Americans respected the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C. with silence, reverence, retrospection. Sept. 11, 2001, changed the world as we knew it, sending America into two wars and persisting violence.
Three years ago today, on Sept. 15, 2008, the world as we knew it also transformed momentously, touching each of our lives to this day. On Sept. 15, Lehman Brothers filed bankruptcy papers with a Manhattan court. The impact of that otherwise quiet legal step shocked the world’s financial markets. And here’s what happened:
• Short-term credit markets seized, following the announcement by Reserve Primary that it would pay its clients less than a dollar for every dollar they had invested in the money market fund.
• Major financial firms teetered, prompting then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to demand Congress approve the largest expenditure in world history to bail them out.
• Within five years, five million home owners faced foreclosure.
• Housing prices tumbled, erasing $6 trillion in that wealth Americans counted on.
• Faced with mortgage debt on newly devalued homes, consumers began to cut spending.
• Faced with a drop in consumer spending, which accounts for the majority of the American economy, businesses struggled and began to lay off employees.
• The nation suffered 22 straight months of job loss.
• Three years later, unemployment remains above 9 percent.
• Debt from the bailout combined with reduced tax revenue from the bank-caused recession led to the dysfunctional debate in Washington over the debt limit and the degradation of U.S. Treasuries by rating agencies.
• Nearly 50 million Americans now live under the poverty line, or about 15 percent of the population – the largest level in two decades.
• American Banks remain fragile. Since March, the value of Bank of America dropped by half.
• European banks also struggle. Earlier this week, the three largest French banks lost nearly 10 percent of their value each.
This grave trajectory of economic statistics summarize millions of individual tragedies. This spring, more than 12,000 Public Citizen supporters shared their stories in letters to Washington’s Wall Street policing agencies who are charged returning stability to our financial system. Here are a few of your stories:
Amy Anderson: “My mother, depending on her supposedly safe investments, entered an expensive retirement center where she and her husband would be taken care of for life, because she didn’t want to end up being a burden on her children. Thanks to the crash, they may not be able to stay there for much longer, and because they don’t actually own their apartment, may end up poor and a burden on their children after all, and none of us have enough resources to help them.”
Mara Shoner: “My sister lost her job as an environmental scientist after 20 years in the industry. She spent nearly 2 years unemployed, sold her condominium to help support her two teen boys, went through every penny of her savings and her equity from her apartment, moved in with a friend and finally got a job as a secretary about a year ago. She is 55. Not a great time to be facing an uncertain future.”
Susan Byers Paxon: “Because of Wall Street, our 401K was gutted. Because of Wall Street, my son graduated a good school into a bankrupt economy. He is teaching T-ball and waiting tables for a living — jobs for a teenager, not a college graduate. Because of Wall Street, my husband, a free-lance musician, has seen his concerts cut back and has lost students as their parents lose THEIR jobs and can no longer afford music lessons for their children. And because of Wall Street, I lost my job in December, and have still not managed to find another, 6 months later. Our health insurance is about to end, and at 57 I am looking at a future that appears awfully bleak.”
Today, Public Citizen works to reform Wall Street, which means that among other things, we are defending the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that we helped navigate through Congress. We meet with members of Congress and their staff, with regulatory leaders and other members of the administration. We appreciate the weight of statistics and the gravity of the experiences recounted above. As we pursue economic justice, we remember.