Monday, June 15, 2009

Recession Wrecking Friendships

I had a bad day today. For a variety of reasons I'm not going to recap all the sad events. So instead, I thought I'd offer this piece about the economic recession ending friendships and dividing people into rich and poor, or employed and unemployed. Like the author suggests, I also feel this is a trend that started long before last year's market crashes.

To be completely fair, people naturally gravitate to others who are like themselves. This is a natural occurrence and there isn't anything wrong with it in and of itself (caveats). People naturally relate to others who have more in common (I don't exactly hang out with NASCAR fanatics because I just can't relate, just as those folks probably wouldn't want to relate to someone who spends his time rambling pseudo-intellectual drivel on his stupid blog) But I think everyone should find it sad and wrong that socio-economic lines increasingly define those divisions.

My own countries' shrinking middle class and its division into the very rich and increasingly poor over the last 30 to 40 years is visible in a numerous of ways. Suburban and Ex-urban communities price people (and diversity) out of neighborhoods by only building houses for certain "market segments," making communities less diverse and increasingly dividing communities and cities into areas with wealth and forcing those without it into communities with none. The problem compounds itself, as people in poorer communities lack examples of successful, hardworking people (who've long ago left for gated communities on some highway exit).

Even the fall of GM symbolizes the trend. Their business model in the 70's had 5 brands, with Chevy at the bottom, followed by Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile, and Cadillac at the top. Now Buick only survives because the Chinese like them, while Pontiac and Oldsmobile are gone, as their markets disappeared. Now that Hummer is gone, GM's only viable products anymore come from Chevy's affordable transportation (from Chevy), or a luxury brand for the well to do (Cadillac). This means that Americans are increasingly struggling to make it at all (and buying the cheapest car or truck they can). Or oppositely, they're living on top of the heap (and keeping up with the Joneses by getting that new Caddy).

I remember a friend telling me once how she was at times uncomfortable with the wealth in her suburban church, as she felt socializing with them was often too expensive, or feared the conspicuous consumption would price other folks out of socializing there, ultimately hurting the church's mission. A valid concern and one I suspect many churches I've attended struggle with at times.

So I just asked myself: How many friends do I have that are significantly different from myself economically? academically? politically? As I expected, not very many. Is this wrong? I don't know. But I would hope that new realities brought on in the recession between friends whose status used to match up don't end friendships and relationships, which acts as a cohesive that society needs, especially in times like these.

Friends without Money: How the Recession is Wrecking Friendships Across the Land by Emily Bazelon


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