Monday, March 24, 2014

Eight Things the Great Recession Destroyed...

...that most Americans haven't noticed yet.


When it's all said and done, Generation Y's collective story will be one of diminished expectations and terminal angst: the end dividends, ultimately, of growing up in a 1990s economic boom that promised us the world on a diamond platter only to reach maturation at a point in time in which the national economy was completely tanked by globalization, deregulation, and the suspiciously under-blamed gray ceiling.

The post 2008-years, clearly, have not been fun ones. Almost overnight, the neo-American Dream (that being, the advertised promise of unlimited credit cards, a house of one's own and a stuffy, super-secure office job until the day we died) was replaced by the Millennial Nightmare: mountainous student loan debts, devalued college degrees and job markets that are about as optimistic as the odds of a Buffalo Bills Super Bowl run have become the norm as opposed to the exception, and it doesn't appear as if things will be straightening themselves out anytime soon.

Without question, the Great Recession has had a tremendous impact on the national psyche, but that's not the only thing the ongoing financial turd storm has affected. In fact, since things took a nosedive back in '08, the entire world around us has changed seemingly overnight, with technologies, industries and entire lifestyle components becoming obsolete, or near-obsolete, over the last seven years.

So, beyond an entire generation's sense of hope and career aspiration, what else has the Great Recession fatally wounded over the last 90 or so months? Well, here are eight social components that have definitely taken a bruising over the better part of the last decade...and some of the battered victims of the financial downturn might just surprise you.

Churches

Even before the Great Recession, the writing was on the wall for houses of worship: less people in America are reporting themselves as "religious" individuals, and even among those that do, an ever-increasing number of them are describing themselves as non-denominational believers, a sizable portion of whom forego church attendance altogether. 

So, when the Recession hit, the impact on smaller churches was devastating. You see, despite being tax-exempt organizations, churches still have to pay for standard amenities, and when all of your "profits" are derived from meager skimmings of a brass collection plate, perhaps you can see how some churches were unable to keep their lights on. 

Of course, mid-sized and mega churches continue to truck along, no doubt due to their consistent funding bases and secondary operational income (such as faith-based academies and schools.) However, the dwindling attendance figures for smaller outfits has resulted in the shuttering of numerous churches, which in turn, has lead to a spike in so-called "house churching" activities -- a phenomenon that, since the Recession kicked off, has grown to include nearly 10 percent of all U.S. adults as semi-regular participants.  


Nutritional Diets

Before the Recession, America was in the grips of an a obesity epidemic, with consumers struggling to maintain healthy body weights while awash in a sea of easily accessible, extremely affordable comestibles. At the same time, Americans spent about $35 billion on alleged dieting aids in 2006 alone; in effect, the two antithetical causa suis -- a simultaneous addiction to overeating and an addiction to diet programs and supplements to combat said overeating -- became an inescapable (and unquestionably profitable) vicious cycle. 

As of 2012, however, things appear to look a little different. While roughly a third of the nation says they are on regimented diets, the nation, as a whole, is spending almost half of what the nation was spending on miscellaneous dieting tools prior to the Great Recession. Similarly interesting is national data on obesity. While more than a third of all Americans were categorically obese in 2006, the total number actually decreased to about 27 percent last year (this statistical anomaly, I suppose, can best be explained by the onset deaths of those categorized as obese since the mid 2000s.) 

All in all, a good 70 percent of all Americans today are overweight, however, representing about a five percent gain compared to 2005 estimates. With rising food costs (keep in mind, whole-grain organic stuff costs way more than Fruit Loops and Twinkies) in tandem with an across-the-board decrease in discretionary income, the takeaway here is pretty clear: since the Recession began, Americans just aren't as obsessed with weight-loss-targeted diets anymore. 


Disc-Based Media

Some consequences of the Recession are so obvious, they don't really seem to be worth stating. That said, the drastic decline of both CD-Rom and DVD-Rom media over the last seven years has been one of the major cultural shifts of the new economy, spelling the virtual (pun, definitely intended) doom for a large swath of the entertainment and retail industries. 

You don't need me to tell you the impact MP3s and services like Netflix (and sundry other, more shadowy sites) have had on music and film delivery: the fact that huge chains like Circuit City and Blockbuster Video have gone belly-up is pretty much all the indication you need that the digital has triumphed over the solid state since the '08 downturn.

At this juncture, the video game industry is pretty much the only sector still dependent upon disc-based media, but as the recession drags on -- and on-demand services like Steam prove themselves more and more lucrative and sustainable -- it may in fact be just a few years before disc-based gaming becomes obsolete, too. And speaking of media formats driven to the brink of extinction during the Great Recession...

Paper

It's certainly not a good time to be in any kind of industry or field beholden to the printed word right now. Newspapers, text books, magazines, hell, even paperbacks, have all taken major bruises since the Recession began, and the ultimate consequence here might just be the death of ink and parchment altogether.

How many formally lucrative newspapers and magazines have gone under since 2008? What do you make of the bankruptcy of Borders, one of the largest wholesale retailers of printed works in the nation? Haven't multifunctional, high-tech devices like tablets made traditional literature completely obsolete at this point? 

The same way downloadable and streaming services on the Web have made film, music and gaming delivery more cost-efficient, the rise of the e-reader has pretty much made traditional mass publication a modern day anachronism. While the environmental and intellectual impact of the great media transition will take some time to fully iron out, it's pretty much unmistakable at this juncture: one of the greatest casualties of the global downturn has indeed been the significance and viability of the printed word as both a media format and profitable enterprise. 

Computers

Peculiarly enough, though, it's not just print publications that have taken a major punch to the gut during the Recession, as computers themselves have experienced a general decline in technological importance and commercial success. 

When was the last time you fired up a true desktop PC, complete with one of those enormous towers? With the rise of smart phones, tablets and much more portable laptops (which, themselves, are beginning to lose market prominence), the old desktop model has been relegated to stuffy office use only it seems, with most consumers flocking towards the newer, World-Wide-Web powered mobile devices


Houses

Now I know what you're thinking here: of course, the Great Recession had a tremendous impact on the housing market. In fact, you could definitely say that the U.S. housing market crash in 2006 was really the catalyst for the global downturn as a whole. And while housing sales have generally been shitty for the last decade or so, the housing market itself isn't really what I'm talking about here. Instead, I am referring to the idea of the house as a dying generational concept

Houses, at one point in time, were considered safe investments. No matter how much you spent, you could probably turn around and sell the thing for roughly the same amount you plunked down on it, and depending on the local real estate market, sometimes for a hefty profit, too. The great housing market crash, however, has pretty much decimated this ideal, and today's kids -- already saddled with gargantuan student loan debts -- are quite hesitant to take out a mortgage on something they'll almost assuredly sell for a loss...if at all. 

As a result, we're seeing less people investing in long term housing situations. As the under 40-crowd today is such a rootless culture as is, the idea of purchasing a home and cementing ourselves in one place for twenty or thirty years at a time isn't just undesirable, it actually sounds downright illogical. Hopping from job-to-job and city-to-city, it seems as if the concept of "home ownership" is becoming less and less of a realistic (or yearned for, really) proposition: looking at our long-term living arrangements, perhaps a more apt name for the Millennials would be "Generation R" -- the "R" in question, of course, standing for permanent renters

Families

The most profound impact of the Great Recession, ultimately, might not be something we fully experience until a good twenty years into the future. 

With the sudden, quasi-cataclysmic shift in the global economy, job markets are certainly shakier than they were ten years ago. With Americans now in direct competition with international workers, there are less jobs available for U.S. citizens, particularly in the manufacturing industries, which have been outsourced to China, Mexico and various plants throughout southeast Asia. For skilled labor and IT jobs, more and more U.S. jobs are being electronically shipped over to India, West Africa and Europe, where arguably better workers are willing to do the same jobs for significantly less money. And with the recession taking a toll on the domestic economy, even highly-decorated professionals and paraprofessionals are finding themselves in less-than-certain financial standings. 

With less financial stability, less younger Americans are making the significant lifestyle choice to get married, and even fewer are deciding to have children. Depending on your perspective, the final dividend here could be an unfathomable worker shortage in the next two to three decades due to a declining national birth rate or something a tad more grandiloquent, in the Malthusian sense -- according to some, the fictional predictions of "Idiocracy" may in fact be on the verge of transpiring for real. Either way, this much is for sure: the recession's impact on the American psyche, and especially the construct of the family, is certain to be something we'll be feeling for a long, long time to come.  

Money

And lastly, we come to the social mechanism that more or less caused the Great Recession to begin with. Without question, they way Americans perceive money in the wake of the downturn has changed considerably, but what many folks tend to overlook is just how much money -- as a cultural commodity -- has changed over the past seven years.

First things first, the concept of credit has been pretty much threshed to a fine pulp. While credit card companies and banks, pre-recession, were handing out loans to anybody and anything, in the wake of the sub-prime apocalypse, getting credit is a substantially more difficult task. Indeed, at the current, the only real loaning mechanism out there that's accessible to most Americans are subsidized college loans...not that such is causing some major problems, in and of itself. In addition to employment being harder to obtain in the post-2008 global economy, actually getting loaned monies has become more arduous, too. With fiat capital and credit being less accessible to the masses, perhaps its not surprising that so many alternative currencies began sprouting up in the wake of the downturn.

First, there was the miniature "gold" boom around 2009, which was eventually supplanted by the "e-currency" boom of the early 2010s. With Bitcoin and Dogecoin becoming makeshift forms of online capital, perhaps we're seeing the emergence of an all-new financial system, which is actually something of a high-tech spin on the bartering system...well, until such comes inevitably crashing down like Skylab, of course.

Even the delivery systems for capital have changed in ways that, circa 2007, would have been unfathomable. For example, in 2005, who would have thought something like Google Wallet could ever possibly exist? With the rise of newer consumer technologies, perhaps the tethering of mobile apps and capital will continue to expand, in ways that we really can't even predict at the current. Are we on the precipice of an economic system were e-currency (think: PayPal credits and the like) will be accepted as forms of trade on par with actual money and credit cards? As it turns out, such has been precisely the case for several years now.

The post-Recession state, ultimately, may end up being known as the post-Money state, when it's all said and done. Many, many things have changed in American life since the '08 crisis, but perhaps the single most pivotal has been the way in which money, and personal finances, have been synced with new technologies. The same way mobile Web-applications have made physical commodities like CDs, books and DVDs virtually obsolete, could the end dividend of the Great Recession be the end of physical currency and the beginning of the post-fiat, e-currency era?

Only time well tell, I guess...but that time might just get here quicker than we'd imagine.

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