By Charles Morgan III
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck’s classic American novel, was written 80 years ago.
My parents were youngsters in the 1930s when Steinbeck wrote the saga of the Joad family, as they migrated from the dust bowl of Oklahoma to the promised land of California.
It’s a tough story about tough people. After a few hours, the book even feels dusty. In many ways, our country is different than it was during the Depression. In many ways, and in many sectors of our population, it’s not that different at all.
I don’t think I ever took an economics course. I can barely spell it. I don’t even know what economists do—I guess they compare numbers and stuff. But I’m pretty sure they use the term “cyclical” a lot. I know what that means.
Here on the Gulf Coast we know about storms, both economic and weather related.
We’ve had a couple of boom and bust periods since I’ve lived here, and we’ve had some powerful hurricanes.
Like economic recessions, we might not know when the next named storm is going to hit the Panhandle. But you can bet your ass there will be another one.
If they named and numbered recessions they would be easier to follow and remember. They could begin with a light Category One and grow in strength to a booming Cat Four. Anything past that, and we could agree that we were in a depression.
The next depression will look different from the one the Joad family endured. There have been so many changes in transportation, information technology, communication, and even food production over the last 80 years…it will be different.
There are also 200 million more people in the United States than there were in 1930. Centers of population have changed. Society has changed. But one thing won’t ever change. In catastrophic storms of any kind—due to weather or economic conditions—the poor people always get hit the hardest.
In 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau 39.7 million people lived below the poverty level. Nine and a half million people in the labor market lived in poverty. The “working poor” made up for 6.3 percent of the U.S. labor force.
Even if the minimum wage was raised to $15 an hour, get an economist to explain how far $31,200 in gross wages would go toward providing for a family. There’d be no vacation to Disney World. You could cross Chick-Fil-A off the list too.
The disparity of wealth in this country has changed also. It may be a cliché, but “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is a cliché for a reason.
Even lower middle class families live in a world with a thin line between comfort and poverty. An automobile accident, a sick family member, an injury or a lost job could mean bankruptcy. You might currently live above the poverty level, but it wouldn’t take much to get you there.
Modern day weather tracking technology has made predictions regarding the landfall of storms fairly predictable. But there are as many theories about our future economy as there are economists.
Whoever the genius was who devised the “trickle down” theory should be sent away. For millions of Americans, there doesn’t seem to be much of anything trickling down.
I’m sure that there are economists who have detailed game plans for how to prepare for economic disaster. They’ve been wrong before.