Precariousness: relentless and paralyzing uncertainty about its economic future

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By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

If there was one economic term that I never hoped to see, it would be the word “precariousness”.

Insecurity, in simple terms, is defined as relentless and crippling uncertainty about one’s economic and / or social future.

It’s an inevitable word and concept in our national, global and local economy based on the ‘K’ recovery of the early 2020s.

The ‘K’ economy is also relentless as a metaphor: one arm points up, the other points down.

There is no stable flat line, no sustainable environment, only an economical escalator that pulls us down or lifts us up. Our own economic choices reverberate and resonate our way up or down, bringing prosperity to many and foreclosure and bankruptcy to many others.

Add to that the fact that the rules and guiding principles that once seemed solid seem to change with every title.

Are our urban centers becoming hotbeds of entrepreneurs and businesses or homelessness, addiction and despair – or both?

The “haves and have-nots” and the gap between them are becoming more visible and intractable every day.

The much heralded “polarity” of the American political landscape is nothing compared to the visceral gulf between those of us who work, shop, are on vacation, or with our families when we encounter a ragged group of homeless people and not very hygienic.

The general well-being of society, of every community, and certainly of most individuals, is in question, more vulnerable and certainly more in question than ever.

Many municipal budgets are “leaner and leaner” – often literally – as cities and municipal agencies legislate, sweep, and wring their hands over health dynamics, budget cuts and civic reputations while they are contested by an ever growing “precarious” population.

And it’s not just the homeless crammed into too many corners of the city – the rapidly declining middle class – and their expectations – especially of future generations, are disintegrating faster than Arctic glaciers.

Anxiety prevails where the assumptions of job security and home ownership once held true.

To a large extent, many of us fear (rightly so) that regular, secure, long-term salaried employment as we have known it will be greatly reduced thanks to robots, algorithms and the “gig economy.” Ever more intrusive.

We are literally seeing the disappearance of work as we have known it for generations.

Previously salaried work dissolves into unpredictable temporary or contractual jobs, without guarantees or rights and with lower pay, deteriorating working conditions and increasingly reduced benefits.

The once almost sacred link between pay and direct work has been lost.

There’s nothing new about it – training and unpaid internships have been at the heart of many aspects of our economy for decades, if not more.

What is new is the degree, the number of us affected by the quasi-institutional precariousness of employment that most accept as the “new normal”.

The cost of “precariousness” is almost certainly immeasurable – but it is vast.

Insecure and desperate people do insecure and desperate things.

And these precarious and desperate things are costing us money in taxes – and our well-being.

The “appeal” of any neighborhood or town center is certainly, and dramatically, if not permanently, impacted by the rags, grime and garbage of homeless camps and displaced families.

Every homeless person has a constellation of costs associated with them.

Reducing that cost is a fiduciary, if not a moral, obligation that we should all respect.

And then there is what you might call lost opportunity costs.

The vast majority of those currently homeless were once productive members of society.

Instead of being a civic scourge if not a danger, many of these people once had work schedules, paid taxes, and were our neighbors or went to school with people we know.

For those who are homeless – or nearby – precariousness is constant. Every meal, every night of sleep, the safety of every day is uncertain. Threats are literally everywhere.

From law enforcement and homeowners, to the weather and other homeless people, the only certainty is the continuing uncertainty.

To reaffirm the obvious, people in a state of precarious despair do not make strong, informed and dedicated citizens.

Since February 2020, nearly one million people in Washington state have lost their jobs or seen their working hours drastically reduced.

Programs to reduce evictions and seizures have been initiated and reinstated. And extended.

But we all know they won’t last forever, and most of us don’t yet know what they entail.

But we all know that when they expire, we will all be in an unpredictable and unimaginable housing crisis.

It will not be a single individual or a single family here or there, it will be entire buildings emptied, neighborhoods vacated, individuals and families dislodged, schools impacted, credit histories forever soiled.

They are our neighbors, maybe even people we know.

For everyone, maybe even for many of us, our level of precariousness will increase.

Free radicals

At the molecular level, free radicals are those unstable and disconnected molecules. They bounce back and increase instability when they encounter and damage or distort healthy molecules and molecular systems.

Disconnected individuals in a society act like free radicals, creating and accelerating chaos wherever they go. Stabilizing them is in everyone’s interest.

The “K” economy is inherently destabilizing.

Those who receive the “up” arm know that this cannot continue.

Those who receive the “low” arm know that this cannot continue.

A strong, stable, equitable and widely predictable economy works for everyone.

Equality of opportunity has always been our ideal.

Combined with our long tradition of giving “second chances”, our recovery is inevitable.


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