In an editorial published Wednesday, the Washington Post seeks to sketch out the underlying causes behind the riots which burned London for days.
While the Post‘s editorial board clearly goes to lengths to separate the the largely peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations of the Middle East with the current violent and criminal unrest which has engulfed London and other British cities, they clearly see commonalities, too.
“The common factors include high unemployment, resentment toward a prosperous and seemingly impenetrable upper class, and hatred of the police,” the editorial says. “In Britain’s case, as in some Arab countries, the trouble is further fueled by racial and ethnic tensions.”
Sound familar? It should.
If not all, we have many of those same problems plaguing us right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A, and rather than soothe these tensions, we Americans are intent on making them worse.
A recent analysis by the Center for American Progress (CAP) finds that the recent deal to deeply cut federal spending attacks those federal programs which could help low-income Americans to climb out of poverty. The price of that budget deal, crafted to avoid the federal government falling into default, however, will be borne disproportionately by middle class and low-income Americans, the analysis says. Moreover, the analysis correctly notes that the budget agreement does nothing to create jobs or reduce massive national unemployment.
Despite 17 months of private-sector job growth, there are still 6.8 million fewer jobs on nonfarm payrolls than when the recession began in December 2007.
Long-term unemployment remains a significant concern. More than 40 percent of the 13.9 million people who are unemployed — 6.2 million people — have been looking for work for 27 weeks or longer. The CAP study also points out that we need to be bringing more people into our economy — not forcing them out. Millions of Americans will feel pain in the short term due to the debt deal, the analysis adds.
“The debt ceiling deal will further exacerbate the income and wealth disparities that grew over the past few decades. The cuts place none of the financial burden on wealthy hedge fund managers but ask struggling families who have lost a job or have an underwater mortgage to shoulder the financial burdens of our nation,” it says.
It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to see that this kind of long-term unemployment, widespread personal deprivation, and growing chasm between the “haves” and “have-nots” likely will brew exactly the kind of despair and anger that can, in an instant, turn to rage. “At a time of economic disruption, no country is immune from such upheaval,” the Washington Post says.
It may well take water cannons and rubber bullets to end a riot, as the residents of London will see first hand. Fortunately, what it would require to prevent violent unrest in the first place is so much less violent and painful — if only we would do it.
Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. The article was first published as London Calling: Will U.S. Riots Follow? on Blogcritics.