Obama Will Get No Warning When The People's Response to This Crisis Comes

On Friday, the day Congress passed the stimulus bill, more than 250
people arrived at the Holiday Inn in Somerset for a careers fair. There
are scenes like this all over the country. In San Francisco last week,
queues for a similar fair went out of the door and around the block. In
Miami last month, a thousand people waited in line, some overnight, for
just 35 firefighter jobs.

But New Jersey has not quite suffered
like the rest of the country, and in Somerset the line of hopefuls is
long but moves reasonably fast. For the most part, they came in sober
suits dressed as though - if someone made an offer - they could start
work today. Most clutched resumes and stared off into the middle
distance, trying not to catch anyone's eye. And in a county broadly
reflective of the nation demographically, white men over the age of 40
were considerably overrepresented.

The fact that there is a queue
at all in Somerset county is significant. According to the census,
Somerset has a median income that is almost twice the national average
and a poverty rate below 25%. If there's a line here, then there are
lines everywhere.

Larry, 48, used to organise meetings within the
pharmaceutical industry but was laid off in July. When he started at
the firm two years ago there were 75 employees - now there are just
over 20. "We've become a bloated society and we need to readjust to a
much simpler lifestyle," he says. "Because these are tough times and
things will probably get worse before they get better."

waiting has their own story, but two threads keeps emerging. Almost all
were laid off in the last nine months. And had you asked them a year
ago, none of them would have believed they would be in the position
they are today. If there is one thing more staggering than the scale of
this economic crisis, it is its pace.

The vertiginous decline in
house prices, portfolios, government budgets, payrolls and balance
sheets has forced a reckoning with the world as we thought we knew it.

the same day that they waited in Somerset, four banks failed. The banks
were small and spanned the country from Oregon to Florida. Beyond their
locales they will not be missed. And yet together their demise makes
you wonder how many canaries you can fit in a mine. In 2007 there were
three bank failures in the whole year. Last year there were 25. Now we
are up to four in one day, making 13 already since the year started.

were small enough to fail. According to some economists, if the larger
banks were forced to struggle on alone they would have suffered a
similar fate long ago. "At this moment, the liabilities they have far
exceed their assets," Adam Posen, of the Peterson Institute, told the
New York Times, referring to the banking sector. "They are insolvent."

less than a year we have gone from George Bush claiming "I don't think
we're headed to a recession" to a Newsweek cover declaring "We're all
socialists now". Nobody knows who to believe.

As banks crash,
jobs vanish and pensions disappear, the anxiety becomes endemic. In the
last three months alone, the percentage of those for whom jobs are
their principal worry has almost doubled. Something has to give. As the
line in Somerset suggests, the crisis has now reached those least
likely to take to the streets but most likely to go to the polls.

the financial crisis has deepened, affluent Americans, in particular,
have grown increasingly sceptical that the economy will come back in
the coming year," concluded a Pew research poll last week. This time
last year it was mainly the low-paid and poorly educated who feared for
their livelihoods. Now, graduates and the wealthy are similarly gloomy.
How long they will endure such reduced circumstances, who they will
blame, and what they will do about it remains to be seen.

may have neither the class consciousness nor organisation to spark the
kind of protests we have seen in France, eastern Europe and elsewhere
in recent weeks. But it has the levels of class division that could
produce both. Political cultures are as volatile as markets. When a
popular American response emerges to this crisis, we will probably have
no more warning than we did of the crisis itself. What is becoming
increasingly clear is that it will not find a home in mainstream

President Barack Obama is popular for now. But his
programme for reinvigorating the economy is not. Indeed, it is a sign
of the dislocation between politics and everyday life that while the
$787bn stimulus package that Obama is expected to sign today is being
hailed as a great victory, nobody truly believes it will work. The
Republicans are only relevant in terms of what they can prevent
happening as opposed to what they can make happen. Meanwhile, as his
treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, outlines his plans for saving
capitalism, capital flees.

For now, people are relying on their
own resourcefulness. Back in Somerset they are cutting out the fat.
Susan Saez, a lively woman who used to sell high-end jewellery, jokes
about how she has trimmed her budget. "I save on makeup because I don't
go out," she says. "I've grown my bangs long so I don't have to have
the eye surgery I was going to have done. And we gave up wine. If I
wasn't, married I'd be living with my mother."

When the woman
behind her says she got her hair cut for the fair, Saez nods her
approval. "That's smart. You should get it cut short, that way you
don't have to get it cut so often."

But it is only so long before
they are down to the bone. The woman standing behind Saez, who refused
to give her name, says she was laid off from a doctor's surgery, and
whispers about friends who are going to the food banks. "I thought
medicine was supposed to be safe," she says. "I'm not going to the food
bank ... not yet, but that is not something I never thought I would see
in my lifetime."

Outside, the fair's organiser, Bob Hillman,
stands like a ringmaster, with a tie full of American flags, seducing
the line with possibilities that might lie inside if they make an
effort. "Your part is about more than just showing up today," he says.
"You can't just go in and come out after five minutes. The more people
you talk to the better chance there is that you'll have much better
opportunities than if you don't."

He tells the story of a man in
Salt Lake City who got a job and ended up back at the fair a few years
later as a recruiter. And of a computer technician who had no idea that
there were jobs for his sector in the sheriff's department.

most of the stalls are for people to set themselves up as independent
contractors for companies like Avon or as self-managed satellite TV
installers. The longest line, where I met Larry, was to get someone to
critique your resume. At the construction stand they offer free
frisbees honouring military veterans.

Five minutes after she went
in, Saez walks out again. "I showed my face, I shook a hand, I got a
pen," she says. "I don't want to sell makeup. And besides, there's no
one to sell it to."

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