A 21st-Century Depression

This article from Drake Bennett in the Boston Globe is a few weeks old, but I’m just getting to it. It’s really interesting:

At the household level, the look of want is different today than during the last prolonged downturn. The government helps the unemployed and the poor with programs that didn’t exist when the Great Depression hit – unemployment insurance, Medicaid, food stamps, Social Security for seniors. Beyond that, two of the basics of existence – food and clothing – are a lot cheaper today, thanks to industrial agriculture and overseas labor. The average middle-class man in the late 1920s, according to the writer and cultural critic Virginia Postrel, could afford just six outfits, and his wife nine – by comparison, the average woman today has seven pairs of jeans alone. So we’re less likely to see one of the iconic images of the Great Depression: Formerly middle-class workers in threadbare clothes lining up for free food.

If we look closely, however, we might see more former lawyers wearing knockoffs, doing their back-to-school shopping at Target or Wal-Mart rather than Banana Republic and Abercrombie & Fitch. Lean times might kill off much of the taboo around buying hand-me-downs, and with modern distribution networks – and a push from the reduce-reuse-recycle mind-set of environmentalism – we might see the development of nationwide used-clothing chains.

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