The new poverty, the power afflatus, and the eloquence of George Packer (in The New Yorker)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

You know how it is with me and The New Yorker. How, when I find the time, any time, I reach for the nearest issue.

Last night I took the April 29 into hand, opened to "Don't Look Down: The new Depression journalism" (George Packer) and didn't look up again until I'd read through. A lesson on Dos Passos, Edmund Wilson, James Agee. A look at the new journalism provoked by our present economic woe. A look at the stories, the real people, behind the work of Barbara Garson, Charlie Le Duff, Chris Hedges, others. Multiple uses of the term "powerful afflatus." (Afflatus: divine imparting of knowledge or power/inspiration (see Merriam-Webster).)

Good God. To know what Packer knows. To write as he does.

To bear witness to people such as Tina Hall, extracted by Packer from the pages of a D.W. Gibson book called Not Working: People Talk About Losing a Job and Finding Their Way in Today's Changing Economy. Packer's synopsis:
Tina Hall, a former supervisor at a mortgage company, loved her next job, working with schizophrenic adults. When she lost that, she became a teacher's aide in special education, and loved, loved, loved it. When that position was terminated, she cleaned houses, then took care of a couple of kids after school, making just sixty-five dollars a week—falling into the ranks of the working poor.... She tried to keep smiling. All she wanted was more work.
Packer suggests that the Great Depression "left people more helpless and isolated" while the new depression "seems to have produced less hope." That we are on our own. That our new impoverishment looks like hours in front of the internet, searching, days in front of the TV, losing more hope.

We all know those who have lost in this environment. Some of us see the lessening, the rubbing away, the not every day—near and dear. I read Packer at the end of a very long day during which I'd said, more than once, I'd give anything to have less work to do.

I think I should stop saying that now. I think I should feel blessed.


Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

"I'd said, more than once, I'd give anything to have less work to do.
I think I should stop saying that now."

I think an effect of the contraction of the job market is that those who do have jobs have to work harder than ever. They work longer hours for less money, because pay has stagnated while the cost of living has risen. They work longer hours to do the jobs of their co-workers who were laid off and not replaced. They work longer hours because they're afraid to say no, afraid of losing the jobs they do have.

One symptom of a dysfunctional situation (in this case, a dysfunctional economy) is the lack of a moderate middle: the presence only of extremes.

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