Friday, August 26, 2011

Bay Area Suicides Remind Us of the Recession's Human Face

We write a lot about the ongoing economic recession in California, and make no apologies for giving our elected officials hell for contributing to it. Yet while it's easy to make political hay over issues like business regulations, taxpayer subsidies for green energy, AB 32, tax increases, and rising pension liabilities, it's important to remember that these things are more than abstract political footballs. When regulations and taxes (as well as uncertainty about future regulations and taxes) keep businesses from hiring or expanding, or the Legislature wipes out hundreds of jobs at the stroke of a pen, real people are put out of work as a direct consequence. When taxes go up, many of these same people have to struggle that much harder to pay their bills. As the state's Economic Development Department reminded us last week, the current recession has hit a lot of Californians very hard: 727,000 Californians have been out of work for more than a year, half a million have exhausted their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits, and 10.4 million (over a quarter of the state's total population) are out of the labor force. And today, the Bay Citizen offers another sign of the deep human toll behind the state's weak economy.

According to the Marin County Coroner's Office and the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District, 2011 is on course to be a record year for suicides at the Golden Gate Bridge and on the tracks of Caltrain, the commuter rail service that runs along the San Francisco Peninsula between the city and Silicon Valley. Since January, at least 24 people have taken their own lives at the Bridge, and four of 12 suspicious deaths on the Caltrain tracks have been determined to be suicides. Many experts point to the state of the economy as an explanation. Officials with local suicide prevention groups say that callers to hotline services frequently mention the economy. Eve Meyer, executive director of one such group in San Francisco, says, "We constantly hear, 'I’m going to be homeless; I would rather be dead than be homeless.'" The father of a woman who recently leapt from the Golden Gate said of his daughter, "She was very conscious of being 55 with no health insurance, no pension and being part of a dying industry." Moreover, while suicide is typically most common among the elderly, nearly all the cases in question involved adults in their 20s or their 50s.

First off, it goes without saying that, if you're reading this and you're struggling with the recession, please seek help if you need it. That aside, though, this grim report is something you should remember every time someone in Sacramento defends the state's high taxes and brutal business climate.


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