Audit Notes: Unemployment and Suicide, China Trade, Greece Simmers

Annie Lowrey has a must-read story in The Washington Independent on unemployment and suicide.

She digs up some stories of suicides and near-suicides and reports that, as you’d suspect, studies find evidence that joblessness coincides with an increased risk.

The stories show the deeper wounds of unemployment, and especially long-term unemployment. It is not just the loss of a job, but the loss of community, routine and purpose. It means worse health. It means higher rates of divorce. It means alcohol abuse. All of these are also risk factors for suicide.

The press has to keep telling people’s stories, especially when to counter powerful people with megaphones like the paranoiac Glenn Beck, who says about a group of protesting 99ers—those folks who’ve exhausted their extended unemployment benefits: “Some of these people, I bet you’d be ashamed to call them Americans. Don’t spend your remaining money on travel to get to a protest. Go out and get a job!”

Glenn Beck makes $32 million a year. Meanwhile, there are five job seekers for every one job opening. Let folks like this eat cake:

“My dad, S, killed himself March 16, 2009 because he ran out of money and could not find work. My whole family had been devastated by the economy. He was 61 years old and could not take it anymore. He could not figure out how to keep the electric on, buy food, or keep a roof over his head. A day before his electric was to be shut off, and 2 weeks away from eviction, my dad took the hardest walk of his life. He left a note on the dining room table for my sister and I. His suicide letter said ‘I love you. I had to do this. I ran out of money. I wish you both luck in your lives’. He left the door unlocked with the door key left in the lock. He carefully laid out two suits for us to pick from to bury him in,” one person from Forest Hills, N.Y., wrote to Rep. Anthony Weiner (D). “I almost caught my dad in time, maybe another 10 minutes and I could have saved him.”

Good work from Lowrey and the Independent.

— The trade deficit is widening again, to nobody’s surprise. Paul Krugman says it’s time to get tough with the Chinese. Like, real tough:

Right now, China is following a policy that is, in effect, one of imposing high tariffs and providing large export subsidies — because that’s what an undervalued currency does. That should be a violation of trade rules; it might in fact be a violation, but the language of the law is vague on the subject. But leave aside the fine print of the law for a moment: what China is doing amounts to a seriously predatory trade policy, the kind of thing that is supposed to be prevented by the threat of sanctions.

Yet the Chinese have taken our measure, and decided that we won’t act. Until or unless that changes, we’re just whistling in the wind.

I say confront the issue head on — and if it leads to trade conflict, bear in mind that in a depressed world economy, surplus countries have a lot to lose from such a conflict, while deficit countries may well end up gaining. Or to put it differently, right now we’re in a world in which mercantilism works. In the long run we’ll emerge from this kind of world; but in the long run …

— Headline of the day goes to the blog Zero Hedge for this gem:

Greek Bonds Slump As Austerity Backfires, Country Enters “Death Spiral”, And The Violent End Game Approaches

It quotes a Der Spiegel article that finds social unrest “simmering” in the deeply depressed country:

“Stores are closing, tax revenues are falling and unemployment has hit an unbelievable 70 percent in some places. Frustrated workers are threatening to strike back. A mixture of fear, hopelessness and anger is brewing in Greek society.”

More from Der Spiegel:

The entire country is in the grip of a depression. Everything seems to be going downhill. The spiral is continuing unabated, and there is no clear way out. The worse part, however, is the fact that hardly anyone still hopes that things will improve one day.

The country’s unemployment rate makes this trend particularly clear. In 2009, it was 9.5 percent. This year it may rise to 12.1 percent and economists expect it to reach 14.3 percent in 2011. Those, though, are only the official numbers, which were provided by Angel Gurría, secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The Greek trade union association GSEE considers those numbers far too optimistic. It considers 20 percent to be a more likely figure for 2011. This would put the unemployment rate as high as it was in 1960, when hundreds of thousands of Greeks were forced to emigrate. Meanwhile, purchasing power has fallen to its 1984 level, according to the GSEE.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.