their business model.

As Lambert often says about neoliberalism, one plank in the model is for old people to die faster, and higher suicides speed that process along. It’s not easy to make the smug and the abusive feel ashamed of their conduct, since they are confident they’d never wind up as losers, when the reality is that the odds are much higher than they dare imagine.

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  1. Sam Kanu

    Interpretation #1: This is a social and human catastrophe. The savage austerity/sequester/cutback intiatives must be halted.

    Interpretation #2: All going exactly as planned by the think tanks, then…

    1. Jack King

      Austerity?! Since the 2014 deficit was close to 1/2 a trillion dollars, we can see just how far from reality the collective mindset has fallen…..and much of the reason that we have seen any shrinking in the deficit has been because of defense cuts. But the suicide rate should now slow down. In spite of a shrinking Keynesian deficit, the economy is finally showing some spark. How could that be???

      1. Ulysses

        One common way to recognize austerity is to see how many decent middle-class public sector jobs are being cut, leaving workers with no better options than to work for Amazon, or some other horrible employer, that pays less than a living wage. The chart in this article shows that austerity under President Obama is far more severe than under any other President in living memory– even Ronald Reagan!

        1. Jack King

          When you are spending $3.5 trillion a year, federal payroll only represents a fraction of that. When you spend 14% more than you take in, this can hardly be called austerity. But the deficit is dropping. Strange….as the deficit gets smaller, the economy improves faster. What is your spin on this factoid?

          1. Carlos Fandango

            “As the deficit gets smaller the economy improves.”

            That’s not a factoid it’s an ass backwards statement. It’s…. As the economy improves (credit growth increases, tax receipts rise) and the deficit gets smaller.

            Inreased deficit spending is needed for underwater borrowers to surface before credit can grow at a lick again.

            It’s not rocket science. Then again it’s not even science, just accounting reality.

            1. Jack King

              Bingo! Of course…then why all the whining about “austerity”? Let me answer that question for you. It has been the slowest recovery from a recession in our history and people are tired of being out of work or being underemployed. But like all other post recessions, we are recovering from the Great Recession. Of course, I’m not sure why it is called the Great Recession since it only lasted about a year.

              “Inreased deficit spending is needed for underwater borrowers to surface before credit can grow at a lick again”

              Is that what Keynes would propose? Keep in mind that he was always pushing to return the “classic macro policies” once deflation was quelled. He never intended that it be used as a long-term policy.

              1. bob

                “Let me answer that question for you.”

                No, please don’t. AM radio not paying what it used to?

              2. Carlos Fandango

                Jack, you’re not getting the cause and effect here.

                Austerity is unnecessary and does not help the economy in any way imaginable. Without austerity the recovery will be faster.

                America is not going hard on austerity, try Greece or Spain for the full effect.
                I have no idea what Keynes would have advised, he was stuck in the gold standard era. The financial system today is significantly different.

                Not that I believe endless cycles of credit growth and contraction are a good thing, but at least try to understand how the system works before commenting.

                1. Jack King

                  Greece?! Well thank God we haven’t reached their level of insanity. Greece’s public unions are so strong that the finance minister said that for people who used the train system it would be cheaper to put all the riders in taxi cabs.

                  Look, economics consists of supply and demand. I’m all for some stimulous for consumer demand by running deficits. But you can run massive deficits with little effect if you ignore the other side of the equation….supply. That would be the producers who hire people. Unless you have business friendly policies you will end up like Japan in the 1990’s…..going no where.

                  1. Yves Smith Post author


                    With all due respect, you have no idea what you are talking about re Japan. The reason Japan remains a mess is the same reason the US and Europe are mired in low growth and borderline or actual deflation: the refusal to restructure the banking system and clean up bad loans. And in case you missed it, Japanese live in very very small residences. You can’t consume all that much if you have no place to put it.

                    1. Jack King

                      I’m not sure why you think I disagree with your statement above. The Japanese problem had it’s genesis with a real estate collapse in the ’90s, and to mitigate they bailed out the banks and ran massive deficits. With what results? A flaccid economy…..for years. Sound familiar? But to combat a low growth environment, policy makers need to use all the tools in their arsenal. Unfortunately the supply side tools are almost universally ignored….Japan included.

                  2. Ben Johannson

                    U.S. policy response to the GFC has consisted almost entirely of supply-side measures, which has in the past been pointed out to you in detail. You have a very simplistic, warped view revolving around Say’s Law, which even the most ideologically-driven conservative economists no longer believe.

                    1. Jack King

                      I seem to vaguely recall a discussion with you about what exactly supply side policies would be…and I remember you providing a list that was not supply side at all. I seem to remember one item was cutting welfare payments. That is NOT a supply side policy. But perhaps I am getting you confused with someone else. Ergo, feel free to provide a list of supply side policies that would not help the economy, and I’ll be glad to show you where you are wrong.

                      As a footnote, it should be recognized that most people who get in these discussions are stuck on just one side…either Keynesian demand or Mundell’s supply. I am at least open minded enough to recognize the efficacy of both.

                    1. Jack King

                      Lambert….you don’t have to be an expert. We are not writing a doctorial thesis here. As far as the supply/demand dance together seeming too simple, that is the beauty of it.

          2. hunkerdown

            Fallacy of composition, or ethos (same thing, really)? There are several economies with different rules, which tend to inure to the interests of roughly the same small group of people or are steadily changing to favor them.

            I would be pleased if people started treating “the” economy as the attempt at picking your pocket which it is, and to start physically correcting people who casually subscribe to and propagate the intrinsically mendacious terminology.

        2. washunate

          Jack does hit on a point, though. The term austerity has no useful meaning in the US context. Many of the jobs in the top 10% of the wage scale are in the public sector, like law, medicine, academia, banking, and national security.

          We have the largest prison system on the planet, the most bloated healthcare system on the planet, the most out of control national security state on the planet, the most expensive higher education system on the planet, the most bizarre real estate development on the planet…

      2. Sam Kanu

        and much of the reason that we have seen any shrinking in the deficit has been because of defense cuts.

        If there is one thing NOT being slashed enough, it sure is military spending:

        And influential think tanks think we need to spend MORE on guns going forward – this even as masses of people can’t make ends meet! :

      3. jgordon

        Though on the other hand all that debt spending is going to feed already-fat elites and political apparatchiks at the expense of everyone else. Rather than austerity, which is a nonsensical word when you’re running trillion dollar deficits of course, I’d use the word corruption.

        However there is something bigger going on in addition to corruption: we no longer have access to cheap energy and resources are near depletion. To say that “austerity” is the problem, as if there were some kind of a solution to “austerity”, ignores that we have hit the limits to growth already and have entered the downward slope of industrial material wealth. Americans with high material expectations of their living standards should either quickly readjust their attitude about what life has in store for them, or they should do the rest of us a favor and get rid of themselves as quickly as possible. The future is going to be a pretty tough place to live as is, and the kind of delusional person who can’t adapt to reality will both be super annoying and not especially helpful there.

        1. roadrider

          The problem is that, even if your resource depletion argument was correct (and its not) austerity (and there’s no need to use quotes around that word) is not being equitably dispensed. Often its those that have the least that are suffering. And even those who are, or more precisely were, middle class or upper middle class and are losing their comfortable lifestyle are bit players compared to the plutocrats flying their corporate jets to Davos. Random and cruel imposition of austerity often based on discrimination (racial, gender, age, illness, etc) is not a solution to resource depletion. In fact, both situations are problems of distribution not abundance. Those with the most consume the most and are typically collecting rents from resource depleting and environmentally degrading oligopolies. The earth receives an enormous amount of solar energy on a daily basis and we waste a lot of the energy that is produced. That we are still using fossil fuels and are not embracing efficiency (which is not the same as austerity) is symptomatic of the corruption and dysfunction of our society that allows politically connected rentiers from blocking and frustrating efforts to move to a more rational way of doing things. The same is true for just about any other resource you can name. Resource use is organized to support rentiers and oligarchs – they are are the ultimate beneficiaries of gas guzzling cars, McMansions and suburban sprawl as deplorable as the widespread nature of these things may be among the merely affluent. Arbitrarily throwing people out of jobs and depriving them not only of creature comforts but any kind of economic security and health security is a cruel, monsterish way to address resource allocation problems and trying to cloak that kind of thing in a sustainability argument is intellectually dishonest.

          1. Rosario

            To clarify, I agree with most of your points, I just challenge the assertion that we have plenty to go around, particularly with our developments in technology and production which require ever greater rates of consumption, and note that most of the world wants what the privileged West has had for generations (which has been and is incredibly unfair). Could we really bear that burden globally, indefinitely? Even if we had an equitable, and hopefully rational, global society/politics, we would have to acknowledge resource capacity and build it into our political and economic culture. With ecological systems and their capacity, I feel it is safer to take a more conservative approach. The fly by the seat of your pants method has been an ecological catastrophe.

          2. jgordon

            Uh look. We hit peak conventional (cheap) oil production in 2005 or so. That we’re still fossil fuels here in 2015 despite the fact that the costs of extracting them has been skyrocketing up illustrates that even at today’s inflated extraction prices they’re still the best source of energy we have. Even though their price is hollowing out the economy.

            Ecologies are collapsing all over the place. The only minerals we have left to mine are the ones so crappy that people considered to worthless to harvest and refine in previous eras. And now we’re scrabbling around in the Arctic Circle for the last few drops of precious oil that can be extracted with a positive, if modest, net gain in energy. Not understanding these facts means that you seriously have no idea of the current situation at all and you are not going to be prepared to live in the kind of world that nature has in store for species that overshoot their environment’s carrying capacity.

              1. jgordon

                I’m sorry but the cornucopia myth is a cultural delusions that doesn’t mesh well with reality. Even empirical western science has it’s (many) problems–as Masanobu Fukouka points out, but on the credibility scale it at least produces somewhat better models of reality than phrenology or economics. And the ecological model of our current situation says that we are completely screwed.

            1. washunate

              You make a good point on austerity, but the data doesn’t back up resource scarcity. It just doesn’t. The issue in the present is distribution of resources, not aggregate quantity of resources.

              I sympathize that we ought to worry about finite resources as part of planning for the future, but to claim that aggregate resource scarcity explains the present I think is to miss wildly what has actually happened in the US over the past couple decades specifically, and the past century more generally (for suburban sprawl and the car economy). The early cities of decline like Detroit and St Louis didn’t start recently. They started in the early 20th century. The Ford Rouge plant left the city in the early 20th century, and Detroit had finished selling off its rail cars half a century ago. St Louis had more residents when it hosted the Olympics in 1904 than it does today. Its passenger rail station was the largest terminal in the world when it opened. Today it serves no trains at all.

              In particular, I think you are confusing the specific issue of EROI for oil for the general concept of energy and resource scarcity. We don’t use so much oil because people like it. We use so much oil because the power structure (i.e. public policy) forces people to use more oil than they otherwise would in a competitive marketplace, where there was actual choice based upon the full costs of the options (mining, pollution, etc.). Many people would drive less and use less coal electricity if they were given an actual choice to take trains and use wind and solar electricity instead. We know this because people are making these choices in spite of massive incentives the other way from public policy. Young people are getting driver’s licenses later, they are driving fewer miles, they are shunning McMansion sprawl, etc. Many people view walking and biking as preferable in many circumstances to driving, not as inferior.

              Just drive around the midwest (for wind) or the southwest (for solar). There is so much surplus energy we don’t have any use for it. Time, not material inputs, is the primary finite resource at the moment. Plus, if we were to pick one resource for scarcity, it wouldn’t be oil. That bottleneck is water, since (government subsidized) industrial agriculture uses such an enormous quantity of it.

              1. jgordon

                My point was about energy returned versus invested. That’s why I mentioned cheap conventional oil. A lot of the stuff we’re getting today is neither cheap nor conventional. That throw EROI out of wack.

                Renewable energy works fine. All people in America have to do is use about 90% less energy than they today and solar panels and wind mill will be completely sustainable. Americans and American policy makers don’t see a need for this today, so they prefer burning fossil fuels to using solar panels. Unfortunately fossil fuels that can be recovered with a positive EORI are near depletion–and considering that without fossil fuels our industrial economy will immediately cease to exist, we ought to be a lot further along in the game than we are today if we want to maintain any kind of technological infrastructure after our ability to extract fossil fuels is gone.

                Of course we could (have previously) avoided the nasty fate in store for us by polishing appropriate technologies and installing lots of renewable energy infrastructure–back in the 80s. Today however, most of us are basically screwed.

                1. washunate

                  Yeah, I agree screwedness is pretty much* built in at this juncture. Which I think is what posts like this are getting at – previously comfortable people waking up to the reality of life for the majority of Americans. But I just think it’s important to articulate the why. It’s not because we ran out of some necessary material input.

                  *I guess where I dissent from the doomsdayers on both the environmental left and hyperinflation right is that I think, while we can’t prevent the suffering that has already happened, we could still save things broadly speaking if we can figure out how to elect different leaders and perhaps most importantly convince the educated gatekeeper technocrats in our society to sympathize downward rather than upward.

                2. Jack King

                  “and considering that without fossil fuels our industrial economy will immediately cease to exist”

                  BINGO! The solution to global warming has saved us.

              2. Lambert Strether

                You write:

                We don’t use so much oil because people like it. We use so much oil because the power structure (i.e. public policy) forces people to use more oil than they otherwise would in a competitive marketplace, where there was actual choice based upon the full costs of the options (mining, pollution, etc.).

                This argument reminds me of a recent post by the Archdruid:

                Externalities aren’t simply made possible by technological progress, in other words; they’re the inevitable result of technological progress in a market economy, because externalizing the costs of production is in most cases the most effective way to outcompete rival firms, and the firm that succeeds in externalizing the largest share of its costs is the most likely to prosper and survive.

                In other words, this problem of “the market” can’t be solved from within the market (which, after all, is set up for no other purpose than profit, especially profit for the market makers). It can only be solved by the institutions that structure the market: Law and the state.

                1. washunate

                  Lambert, I’m curious what you are advocating at this juncture?

                  What we have right now isn’t markets. The problem isn’t homebuilders building McMansion sprawl or GM making SUVs. The problem is ‘law and the state’ subsidizing it.

      4. James Levy

        Just for the record, the deficit has not been in any way Keynesian; it has been the (ostensibly) unintended consequence of continued high “defense” and “security” spending, falling revenue (the big culprit), high levels of unemployment compensation, and Bush’s Medicare Part B giveaway. New discretionary spending above inflation has been virtually non-existent for years. These happen to be what used to be called facts, as opposed to your idiotic posturing and depraved indifferent to the suffering of others.

          1. James Levy

            Yes, my mistake, wandered back and forth between B and D and didn’t look it up. Apologies.

        1. washunate

          Doesn’t Medicare Part D demonstrate exactly that what ails our country is not how much money the government spends, but rather, how the government spends it?

      5. Yves Smith Post author

        Spending and payrolls have fallen at the state and local level, and we’ve also had a deficit cutting push on at the Federal level, in case you missed that, which is contractionary.

        You want very large deficits in times of slack resources. Failure to provide that is austerity.

      1. jgordon

        When the farmer culls the herd, he implicitly assumes that the herd will not be aware what going on and consequently what take steps to avoid it. To that extent, the herd is complicit in the culling and some would even say that the fate is deserved.

        There is also the fact that one of the reasons the farm culls the heard is that grass has been depleted and he no longer has the capacity to feed them. So getting some money and big meal out of the culling in exchange for a smaller heard is a win-win for the farmer and the environment. Though not having a herd the denudes the landscape in the first place would be much much better for the environment. The fact that farmers and herds even exist in the first place is a serious mal-organization of resources that needs to be solved before we can get anything useful done.

        1. Carlos Fandango

          I think the analogy should be more like a 3 mile high cow wanting the good pasture all for his own fat self. Trampling the mini cows in his way.

        2. beene

          Farmers and cattle raising represent the best an worse example of capitalism. The farmer makes good money when there is a shortage and does not have the resources to feed the cattle when there is an abundance of cattle.

      2. MartyH

        Not That is trolling for flames ;-)

        But all too true. With gallant speeches of how much they Love all their little herd members and how humble and folksy they really are at heart.

        t’was ever thus.

    2. Ian Ollmann

      I can’t imagine this is actually being orchestrated by a cabal. That is too much like Real Life meets Illuminati™ to be taken seriously, at least with my present level of naivety.

      I believe what we experience is drawn from two systematic factors: We are being more inclusive with the rest of the world, allowing them to participate in the industrial revolution and “western prosperty”. This unfortunately undermines the value of labor, since there is a glut of it. Regrettably, this probably won’t stop, because as much as poorly educated asian peasants can disrupt poorly educated American autoworkers, poorly educated robots can disrupt poorly educated asian peasants. The “rest of us” just need to get a bit better at software so as to leave “the rest of them” penniless.

      The other problem is that it isn’t clear to me that the world can physically sustain the 1950’s American lifestyle for 6 billion people. Maybe it can. Mathus keeps getting disproven or at least seems to be postponed indefinitely. However, if one assumes that it can’t and that our economy is not a suicide pact (except as opt-in, see article above) then equality won’t be allowed happen, one way or another. Probably prices will kick in and price high consumption resources out of the reach of common people, and only a few (the rich) will still do such things. That is, here I assume that rich people mostly pile their wealth back into fiat investments rather than consumption, whereas more modestly wealthy are busy buying stuff. Thus, funneling wealth into the hands of the few is a way of drowning wealth so that it can’t be used to destroy the earth, not unlike democracy is a way of drowning power so people can’t use it except in rare circumstances or when really needed.

      It’s not nice, or maybe even planned. However, it does ring true as the emergent behavior of a otherwise just and sensible system in the face of resource constraint and fiat excess.

  2. YankeeFrank

    I just wish some of these poor sods would lash outwards at the culprits who created this disaster instead of inward at themselves. I’d love to see some of these scum-suckers pay for what they’ve done to our world.

    1. digi_owl

      No way to reach them, unless you happen to pack a RPG. And even then the vehicle may be armored enough to withstand it. Cockroaches would be easier to kill at this point…

      1. Pepsi

        Eh you’d be surprised.

        But individuals killing individuals doesn’t make things better, it makes them worse, ie the assassination of Lincoln.

        The only way to put things right is for everyone to band together and do it as a group, take their money, take their land, send them to prison.

  3. Larry

    I’m constantly amazed how many people in my generation or lower seem resigned to this neoliberal fate of walking the plank. The messaging from above that we can’t afford to treat the non-wealthy adequately (pensions are breaking us, social security will run out of money, we have no money for college, there is nothing we can do to fix our infrastructure) needs to change. Too many Americans are simply ready to roll over and be ripped off and walked over.

    1. digi_owl

      Age of narcissus basically. We all have been hammered with a message about individuality and bootstrapping. Thus failing to do so triggers the shame of being a failed human.

      1. Brindle

        As the planet experiences the addition of another 1 billion humans every 12-18 years the “message about individuality and bootstrapping” is opposite of what is required for any sort of reasonable existence for people. Community and the social contract are needed, not the “we are all individual entrepreneurs” slogan of neolibs such as Obama.

        1. Carlos Fandango

          “We are all individual entrepenuers”

          Hell yes we are….. Except that some entrepenuers are “better” than others.

    2. Kokuanani

      With regard to “social security fund will run out of money,” since the rich guys are the only ones who still have jusbs, that’s yet another reason to raise the ceiling on contributions to the fund [FICA]. Those making $150K+ can afford it, certainly more easily than those at the bottom.

      One thing that particularly pisses me off about the “social security won’t be there when I need it” argument being peddled to Millenials is that it turns them against a system that they should be fighting FOR — for their parents, grandparents and themselves. There’s no reason it can’t be there for them, and even better, if changes like raising the ceiling are made.

        1. hunkerdown

          The “lockbox” restrictions inherent in the accounting that was part of the original program almost seem appealing today. Disappointing how far we’ve fallen, isn’t it?

  4. Faye Carr

    I can write* a first person POV essay on this topic, but I’ll spare NC the shear banality of it.
    Just going to say, YES, all of this not only true but the numbers are under reported. Some of us survived it.

    And they do not include the uptick in “Family Annihilators” news stories . Which spiked at the beginning then stopped being covered.

    *I think maybe writing it might help in mitigating the continuing struggle to overcome the despair of all that we lost & the shocking truth that we’ll never get it back.

    That’s the hardest part. A bleak, unrelenting fear, and increasingly impoverished non-retirement.

      1. Paul Tioxon

        It was a dark and stormy downsizing. Call me Willie Loman, and I sing of a man and his wares.

      2. Faye Carr

        Lambert, editing and updating one of my OpEd News entries from the first months of our disaster. Thanks for the gentle prod.

        Paul Tioxon: it was a dark and stormy night indeed. Willy Lohman was inspiring.

  5. roadrider

    Losing a good, high-paying job in a merger. Declining prospects due to austerity, hostile hiring environment for older employees. Discrimination against the unemployed. Sadly you are describing my exact situation. I’ve been laid off three times since I turned 50. The other times (2006, 2007) I was able to find work in six months or less after losing my job. This time its 19 months and counting. I get a fair number of inquiries from my online resume postings but when the recruiter or HR person finds out how long I’ve been out of work things come to a screeching halt (and this started within a few months of being out of work).

    The media and politicians with all of their BS happy talk about “recovery” and the fraudulent low unemployment rate and job growth have really poisoned the well for the long-term unemployed. Everyone, particularly employers and those who have managed to hold on to their jobs simply assumes that its our fault. In reality employment has become like a game of musical chairs where the number of chairs steadily has steadily diminished and the music rarely starts again. There is very little public understanding of this reality beyond those of us who are experiencing it first hand. Thank you Yves and NC for staying on top of this.

    1. Carlos Fandango

      Empathize with you. I’ve just spent $16k of my meager savings to retrain as a teacher, because there was supposedly a shortage of mature candidates. Only to find there is now an excess of graduates. Private colleges have created too many teachers and lowered the standards to boot, stigmatizing fresh graduates. The entry bar has now been raised to Masters degree in teaching, with the promise of irregular substitute teaching work at best for a year or two.

      When will the nightmare end…… They keep whipping away the chair as I sit down.

      1. jrs

        It would have happened private colleges or no if everyone else was also hearing it’s a “hot field” and way too many are unemployed. As probably would have the raising of the base standards to a masters degree (it’s probably more a function of too many resumes coming in more than unqualified people). I’m not saying the private colleges are good, probably not if they are actually “for profits”, but supply and demand is more than sufficient to explain that behavior.

        1. Carlos Fandango

          It could explain it, but the private college qualifications in my City are crap with insufficient teaching practice. Plus the entry requirements for the courses are getting lower with no cap on graduate numbers. The free market is a poor solution for most problems.

          1. felix

            For Entry level OCS the Navy now requires a Masters degree……..same Problem…….no alternatives and way too many applicants for a job with benefits.

    2. norm de plume

      ‘Sadly you are describing my exact situation’

      Mine too.

      Just now I heard back from an old colleague and friend who I had asked to be a referee for me on a job I was applying for. Turns out he was made redundant too, after I left, so I was in the awkward position of having to decide whether to use him, now he’s on the heap along with me.

      In the case of this particular job it was academic anyway because the employer had pulled it from the site when I went back to complete my application. Drat, spent the whole morning on it – I can recall a time when you just sent a cover letter and resume and that was it, now you have to ‘address the selection criteria’, often humungous, even for a relatively low-level job.

      Friends and family tell me I should retrain to teach too, but I see younger graduates churning out of the colleges and not finding work in a time of cutbacks and increased reliance on technology.. personally I think people like me who always got on famously with those a generation older than myself could be employed on a decent wage to visit the silent thousands sitting alone in aged care and befriend them, to help ease their path, the one we will soon be undertaking ourselves (assuming we don’t cut to the chase beforehand..)

      It would be win-win-win in that they, the people who built the platform we all stand on today, would approach their end with the greater equanimity they deserve; we’d be employed and happier too, and the economy would reap the benefit of our spending into a healthier aggregate demand and tax receipts for government would go up.

      But that sort of majority-enhancing solution is off the radar and the ridicule with which its suggestion would be met, even among its its intended beneficiaries, is a fair index of the sort of entrenched attitudes that foster the hopelessness that is the subject of this excellent post.

      It is getting harder to build a decent ‘ship of death’:

      1. Carlos Fandango

        Sad, there is a massive surplus produced by labour. Once the elite owners, landlords, financiers, insurers, IP holders, lawyers, marketers, politicians and salesmen have taken their oversized cuts there is nothing left to provide succor for the laborer in their old age.

        If we could organize ourselves properly to produce useful, beneficial goods and services there is no shortage of labour or money. Human greed and selfishness are the real barriers to progress.

    3. Blackjack

      Why, in the name of God, do we think we are entitled to our prosperity and standard-of-living? That, somehow, this prosperity trajectory will ensure our future security and all will be well? It’s an illusion. Being prosperous is an accident, a streak of good luck, that’s all. If we had half a brain, we would take all the money/assets we acquire in the good times and stash them away in a safe place for the guaranteed lean times that always come. Live modestly, acquire very little, and outlast/outlive the downturns as they come. Don’t be fooled by the glitter. Get skills necessary to survive. Ignore the fools.

      1. jrs

        What skills are necessary to survive? I don’t think many are universally. Because that which allows you to survive on a farm, won’t keep you alive in the inner city (but very different street smarts will).

  6. Noni Mausa

    I wonder also if anyone is tracking accidental death rates in older populations. Many of them could be stealth suicides.

    In cases where life insurance is still active, some policies reduce or nullify benefits in cases of suicide, but may increase benefits for accidental deaths. In addition, most people are aware of the devastating affect suicides have on survivors. Accidental death, though still traumatic, wouldn’t have as toxic an affect.

    Of course, maybe this is just storybook thinking on my part — most people wouldn’t consider this as a viable option to aid their family when all other efforts have failed. But I dare say some would.


    1. JCC

      My family experienced what I believe was a “stealth suicide” about a year after the melt-down. There is no doubt in my mind that it was a suicide, in the sense that this family member “just gave up” as a direct result of the Financial Sector failure somewhat combined with our completely dysfunctional “health care” system.

      As GuyFawkesLives says below (in no uncertain terms on his part :), respect and trust can quickly turn to absolute disgust with both our Banking System and our Government.

  7. Lambert Strether

    I wonder if somebody better at math and data than I am could run the numbers on how many suicides would have been prevented if HAMP had been a good faith effort and kept X number of people in their homes. That would be a nice stinking albatross to hang round Obama’s neck (and Timmy, too. He helped!).

    1. crittermom

      As a 63 yr old single female victim of the HAMP program in which I lost everything but my life & am now renting for the first time in my life, I, too, wonder the same thing. It devastated me, & I considered suicide at one time, but am now just pissed.
      I’ve now decided I will never give up the fight for justice. Success is the best revenge, & I still intend to be just that, at whatever I do.
      Regarding more counseling programs? What a crock! We need justice, & a govt that will enforce laws already on the books—even against the banksters. It’s the hopelessness that generates the thoughts of suicide, when you realize that those you turn to who should be on your side, are not. They’re only out for their own interests (like a cushy job after leaving govt ofc). Our “protectors” against such deceit have been paid off, proven over & over again, yet the cycle continues.
      It’s that hopelessness for justice that makes people want to give up.

    2. GuyFawkesLives

      Because we don’t have ACTUAL numbers of completed foreclosures (reported foreclosures in 2009 was 6 million, the number of foreclosures have gone down ever since then) we also will never get the ACTUAL numbers of suicide victims.

    3. lightningclap

      Wow. Yes, if HAMP was not simply for the “optics” and not a Potemkin program, that would have saved myself and many others from a grim future. Seemed like a nice idea at the time. Too bad it was just empty PR.

    4. jrs

      What’s going to happen when generations which were unable to buy homes in the first place (because of sheer inaffordability of housing not to mention debt) start hitting the “too old to be employed” threshold. It’s coming soon. Of course about 30-40% of the population has never owned homes anyway.

  8. DanB

    Yves terms this suggestion from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation naive: “Increasing access to crisis counseling and other mental health services on an emergency basis, as is often provided at times of natural disaster, should also be considered in the context of economic crises.” I see it as consistent with the foundation’s loyalty to and membership in the 1%. See: “Public Health’s Response to Decline: Loyalty to the 1%”. Short summary: RWJF -and Harvard’s School of Public Health- suggest that the public’s response to economic distress is to learn stress management and coping skills.

    1. GuyFawkesLives

      I would say that my distress would be much more manageable by seeing Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein swinging from the poplar trees.

      1. petal

        +100. You just made my day.

        A person that was very close to me lost their $45k per year technical job because management thought this person made too much and wanted someone cheaper(even though this person busted their hump and went all out to do a great job). This person had unwittingly trained a replacement. After being sacked, this person shut down emotionally and was utterly destroyed. The chance they will ever be able to get another good-paying job again is likely almost nil at the age of 37. Anyone that says the economy is improving is full of it and completely out of touch. Those …I hate to call them people…have done so much damage that has spread like ripples on a pond. They have destroyed people and families and don’t give a fig. It’s unforgivable.

        1. guest

          The chance they will ever be able to get another good-paying job again is likely almost nil at the age of 37.

          37 is already too old to have a chance at a good job? So a career is basically 15 years max? If so, there is indeed no hope, the system is bust.

          1. hunkerdown

            In IT, that’s very much the case. Seems that people who have been around a while carry inconvenient memories of when and from where these “innovations” were plagiarized, negating the meme of Pwogwess.

          2. bob

            Same cohort, almost the same outlook. Graduated college in 2000. Recession. Scrambled to get employed. Got a job making just about half what I was supposed to be making, according to the stats my college releases. Ended up training my replacement, who was working for another firm. Right around 2006-7. They didn’t even want to admit they laid me off, tried to claim that I was fired. I had all the proof I needed to disprove that, and plenty of people who I worked under to back me up.

            Nothing but gigs and BS auto replies from HR ever since.

            You’re making 100k by 30 (only in sales, aka lying for a living), or you never will.

            Nothing but grey skies on the horizon. Maybe health insurance, some day.

        2. jrs

          Maybe the people who don’t go all out and bust their hump have a much better chance of surviving in this economy. No they might be more likely to get laid off, but I mean surviving psychologically and thus physically, as the psychological investment in the system is less, even though the bills are still due of course.

        3. washunate

          But that’s the thing, management

          wanted someone cheaper

          According to SSA data, 107 million workers made less than $45K. If we’re talking in terms of chance, well, odds are that any randomly selected worker would make less than $45K. Because the median wage is $28K. Two-thirds of the workforce makes less than $45K.

      2. guest

        I hope this would be hanging upside down by their feet — till death ensues. It would be an opportunity to keep alive those old traditions focusing on slow, painful deaths.

  9. Steve in Flyover

    You can believe that “things have to change”…….or look at things as they actually are, and see that the bloodsuckers have won.

    What is the point of extending your life, when it is highly likely you are going to spend the end of it having your pathetically small estate sucked dry by the doctors and hospitals, and you are eating cat food and living in a cardboard box under a bridge?

    1. jrs

      Not to mention climate change. Which seems to me as good a reason to have an exit plan as any, if the worst case scenarios turn out to be correct (but that’s an IF. I’m definitely not suggesting it now).

      1. Carlos Fandango

        I dunno, I don’t think I could ever give up up living while I still have friends and family. I’d hope to go underwater with someone on my shoulders.

  10. GuyFawkesLives

    I’ve been fighting the bankers regarding foreclosure for the last six years. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about suicide. Of course, I wouldn’t actually do it because that would mean they win, I lose. But, the stress that I am under would literally kill most people. I blame the bankers AND my government for the stress. I hate them both.

    But, they ain’t never getting my home.

    1. alex morfesis

      never give in and never give up…since you are past 5 years, you might be getting near a cathartic statute of limitations door…have no idea what state you are in so…if in a trust deed state, the goal is to force the foreclosing party to have to move to foreclose judicially by being able to bring enough questions to the table from the mystery substitution of trustee…if it is a regular mortgage, each state is different. If you are in Florida, New York or New Jersey, you have some real hope…look to see who the notary is in the documents. Only 18 states require a notary to keep a record, a log book of what items were notarized and recording whom (Alabama, Arizona, California , Colorado, DC, Hawaii, Maryland, Mass, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Penn, Tenn, and Texas). In DC and Nevada, the log is not officially a public document, but in the other 16, the notary log is a “public” record. That means you have a right to pull ALL the copies of their log books of what they claim to have notarized. Having seen a couple of these, when pushed, the Notaries and their bank lawyers try to focus in on what “dates” you are looking for…nah…that is not what you are asking for…you want their entire record. But do this directly with the notary, and not through the foreclosure suit, since they might decide to edit and redact the record (oh yes they would…). They are not allowed to try to burn you in costs…each page will have anywhere from 7 to 15 notations and if the log is small enough, you might get two pages per page to be copies. Notaries are almost never called on this fact, but they are government officials so they HAVE to give you copies of the entire log. And in those states that do not “require” a notary journal/log, if the notarization is electronically applied, they might be required to keep a log, and if they actually do have a notary journal, then even though they did it voluntarily, it is still a public record. Do a Boolean search on any name you find on any document. Not just the signature parties or witnesses, but if there is a “prepared by” name…or a verifier, affiant, or documents custodian…some of these folks, in their Linkedin data may let out they are not in fact employees, let alone, VP’s of the bank and may give out information which will show they work for a well known temp agency…and if you have anyway of getting someone from local law enforcement to do a simple investigation by taking an ink sample of the document in case you have a famous “blank facsimile indorsement”, (meaning a pay to the order of blank, stamped on by some mystery employee of the purported original note holder) they have access to the secret service ink database which might just show the date the court papers claim the “indorsement” was executed will not match the date the ink was created…finally, and hopefully you have some attorney involved, you can then move for a Subpoena Duces Tecum to third party,( such as Fannie and Freddie, and LPS) to ask for any and all “bailee” letters and forms…one of the games that has continued is the smoke and mirrors of “holder”…the lawyer for the foreclosing party shouts out to the court, your honor, we have the note in our hand…therefore, everything else is off the table…what they tend to forget to mention to the court is that they are not a UCC holder as is being implied in their actions…they are a “bailee” holder, which may not give them capacity to use in court to take your home…

      1. GuyFawkesLives

        Thanks for all that. On my second litigation. These bastards just won’t go away…..but neither will I let them have the house. I’ll see them swinging before that happens.

    2. Rosario

      I can’t be as helpful as Alex above, but know your lot is not yours alone. You are stronger now then you have ever been as a result of your struggle with the void that is global finance. Here is a good Python clip on bureaucracy and formalism. Always helped me deal with the absurdity of everyday life.

    3. Rosario

      I can’t be as helpful as Alex above , but know you are not alone in this world. May seem cheesy, but I’ve learned that I was strongest when I felt I was struggling the most. Plus a peppering of humor and anger were always good motivators to get up and take on the world’s BS. Keep a goin my friend, we will all make it.

      1. GuyFawkesLives

        Thanks a bunch. I think about it, but then I have a happy lab who wouldn’t know what to do without his mate. Who would give him cookies? And that brings me back.

  11. crittermom

    Sadly, suicides will probably begin to increase this year, as foreclosures will be on the increase once again.
    It’s now been ten years since the bubble, & those who took out interest only loans will now see their pymts increase dramatically as interest kicks in.
    Those few who DID receive modifications, will also see an increase in their pymts, as their interest rates rise.
    And those who lost their homes & are now getting back on their feet are now being hit with deficiency judgements on the homes they lost.
    The banksters aren’t done, & neither is the decline in our economy. They won’t be until they own all our homes & are renting them back to us, or until we force “our” govt (what a misnomer!), to represent us, the citizens.
    We can’t make that happen unless given a choice at the polls, where we can vote for someone who represents us, not Wall Street.

    1. Carla

      “We can’t make that happen unless given a choice at the polls, where we can vote for someone who represents us, not Wall Street.”

      Crittermom (love your handle), we won’t be “given” anything. We will have to take it. With our current system, it is impossible to elect people who will actually represent us. To address the systemic problem, we need an amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing that 1. Only human beings, and not artificial entities such as corporations and unions, are entitled to Constitutional rights; and 2. Money is not speech, and therefore money in politics can be regulated.

      We have placed citizens’ initiatives in support of such an amendment on the ballot in more than 60 localities across the country. It has never failed to pass. In Ohio, in the conservative upscale suburb of Brecksville where Romney took 67% of the vote in 2012, the Move to Amend initiative on the same ballot also won, receiving a 52% affirmative vote. Here are the results in Ohio communities so far:
      2012 Brecksville, 52% yes
      2012 Newburgh Heights, 73% yes
      2013 Cleveland Heights, 78% yes
      2013 Defiance, 67% yes
      2014 Chagrin Falls, 66% yes
      2014 Mentor, 70% yes

  12. Peter Pan

    DSHS just notified me that the income level to qualify for SNAP benefits (food stamps) has been lowered from 200% of federal poverty level (fpl) to 130% of fpl. DSHS advised that this requirement came from the federal government at the end of 2014. I not sure if this was part of the “must pass” Cromnibus bill or part of a planned backside reduction to the 2009 stimulus package.

    I will start withdrawing money from my IRA which qualifies as income. Consequently I will lose access to both SNAP benefits and Medicaid. Then I’ll have to pay out for a crummy health insurance policy under Obamacare. I thought I had enough money in the IRA to make to Social Security benefits but now I doubt it. I’m fucked.

  13. Pjay

    Let’s be a little more precise here. 90% of these suicides are men. Men are disposable in western society.

    If women were killing themselves, we’d never hear the end of it.

    1. zapster

      I suspect there are women killing themselves too, and they’re being under-reported. I know at least one that is likely to if some miracle doesn’t occur soon.

    2. ginnie nyc

      I don’t know where you’re located, but in Manhattan, there is an even split w/regards to gender in the middle-aged people who are throwing themselves out of buildings or end up on the subway tracks.

      1. neo-realist

        I take it those middle aged people in Manhattan throwing themselves on train tracks and out of buildings don’t have rent controlled apartments. NYC being the high cost metropolis that it is, one can sink very quickly into destitution, homelessness and ruin (except maybe if one has family and or friends that will let you sleep on their couch) if the serious money from a career stops rolling in for one reason or another. Very little to no room for bad economic breaks in the city.

      2. GuyFawkesLives

        Does anyone remember the Great Depression when it was actually the CROOKS throwing themselves out a window because they feared criminal charges and ostracism?

        Now, it’s the victim of the crimes who is paying for it.

    3. jrs

      Yes because a middle aged woman is such a hot commodity in western society. Are you kidding? And women often hit age discrimination in jobs even earlier than men.

      But men are more likely to successfully commit suicide. Women are more likely to be depressed than men, but don’t kill themselves as often

      1. jrs

        Also women are MORE likely to end up in poverty than men (because society cares so much about women – about as much as it does for children I suppose despite record levels of child poverty). Men of all ages are more likely to commit suicide. But this is true even for teenagers, where economics is not so likely to be the main factor.

  14. Santi

    One of the reason why I have been organising free (as in beer) tango workshops, classes and dance meetings in social centers and street meetings, during the last five years, is that social activity is good. For the organizer it is an achievement, not a small thing in times of empty roles as unemployed workers. And for the rest of the participants it is a social activity where they can spend time without spending money. This kind of activities are growing a lot in Spain, and I guess they play an important role to buffer the affective impacts of the crisis.

    Not sure, and curious to know, how Social Centers (frequently at squatted buildings) have been fulfilling those roles in Greece or other countries. For me this lifeline was important, and I gave to it a very substancial proportion of my time and energy.

    1. Carla

      Santi, this is a wonderful point–thank you for sharing it. Also, let me say that I have learned a great deal from your comments over the last several weeks and I’m grateful for your insights.

    2. Rosario

      Thank you for inverting “There is no such thing as society”. Society is all that we have, we have only forgotten.

    1. GuyFawkesLives

      I just think we all need to start referring to “Madame Guillotine” a little more often to reiterate a point.

  15. Demeter

    I’m a divorcee with a disabled adult child and one neurotypical, surviving by virtue of having a family that shares and cares, since the father of my children didn’t and still doesn’t. He hasn’t contacted either child in 13 years. I hope he’s strung out and unemployed in California, and his second wife has ditched him, but I’m not troubled enough to bother to find out. He’ll get his just rewards, of this I am sure.

    If the men in this society would bend their narcissism sufficiently to mend and strengthen their family ties, or form new ones based on sharing and caring, a lot of the misery could be mitigated. People could survive, lead purposeful lives, and even take over the reins of government from the Corporations and the Oligarchs. It would take a sincere level of humility to reconnect with the women and children that have been battered and abandoned, but it would be healing. This nation needs healing, above all other considerations.

    As it is now, there’s class warfare, racist warfare, union vs. non-, and the battles between the generations and the sexes continue. Every means of dividing the nation is in constant action.

    Killing oneself is a permanent solution to a temporary money problem, an easy psychic out. Killing a bunch of other people, related or not, when one commits suicide is despicable. Both of these are the only solutions we hear about.

    If the cinema, story-telling, and medical professions took an attitude of connecting with other people…. Instead of focusing on Greed, taking care of Need…what a difference that would make.

  16. RUKidding

    Said previously but will be redundant. .01% culling the herd. These suicides – and family murder/suicides – can be combined with the many many suicides of returned Vets, given inadequate (deliberately?) care by the VA. Less useless mouths to feed. Hooray.

    I am still somewhat amazed at how ruthless HR Depts can be over someone who has been unemployed – especially after years of good work history, which comes with knowledge, skills, etc – for, say, more than six months… AS IF it’s all the unemployed person’s “fault.” The usual ersatz “Libertarian-y” memes float through my head: lazy! don’t want to work! looking for free handouts! Those memes are in my head because the propaganda is so strong. I witness US consumers – either in person or, for ex, on blogs – making the most inane, self-absorbed, heartless comments about other US consumers. All neat & tidy to see people who either don’t have jobs or are struggling to survive as lousy, lazy, freeloading LOSERS who deserve their fates because they didn’t work hard enough blah de blah… vapid, stupid, greedy, clueless but ultimately nastily heartless.

    I am lucky to have work where we are not such heartless ignorants and have definitely been able to hire new staff who have been laid off and unemployed for longer than six months. Sadly we are a small outfit and have few openings. There are some organizations out there who don’t discriminate in such cruel and frankly stupid ways.

    I find it chilling that people in their 30s!! – fer gawd’s sake – are having such problems. Really sobering.

    Yes, why do so many taxpayers put up with this state of affairs?? How is it so that this just has been accepted as the “new normal.” I detest that label – there is absolutely nothing “normal” about our current state of affairs. And yes, why aren’t more consumers calling for Wall ST & Bank CEO’s heads on pikes?

    1. Carla

      “why aren’t more consumers calling for Wall ST & Bank CEO’s heads on pikes?”

      Because consumers don’t do that. Citizens do.

      1. Sam Kanu

        And everything is centred in this country around making you see yourself as a…..consumer.

        When was the last time that the daily news report ever promoted any measure of well-being other than the stock market index or any number of “consumer confidence” indices?

      2. neo-realist

        Citizens get visits from the police and the FBI when they start calling for the death of well known people, whether they be actors or criminal oligarchs. Most citizens don’t want the hassle of the authorities bothering them so many of them will express such opinions under the safety of a pseudonym on a blog.

        1. Vatch

          I have no problem calling for the prosecution of criminal oligarchs and their top tier servants in banks, law firms, and government (the top level servants of the oligarchs are usually multi-millionaires themselves). I wish more people would do this…

    2. Carlos Fandango

      I hardly know anyone who genuinely likes their career situation, aside from a few banker and doctor cousins (living the dream) and some struggling entrepenuers with glazed over eyes and forced smiles.

      People put up with it because of survival instinct and care for their own family. Any opportunity to put themselves up and kick others down will be taken, however reluctantly for some.

    3. hunkerdown

      See, this is all a real waste of life. At the very least they should take out one of their tormentors and masters with them, and save someone else from the suffering that drove them to punching out early.

  17. Raymonde

    “And America is particularly bound up in the idea of career and financial success, seeing those who take a tumble as losers rather than victims.”

    A whole book could be written on this one sentence alone. In my experience, and in looking around at the folks who are my neighbors, I see too much emphasis on keeping up appearances. This facade building centers around having an excess of many things but not much on keeping social networks in place. Friendships don’t seem as important as jobs, working long hours (granted, some have to work all those hours to keep food in the pantry, but many don’t) and saving for lavish vacations and expensive holidays. The celebratory nature of simple gatherings, where people sit around the back yard on weekends and eat meals off the grill is under-rated. We can do with less material goods and more personal connections but seem to move in the direction of more material goods and less personal connections.

    People who commit suicide are usually (not always) isolated in some respect from the society around them. We are a nation of isolates; this in turn is fostered by the grinding necessity of work that keeps people apart (cubicle walls or assembly lines don’t instill societal ties for those involved in the drudge work) and as we all drift in orbits around the physical plant or office or home we fail to connect with others. Then an avalanche of financial trouble buries those most isolated very quickly in a mountain of despair. I know, I was there once. Fortunately, I pulled away from Mount Doom. Out of all of this I learned that being around other people and socializing with them (even if the ties don’t go too deep) is what keeps me sane in an insane world. What I have found is that over time, investing effort in building relationships with people is the best form of insurance against financial instability.

    1. Carla

      This is why Santi’s comment above, about creating opportunities for people to connect socially without an admission fee (in his example, tango dances), is so important.

  18. ewmayer

    Re. the “deficits down to $500 Bln” meme discussed by several readers: as with unemployment I prefer to look at the actual numbers, not the fake “headline” ones:

    Historical Debt Outstanding – Annual 2000 – 2014

    Date Dollar Amount
    09/30/2014 17,824,071,380,733.82
    09/30/2013 16,738,183,526,697.32

    But it doesn’t matter, we can always print as much as we need without adverse effects, especially if we need it for important things like Cold War v2.0 or arming “moderate rebels” in various pars of the world.

    1. hunkerdown

      In other words, you’re willing to lie for effect. Typically American. Deficit != debt and you know this perfectly well. Debt is just the way we spell “guilt trip” in order to blame the victim.

    2. bob

      Big numbers! oh no!

      Since this appears to be an attempt at science- Put a number on it. How big is too big? What happens then?

  19. Rosario

    At one point in our history we killed ourselves over the tragedy of love and companionship lost, the death of a lover, child, friend, family member. A sad but beautiful theme for any song, poem, or play. Now here we are, killing ourselves over inhuman constructs whose operations file no such meaning for us to “feel” any depth of despair worthy of the absolute nature of suicide, yet here it is, another sad symptom. I’d like to “pay” for a better world please.

  20. washunate

    FYI, the meme that older workers have it harder is one of the more bizarre divide and conquer efforts of the authoritarians. It simply isn’t backed up by the data. Older Americans actually have lower unemployment rates than younger ones, while they have significantly higher median household net worth. Plus, workers over 40 have explicit anti-discrimination laws in place (old age is a protected class, young age is not).

    It’s not that losing a good job makes it hard to find a good job. Rather, it’s that good jobs are hard to find, period. This has made things tough for everybody in the bottom 80% or so, but if we’re making a comparison, it has had the worst relative impact on the young, not the old, since most Xers and Millennials have never held a decent job for an extended period of time. The crappification of the American workplace goes back way further than the 2007 recession.

    It’s just that a lot of comfortable Baby Boomers didn’t experience it in the 80s and 90s, so they didn’t realize how bad things were going to get as the debt binge of neoliberalism reached its terminal phase there somewhere in between media consolidation and the LTCM bailout and the housing bubble.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The median HH wealth statistic is meaningless, and you of all people should know that. By the time you are older, you need to have accumulated HH assets to fund retirement. A young person won’t have any HH assets unless they inherited them. If you are 55 and have to fund a period of unemployment, you are cutting into your retirement money, and that is harder to replace then than when you were younger.

      The long-term unemployed and discouraged workers (those who have given up) are not counted among the unemployed. Those categories skew older. I know tons of people (and I mean tons) in my age cohort who have quit looking for work and have effectively retired even though they don’t want to have retired, and in many cases, can’t afford to either.

      Go look at labor force participation rates. It tells a very different story and confirms the thesis of this post. And look at the increase in the % working at the age of 75 and older. That tells you how much distress there is among the elderly. And those that can find and still do work are the relatively lucky ones.

      1. washunate

        Yves, I left a detailed response because I really appreciated your thoughtfulness. I don’t see it up, so probably got lost in the browser/cyberspace void.

        I will just succinctly say that this is an area where I would push back, encourage you to hear a different perspective. Not because it matters about being right and wrong, but simply because trying to observe what is actually happening is worthwhile. This is a problem that has been around for a long time, much longer than the 2007-2009 recession.

        If we’re making comparisons across generations, younger workers have had a harder time in the workplace than older ones. You basically seem to be saying that having a decent job for a time and losing it is worse than not having a decent job at all.

    2. RUKidding

      Eh? Let’s buy into Pete Peterson’s nonsense and bash Baby Boomers for all the ills of the planet. You’re just buying into “Divide & Conquer,” which plays neatly into the hands of the .001%.

      Let’s attempt to work *together* to find solutions, rather than bashing or dissing some age cohort, whom you apparently believe lives the Life of Riley. Not really.

      1. washunate

        But that’s the thing. Pointing out reality is not bashing or dissing. You just covered a huge amount of ground to get from

        This has made things tough for everybody in the bottom 80% or so, but if we’re making a comparison, it has had the worst relative impact on the young


        Let’s buy into Pete Peterson’s nonsense and bash Baby Boomers for all the ills of the planet.

    3. Vatch

      Anti-discrimination laws protect older workers? Well, yes, they can sue, and after their case slowly works its way through the court system for 6 or 7 years, they might be awarded some money. Maybe. There have been racial anti-discrimination laws on the books since the 1960s, yet we still have hotbeds of institutional racism such as Ferguson, Missouri.

      Just one of many articles about age discrimination in the U.S.:

      1. washunate

        Um, I’m not sure whether to give a detailed answer or a short one? Anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws are at the very heart of workplace regulations. They are hugely important.

        Ferguson wasn’t a case of a hostile work environment or race-based employment termination. It was a case of an armed government agent shooting a black teen until his very life was terminated. And then a systematic cover-up led by the affluent, highly educated, older white county prosecutor. Of course the drug war specifically and the two-tiered justice system more generally is quite racist. And guess who shoulders a disproportionate impact of the harms of that system?

        Younger people.

  21. cassandra

    I’m a little surprised that no one has brought up the similar precedent of Russia in the 90’s. With the introduction of economic shock therapy and wholesale privatization of Russia by the Harvard boys, economic inequality and Oligarchy blossomed. Not only did suicide go up, but birth rate and life expectancy went down as well. The population plummeted. This was ascribed to excessive vodka consumption, or something like the “Russian soul”, or perhaps the maladaptibilty of former socialists. Whatever the reason, the neoliberal practices so prided by the west created far worse conditions than the demonized practices of Soviet communism.
    Say what you will about Putin, he has managed to reverse most of the former decline, and has earned the confidence of his countrymen to the extent that he holds a popular majority, something that can be said for few governing western institutions. An analogous scenario for the west itself, yet under the spell of the Pied Pipers of neoliberalism, is that some agent from an intelligence service, likely a conservative nationalist, will manage to acquire sufficient power to run his nation with some degree of enlightened self-interest. Or perhaps one of the several Euro-sceptic parties will gain traction, and the process develop democratically. While my own sympathies lie more with a democratic left, I see no left party, not even at the moment Syriza, having the militancy to drive the reform required.

    1. cassandra

      Thanks for the kind words, and for providing that excellent link. I hope I wasn’t unclear: what I meant was that, judged by the fate of Russian society, the “superior” neoliberal agenda intended to bring western benefits to replace the oft-characterised “horrors of Soviet communism”, actually created horrors deeper than those it claimed to replace. I did not mean to suggest that today’s system is a return to communism.
      Decades later, the same “reform” operations are ongoing in Greece and the European periphery, and in the labor market in America. Both in Russia then and Europe and North America now, the outcomes of the economic actions of the elites put lie to the justifications presented for their policies. While the Russian nation grasped and rejected the toxicity of the neoliberal program fifteen years ago, to this day, much of Europe and the west still insist on the fantasy that market de-regulation, accompanied by fiscal austerity and asset privatization, will magically improve the economic lot of the general populace. In actuality, these policies produce much the same results as a deadly plague.

  22. uughhh

    you’re full of shit, washunate, PARTICULARLY as to single middle aged females, but also as to many middle aged males.

  23. Jkiss

    A. Austerity kills here. Imagine Greece.
    B. Mitchell says Greece must spend 10pc gdp for years to grow… Agreed? Certainly any surplus must mean contraction from existing depression, with relief forever waiting for german enlightenment. Meanwhile infrastructure failing, damaging tourism.
    C. Greece’s young are leaving, killing future potential growth and condemning elders to starvation/suicide.
    D. Protests will return if austerity continues, killing tourism.
    E. Drachma can be brought back over a weekend.

    Exit tough, but it comes with full employment…
    Notwithstanding all the above, exit is not just worse immediately, but worse forever?

    I disagree.

  24. griffen

    Posts just like this one are reasons why I continue to read. This meager contribution, while a day late and a dollar short – but here goes. Have endured the misfortune to lose 2 positions since mid-year 2009. The position in 2009 offered higher compensation than the position that was lost in 2012, and – wait for it – that position offered higher compensation than the current position that I currently hold.

    I say tenuous because banking and financial services operations is a primary function and role I have performed since 1998. For the powers that be on this website, Yves – think back office operations. The progression into analysis and trading has turned full circle. Let this much be clear, nothing is given in this economy for the under-employed. I went nearly 18 months between positions in 2009 – late 2010.

    Indeed there are really bad tales out there. I do consider myself fortunate, in spite of a limiting (non elite) degree from a 3rd rate institution. Bust your ass – former managers say good things when you do. Detailed reporting is a strength, and reverting to use that in proposed applications has been overall a good move.

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