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Suicide in Massachusetts

Women hit hard by economic crisis

Published Aug 11, 2008 7:40 PM

Carlene Balderrama’s suicide epitomizes the extreme desperation that women in particular are feeling as a result of the capitalist economic crisis. A 53-year-old mother living an hour south of Boston in working-class Taunton, Mass., Balderrama had faxed a letter to PHH Mortgage two hours before the corporation was to foreclose on her home on July 22. The letter read in part, “By the time you foreclose on my home, I’ll be dead.”

Balderrama instructed her spouse and son to “take the [life] insurance money and pay for the house.” Her body was still inside her home while people gathered outside to attend the foreclosure auction. She had shot herself because she was unable to keep up with the ever-increasing monthly payments demanded for her adjustable rate mortgage.

Will there be more horrible deaths like this? More workers essentially slaughtered by sexist, racist predatory lenders? According to Massachusetts home-foreclosure activists, August and September are months when many sub-prime mortgages are due to be reset to higher interest rates and monthly payments will skyrocket.

Massachusetts is the ninth highest state in the country for foreclosures. (Trackur.com) Foreclosures grew in the state by 50 percent in June 2008. (Warren Group study) Thousands of tenants will be facing evictions when the houses they live in are foreclosed.

According to 2006 census data collated by the National Women’s Law Center, 15 million women live in poverty in the United States. The NWLC study shows that poverty is especially high among women of color, older women and single mothers. One in five female seniors are poor and one in three single mothers are poor. Black and Latina women are twice as likely as white women to be poor. In addition, immigrant women are super-exploited and oppressed.

Capitalism provides no safety net for the poorest and most vulnerable members. The system claims no responsibility for their well-being. When President Bill Clinton and Congress eliminated welfare in 1996, it threw millions of women and their children off welfare, forcing the women to work at very low-paying jobs and driving down wages even more by intensifying wage competition among workers.

According to a July 3 Women’s E-News article, “Economic downturns hit women the hardest because they earn less than men; are more likely to work part-time; are less likely to be eligible for unemployment insurance; are less likely to have health insurance and are more likely to leave their jobs because of care-giving responsibilities, domestic violence, or harassment or stalking.

“Since the welfare overhaul,” the article continued, “the number of single mothers who are unemployed and who receive no welfare assistance has doubled, from 16 percent in 1996 to nearly 33 percent in 2005, or one in three single parents.”

How are these women and their families surviving? Many are homeless and live in extreme poverty. Fourteen percent of Massachusetts children live in poverty. (Masskids.org) Many women have their children taken away by the state, are forced to stay in abusive relationships, go to prison for “crimes of survival” or turn to substance abuse to quietly escape the anxiety and hopelessness they feel.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health states that the number of women who died of drug abuse almost doubled from 2005 to 2006, up from 29 to 54.

The Joint Economic Committee of Congress found that women have been retreating from the workforce. Researchers thought this was due to women deciding to stay home to care for their children, but they deduced it was in reality due to the economy—“downturns, layoffs, outsourcing, stagnant wages or pay cuts.” (New York Times, July 22)

“Women bring home about one-third of family income,” said Carolyn Maloney, vice chair of JEC. “And only those families with a working wife have seen real improvement in their living standards.”

Many have given up looking for work, since it is impossible to pay for childcare, food and the gas needed to commute when the only jobs available often pay $7 to $8 an hour.

All signs point to the fact that economic conditions will only get worse this winter in New England. NSTAR Electric and Gas Company sent more than 125,000 families shutoff notices this spring, yet company revenues are up 11.4 percent since last year. Forty percent of homes in Massachusetts heat with oil. The oil companies are making record profits, so the average household in 2009 could be paying more than $3,000 this year to heat their home.

“Any type of increase [in cost] especially of this magnitude is just going to make life so precarious, so difficult–perhaps even unlivable–unless we can subsidize those households so that they can make it,” said John J. Drew, executive vice president of action for Boston Community Development. “I can’t even think about the next two winters. It’s obviously a horror show in the making.”

‘Housing, food, fuel are a right’

The Boston Women’s Fightback Network has launched a campaign under the slogan, “Shut off the war, not our lights. Housing, fuel and food are a right.” The activist group is demanding that Gov. Deval Patrick implement a state of emergency and carry-out an executive order to stop utility shutoffs and restore services immediately; roll-back food and fuel prices; and declare a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions.

Miya X, a leader of WFN and the youth group FIST (Fight Imperialism, Stand Together), told Workers World, “The economy is so bad that summer jobs, once designed for youth, are now being taken up by unemployed adults who need them. Compound this with the foreclosure crisis in the communities, and youth are under a lot of pressure to contribute to their families’ income. But lack of jobs often drives them to make choices that put them at risk in the struggle to survive.

“Here in Massachusetts we have seen an increase in domestic violence against women in part due to economic hard times. We are taking it to the streets to demand money for jobs, education, youth programs and women’s programs, food and housing.”

Nan Genger of WFN told Workers World, “The capitalist banks, bosses and the Bush administration all want women to be quiet, depressed and isolated. They are responsible for the tragic suicide of Carlene Balderrama—for creating the conditions of desperation. Working, poor and oppressed people, immigrants, lesbian, gay, bi and trans people—together we can combat the war budget and big-business greed.”