Listening to NPR as I was driving home from work yesterday (I know, something else out of character for me, right?) I was struck by some disturbing labor and economics statistics. Unemployment amongst African-American men is currently hovering at around 15% and the figures are similar for Latino men. Here's the kicker: most economists agree that these numbers will likely not budge for the next decade!!!
I immediately thought of Lafayette. Yes, I know. He's a fictional character. The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics is probably not keeping data on him or his cohorts, the town of Bon Temps where he works as a short order cook at Merlotte's (also fictional), or on Reynard parish and its environs where he plies his various other trades, since these locales, too, are fictional.
Even so, is it really so odd that Lafayette would cross my mind in the context of a news report pointing out that unemployment figures for African-American and Latino men are nearly double those for white men?
We know that popular culture not only shapes, but is shaped by society. Therefore, could the desertified Bon Temps economic landscape and its dried-up job market - one's options for (low wage) work include Merlotte's (apparently the town's chief employer, aside from the sheriff's office), big box stores like the one Tara quit in "Strange Love" (perhaps a stand in for Walmart which just got an enormous class action gender discrimination suit tossed), or the Grab-It-Quik - be an allusion to the U.S. Main Street vs. Wall Street divide?
Is it that hard to see how, in the face of limited opportunities in the mainstream economy, Lafayette or someone like him may resort to carving out a niche for himself in the informal (i.e. underground or shadow) economy?
|LaLa the short order cook|
|LaLa the drug dealer|
|LaLa the prostitute|
|LaLa the road crew worker|
|LaLa the webcam operator|
Lafayette is a hustler; a survivor. He's got jobs in both the legit and the informal economies.
He's got to work - hard - to stay above ground because unlike the Stackhouse kids, he hasn't benefited from intergenerational wealth transfer. Sookie and Jason work hard too, but they each inherited the homes they live in from deceased family members. This affords them a certain level of comfort and financial stability that fewer working and middle-class people of color will have access to in the future, given that the sub-prime mortgage and foreclosure crisis has disproportionately impacted their communities. It should go without saying that without homes to either be sold or passed down as an inheritance, families with fewer means have less options available to them as they plan for their heirs' futures.
As a social worker for a non-profit that - amongst other things - provides community development services I've seen the Great Recession's negative impact on first-time homebuyers and homeowners who are upside-down on their mortgages as well on low-income households who are striving for financial self-sufficiency. Disparities across race, class, and gender lines, unsustainable and often predatory lending targeting elders and people of color, and a lack of living-wage jobs are driving the gap between those with a foothold on the economic ladder to the middle class and those without - to say nothing of those who are tumbling from the middle-income rungs every day.
Will the informal economy expand in response to the constriction of the mainstream one? What are the implications if it does, and what kinds of outcomes can we anticipate in key sectors of our society?
It looks like - for the next decade, at least - LaLa's gonna have to keep on hustlin'.