As an Attorney for the City of Roanoke, my only client is the Department of Social Services. Over the years I have often chided myself for not writing down more of the outrageous stories that come through our doors. These are, after all, real people experiencing real crises and true drama and, as such, are a pretty good depiction of what America truly looks like. Often, my clients and their predicaments reflect the larger socio-economic issues of the day.
Never has this been truer than during the Financial Crisis. About a year ago, after the collapse of the banking industry in America, I received a call from an adult protective services worker regarding one of her clients. Apparently, an elderly woman had waltzed into her local bank branch and demanded all of the money—in cash—out of her accounts. This was no laughing matter to the bank as her accounts totaled in the six digit figures! The bank immediately called Adult Protective Services and alleged their customer was "incapacitated" as she was asking something they labeled both ludicrous and dangerous. I quickly became involved and learned that the woman in question was no wilting flower.
She was not only competent, she was outraged that the bank was resistant to fulfill her request. She hired independent counsel to fight the bank. Her counsel advised me that essentially, this woman had lost all faith in the American banking system and felt that her money was actually far safer tucked between her mattresses. We talked about the risks (i.e. someone in the neighborhood finding out that she had that much cash on hand and robbing her or physically harming her). Even given these risks, she was adamant that the money was safer with her.
What does this tell us about our current state of affairs in the U.S.? Well, it doesn’t necessarily take an expert to know that this signals a financial crisis right here on our home front. Leaders have been resistant to calling this financial crisis a depression. We hear the terms recession, or economic downturn, or unstable market. Whether in small town America or more urban areas, this second great depression has caused us all to take stock of our fortunes and our futures. Whom among us can say we experienced no impact from the market’s instability, bank failings, the unemployment rate, or the faltering housing market?
With a population of 97,032 according to the 2010 Census data, the City of Roanoke can be viewed as a microcosm of American living. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the September 2011 unemployment rate for Roanoke, Virginia was 7.9 percent, just under the national rate of 9.1 percent for the same month. Looking at additional data from this locality, 23,686 individuals received food stamps (now called SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) in November 2011. Essentially, almost 25% of City of Roanoke residents received this public benefit. In terms of financial numbers, the total benefit amount paid to recipients in Roanoke was a whopping $3,061,965. In comparison, in November 2007, only 15% of City residents received food stamps.
We have come to a time when families simply cannot afford to put food on their tables. So, regardless of what we call this era in American history, it has touched each and every one of us in some form or fashion. Sadly enough, it may take years before our nation recovers or stabilizes such that we can feel the security and prosperity we had just a few short years ago. In the meanwhile, check out mattressfirm.com just to be on the safe side!