We've never been more obsessed with bottoming out.
Every day brings a fresh prayer that the economy has gotten as bad as its going to get -- not only for this recession but for the rest of our lives -- and a fervent, dry-mouthed wish that tomorrow will see prosperity's inevitable return. But so far, all that praying has been as useful as a cowboy hat on a toad (as my father-in-law would say).
The gasping economy has hit Latinos particularly hard. Up until a few months ago, we Hispanics had been making great strides toward economic equality. The day when Latinos were no longer assumed to be members of the lower class was fast approaching. But then the chasm opened up on the capitalist freeway, and Latinos hit the brakes with both feet.
Currently, we're more likely than any other group to lose our homes, and we're more likely than most to be unemployed. Hispanic Business reports that "by the end of 2008 the general Hispanic jobless rate had spiked at 9.2 percent, almost 2 percent higher than the rate for the entire U.S. population." The overall rate is now closing in on 9%, and one presumes that Latinos will continue to lead the dismal pack. Hispanic males, in particular, are stuck with an ungodly 11% unemployment rate.
Furthermore, the Pew Hispanic Center notes that "76% of Latinos, and 84% of foreign-born Latinos, say their current personal finances are in either fair or poor shape, while 63% of the general U.S. population says the same."
So as bad as it is for America right now, it's even worse for Latinos. And as I indicated in a previous post, there's the extra indignity that Hispanics are subtly being blamed for this mess. Many discussions of the subprime mortgage fiasco -- the catalyst for this chaos -- include the insinuation that too many Hispanics bought too many houses that they couldn't afford.
Of course, many Americans will be delighted that our anorexic economy has stemmed the flow of illegal immigrants. After all, given the choice between being poor in their native country or being poor in the United States, a lot of potential immigrants will skip the border crossing and opt for poverty at home. Hell, many immigrants are actually moving back, which might cause some conservatives to rejoice, even as a dark thought crosses the right-wing mind: The USA is simply not so attractive anymore.
So is there any good news in this flood of pessimism? Well, some reports indicate that the group hitting bottom the quickest may be the very same one that jumpstarts the economy. Yes, Latinos are the potential salvation to this financial cataclysm.
A remarkably optimistic article from MSNBC claims that Hispanics "remain a thriving, even booming, market that's expected to grow by 48 percent in the next four years." The report goes on the say that "marketers now see that the Hispanic market in the U.S. is a great business opportunity" and that "businesses and cultural institutions... are chasing Latinos aggressively, because that's where the money is." Hispanic Business adds that "Hispanics will likely supply valuable labor and sustain the U.S. economy far into the 21st century."
Well, that's more like it.
There are several reasons for our newfound clout. For starters, we tend to be younger than other demographics and thus eager to spend money on fun non-essentials such as downloading ringtones or hitting the movies. Another reason is that the strong focus on the family (Latinos tend to have more children) means that we're signing more credit-card receipts for baby carseats and the like. Finally, there are just a whole bunch of us, and as I'm sure you know, we're now the largest minority in America.
We Latinos apparently sense our potential for helping out the nation. The Pew Hispanic Center reports that, despite the fact that the economic disaster has hit us harder, "Latinos are more optimistic than others about the future: 67% expect that their financial circumstances will improve over the next year; just 56% of the general population feels the same way."
Perhaps our optimism comes from the same drive that fuels so many of us to take a chance on a new life in a new country. Maybe the traditionally strong spiritual base that many of us possess helps to guide us through troubled times. Or maybe we're just used to having less and don't get worried about losing things. In any case, we seem poised to stimulate the economy.
If that's true, however, what is a social conservative to do? Latinos have been attacked as scourges on the economy for so long that it's cultural whiplash to claim that now America really, really, really needs us. The irony is rich, even if the country is not.
As a result of this new status, perhaps young Latinos wandering around stores will no longer be tailed by suspicious proprietors who assume that any group of Hispanics are there to empty the cash register and pistol-whip the owner. Maybe these young people will be recognized for who there are and what they represent: the very salvation of the global economy.
That would be so damn cool.