The 2009 Balance Sheet of Change

The 2009 Balance Sheet of Change



We’ve covered a lot of complicated policy debates in 2009, the year of change, and it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. But for millions of American families, this year’s story is quite simple: It’s been a terrifyingly difficult time that few will look back upon fondly. Except maybe the handful of corporate criminals who created this mess — they’ve partied like it’s 2007. So here, to sum things up, is the 2009 balance sheet of change, as I see it.


For the untouchables of industry…


Wall Street had a banner year… President Obama’s "fat cat bankers" are fatter than ever. Bailed-out Goldman Sachs is expected to log record profits and its 2009 compensation and bonus pool is expected to top $20 billion. Yes, that’s billion. The top managers have kindly offered to take their publicly financed windfalls in stocks rather than cash, which will deprive New York City of about $20 million in tax revenue for every $1 billion not paid in cash.


K Street had one, too… Special interests are expected to break last year’s record of $3.3 billion spent lobbying Congress and the federal government. Call it the graft bubble.


Health insurers cashed in on "reform"… As John Nichols pointed out last week, major health insurers saw their stock prices shoot up by as much as 30 percent in the weeks between when Joe Lieberman vowed to filibuster a public option and when the White House and Senate caved to his demands. No duh. They’re getting tens of millions of new customers to bleed.


While credit card issuers got a step ahead… Congress passed fancy new regs to rein in predatory lending back in May. But our lawmakers were nice enough to give credit card issuers until February 2010 to figure out how to skirt the rules before they even kick in. Oh, and they jacked rates by as much as 46 percent. Guess that K Street money was well spent.


Meanwhile, for the rest of us…


Millions of people lost homes… Foreclosures kept churning by the hundreds of thousands a month, the president’s $75 billion payout for mortgage servicers notwithstanding. More than 1 million homes were in foreclosure in the third quarter, the highest quarterly count ever. The core problem remains unchanged: Servicers can’t and won’t stop foreclosures voluntarily.


Millions of workers lost jobs… The White House insists its green shoots are visible in the slowing rate of job loss. Of course, we’re still losing jobs. The year-long hemorrhage has left 15.4 million people out of work and a whopping 5.9 million of them have been jobless at least six months.


Millions of families went hungry… The number of Americans on Food Stamps is now up to 11.9 percent. That’s in part because the stimulus made more people eligible for assistance. But the Department of Agriculture says a record high of 14.6 percent of Americans, or 17 million households, had trouble putting food on the table at some point in 2008. More than a quarter of black households couldn’t eat at some time in the year — no surprise, given the density of unemployment and foreclosure in black neighborhoods. The dramatic rise in unemployment in 2009 surely means the number of "food insecure" families has increased sharply as well.


And millions more fell into poverty… The Census Bureau reported in the fall that the 2008 poverty rate hit an 11-year high, jumping to 13.2 percent or nearly 40 million Americans. Here again, the rapid job loss of 2009 has likely driven the poverty rate to an historic high as well. The Economic Policy Institute suspects a quarter of all kids are living in poverty at this point.


We’ll likely debate for some time whether 2009’s horrors are solely George W. Bush’s legacy or also the result of Barack Obama’s no-we-can’t leadership failures. Whatever the cause, it ain’t pretty. And unless the president steers a radically different course in 2010, there’ll be no debating who’s to blame this time next year.


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