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Albuquerque study of senior childhoods sees a new Great Depression possible

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A case study at the University of New Mexico shows the likelihood that a Great Depression could once again devastate the United States unless the political stalemate in Washington dissolves. Historical support for such a notion can be found in 264 titles listed in the Albuquerque public library system.

The study tests the proposition that national and world events experienced early in life are likely to be remembered and to be especially influential in shaping future attitudes and actions. Thus a dim view of the immediate future may be held by many senior citizens who were born in the 1930s.

Backed by data from nine surveys, mostly national, carried out in the United States between 1985 and 2010, and from surveys in six other countries (China, Germany, Israel, Japan, Lithuania, and Russia), the study measures the notions of an 81-year old journalist against a collection of eight research findings.

The journalist volunteered to answer 10 questions formulated by Dr. Shirley Heying of the Anthropology Department who teaches a course in Child Trauma. The most telling answer came to whether the United States could experience another Great Depression:

“If there isn’t some kind of political coalescence to plan an improved economy a world recession greater than any yet imaginable could befall us.”

It’s not that one person’s opinion is conclusive, but that years of research in many fields combine to show the trauma of the Great Depression on children who are now seniors would likely lead to a similar opinion by a majority. Professor Heying is an authority on devising questions that are meaningful and diagnostic, according to her publisher, W.W. Norton & Company.

The case study was put together by Katherine Kelton, a senior about to receive degrees in both Psychology and English. She persuaded her father, Peter Kelton, who occasionally writes on Contemporary Literature for Examiner.com to answer the questions.

A number of seniors who’ve read the study agree with its conclusions; many seniors sense that their perspective of rapidly changing modern life may also be somewhat jaundiced. Having weathered the Great Depression as a child and World War II as budding teenagers, they were influenced by life and death struggles throughout those formative years. Today, by comparison, the challenges presented by the latest iPod or Twitter snippet are of little interest to most such seniors.

The study answers postulate that the adoption of the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes to recover from the Great Depression started a trend in government spending that got out of control. That efforts to recover from the Great Depression eventually led to the current state of affairs is held not debatable. Government spending as a percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased to more than 40 percent in the aftermath of the Crash of 2008 and had been as high as 50 percent during the WWII struggle for survival. Simply put, economists generally agree that something closer to 20 percent would be healthier and sustainable. Finding ways to reduce government spending gradually over the next 30 years are today the key to national survival. Otherwise, expect another Great Depression. A dim view of sequester and Congressional budget battles and the resulting damage of are reflected in the study answers.

The academic study notes that the collapse of security for children due to socioeconomic turmoil demonstrated by their parents led them to find new ways to organize and justify life, specifically ways that emphasized strong family relations. These dynamic changes became rooted in social, cultural, and political aspects of society and invariably changed the perspectives and ideals of the younger generation.

The case study relied on eight publications that range from “The Children of the Great Depression” (Westview Press) by Glen H. Elder Jr. to “Generational Memory and the Critical Period” (Public Opinion Quarterly) by Howard Schuman and Amy Corning. Included were “The Invisible Scar” (David McKay) by Caroline Bird, another work titled “The Children of the Great Depression” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Russell Freedman, “Difficult Reputations: Collective Memories of the Evil, Inept, and Controversial,” (University of Chicago Press) by Gary Alan Fine, “National Trauma and Collective Memory: Major Events in the American Century” (M.E. Sharpe) by Arthur G. Neal, “People of Plenty: Economic Abundance and the American Character” (University of Chicago Press) by David M. Potter, and “Neuroscience” (Sinauer Associates) by Dale Purves, George J. Augustine, David Fitzpatrick, William C. Hall, Anthony-Samuel LaMantia, and Leonard E. White.

Queries about the 4,000-word case study may be directed to Dr. Shirley Heying, University of New Mexico, Anthropology Building, Room 161, Albuquerque, NM 87131 (saheying@unm.edu).

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