The human misery global elites ignore: What we're missing amid the spell of gyrating stock markets

With human suffering on the rise at home and abroad, we disregard it at our own peril

Published September 1, 2015 2:02PM (EDT)

  (AP/Mark Lennihan)
(AP/Mark Lennihan)

Could our myopic fixation on the status of our markets contribute to a kind of tunnel vision that leaves us blind to social conditions that are rapidly deteriorating here at home and around the world?

And could the statistical metrics our central bankers use to make their judgements on whether to raise interest rates or not be so abstract that they fail entirely to capture the actual economic reality people are living in? Federal Reserve types keep lamenting they can't  get inflation to their target 2 percent or figure out why there is still slack in the labor market all while wages aren’t going up fast enough to make a difference.

Its just all such a high priced muddle.

Here’s a clue. One in six Americans go hungry on a daily basis. Tens of millions remain out of work or under-employed. Why aren’t these stats not part of our calculations to determine the status of our economy? Is the only thing of relevance to these folks that people with money can make more money?

How about Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen introduce a new metrics linked to the number of meals served at the nation’s increasingly busy soup kitchens? Maybe she needs a subway ride or a meet and greet outside of Penn Station.

This occurred to me as I was riding the subway on the way to work and was struggling to ignore the third apparently indigent person who, in the span of an 8-minute commute, asked me for money for something to eat. This has become a daily occurrence, and the tenor of the exchanges is getting more frequent and more pointed.

Walking on the Midtown sidewalks, you have to be careful not to trip on homeless folks lying down. From my anecdotal observation these folks come in all ages and races.

I have noticed that some pedestrians actually have developed personal relationships with some of the 50,000 New York City homeless. It is touching to watch these good Samaritans genuflect and attend to them with food, water and a kind word.  But these folks are just a fraction of the thousands of passersby that keep their ear buds in and soldier on.

This is not just happening in New York City but around the country. According to a survey done by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, 83 percent of the cities surveyed reported an increase in emergency food requests, while 91 percent said they had experienced an uptick in the number of people asking for food assistance for the first time.

In response to this huge wave in increased demand, 78 percent  of the cities that were asked had to cut back the number of times a person could access the food pantry, and two thirds of the communities reported having to turn people away for lack of resources.

As the ranks of the homeless and hungry grow locally, governments are finding ways to criminalize being homeless and even making it illegal for groups and individuals to feed the homeless under the mistaken belief that the homeless are in their condition because they want the free food. A 2013 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless reported that 31 cities had either enacted, or where in the process of passing, laws that would restrict individuals and groups from sharing food with people experiencing homelessness.

But the national number of our domestic homeless and hungry pales in comparison to the massive wave of 60 million refugees, half of the them children who who have had to flee their homes amid war and unrest. Now they are wandering the face of the earth looking for a place to be safe, a dramatic increase from a decade ago when 37.5 million fellow human beings were displaced from their homes.

According to the United Nations, last year alone almost 14 million were newly displaced, four times the number of people forced from their homes in 2010.  Wait until climate change really kicks in.

Multiple armed conflicts are the leading cause of this unprecedented upending of human settlement. If this diaspora were counted as a country, it would be the world’s 24th largest nation.  Every continent is feeling the impact of this.  Last year just 126,800 refugees were able to return home, the lowest number of such repatriations in 31 years.

“With huge shortages of funding and wide gaps in the global regime for protecting victims of war, people in need of compassion, aid and refuge  are being abandoned,” said Antonio Guterres, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees describing what he called “an age of unprecedented mass displacement.”

Recently 71 migrants suffocated in the back of a truck in Austria, while hundreds have drowned at sea this year trying to cross the Mediterranean.

I fear we continue to ignore the swelling tide of human misery both on our sidewalks and around the world at our own peril. History has judged very harshly those who have done nothing in similar moments of crisis. What verdict awaits us?  This is now beyond a government project; it requires our collective direct action.

By Robert Hennelly

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Economy Federal Reserve Homelessness Interest Rates Janet Yellen Refugees Stock Market