Downsized Living magazine is now a blog. This essay was written by Blair Adams and published in October 2011.

Introducing Downsized Living

Is the American dream over? It is a question that millions of Americans have been asking themselves over the past several years, but even more so since the recent financial crisis led to the deep recession we find ourselves in with no easy or obvious way out. This is the reason for starting a new “lifestyle” publication that uses dark humor and parody to call attention to what many fear may be becoming the new normal — more and more Americans are barely hanging on financially and have seen their opportunities for improving their lives greatly diminished. It is these Americans who cannot meet their basic expenses or find employment commensurate with their skills and education, much less enjoy the affluent lifestyles portrayed in magazines such as Better Homes and Gardens, Sunset and Martha Stewart Living.

This is the reality that our leaders in business and government, particularly those in the Republican Party, will not face or do anything about. The irresponsibility and widespread ethical misconduct on the part of the financial services industry made a financial crisis inevitable. Millions lost homes to foreclosure and more are continuing to lose equity as home prices fall. Although corporations are raking in billions in profits, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in August the effective unemployment rate was 16.2 percent when the underemployed and those who have stopped looking for work are factored in.

Time magazine online also reported in May that even with the difficulty so many people are having in finding any job at all, many employers are refusing to hire the unemployed, and stated, “At an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission hearing this year, Christine Owens, executive director of the National Unemployment Law Project, declared that ‘excluding the unemployed’ is ‘becoming business as usual.’” The article went on to say that “…advocates [for the unemployed] also say that allowing companies to discriminate against the jobless is fundamentally unfair and threatens to condemn millions of Americans to permanent underclass status.” Even people who have found jobs are struggling. The New York Times, citing a study contracted by the nonprofit group Wider Opportunities for Women, reported in April that “Many of the jobs being created [in the recovery] are unlikely to cover fundamentals like housing, utilities and food.”

The idea that we are in a recovery at all is debatable, and it is difficult to make sense of economic news when all visible evidence seems to indicate that the economy is still stuck in neutral. According to the Census Bureau, poverty has increased to its highest level in 52 years. Even in my hometown in one of the more prosperous areas of the country, “For Sale” and “For Lease” signs on buildings have grown as thick as weeds, and there are empty stores and office buildings all over the county.

Adding to the difficulties that many are already having, several states, facing falling tax revenues and huge budget deficits, are making cuts that fall most heavily on the poor and most vulnerable members of society. To the dismay of progressives, the extreme right has dominated the national agenda during the Obama administration, making slashing deficits, not job creation, its number one priority. According to economist Robert Reich, the Tea Party’s recent brinksmanship over raising the debt ceiling and the resulting fiasco of a deficit-reduction agreement have made any significant plan to create jobs and stem the tide of foreclosures “impossible.”

Earlier this year, Representative Paul Ryan proposed cutting $5.8 trillion from the national budget over 10 years by making huge cuts in Medicaid for the poor and privatizing Medicare — which would increase health care costs to seniors — all the while reducing the top income tax rate on the wealthiest Americans to 25 percent. While the Republicans appear to have backed off that proposal for now, it reflects a renewed and disturbing absence of decency in society that has become more and more prevalent in business and public policy over the last 30 years.

Will Downsized Living have a reason to continue beyond the recession? I think so. There is reason to believe our situation is due to fundamental problems that may be politically very difficult to change. We all know that taxes on the wealthiest Americans have gone down dramatically and inequality has risen. It’s the degree of that inequality that is shocking. The PBS NewsHour reported in August that the richest 20 percent of Americans own 84 percent of the nation’s wealth, a similar wealth distribution to China and some African nations. It is the stranglehold that these same wealthy individuals and corporations have on our democracy that keeps the needs of those of more modest means from being addressed. Finally, the trillions spent on defense and the nearly constant military conflict we have been engaged in since the end of World War II, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, take a huge toll not only in lives, but in consuming resources that could be better spent on moving the country forward — such as repairing the nation’s infrastructure and developing renewable energy sources.

It’s not that there isn’t a lot of good out there. I’m sure we have all experienced or observed countless acts of kindness, integrity and commitment to the common good in our own lives, but that spirit just doesn’t seem to scale up to the national level. So with this issue, I wish to add my voice in unison with other humor outlets such as The Daily Show and The Onion — and remind readers that the growing absence of humanity in our society, not poverty, is the butt of the joke in Downsized Living. After all, there’s that old saying that people can put up with anything but being laughed at — let’s hope.