Monday, December 1, 2008

I’m Just Another Statistic on A Sheet

Bob Seger wrote a song called “I Feel Like A Number”. There have been times in my life I felt like the spoke in the wheel a tiny blade of grass in a big field. I think Bob Seger’s description is very apt. Ronald Reagan once said “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours.”

As a Business teacher, I’m very aware that the definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of economic contraction, or a decline in real gross domestic product. I am also aware that there has never, in the postwar U.S., been a 1 percentage point increase in unemployment without a recession having been declared, and much of that increase in unemployment occurs after the recession started.

This weekend Darryl and I read the AJC (Atlanta Journal Constitution) about the latest statistics. According to the article Georgia’s Unemployment Fund Stable for Now Georgia State University economist Rajeev Dhawan predicted in his quarterly forecasting report that the United States will lose 2 million more jobs during the next year, in addition to the 1 million that have already been lost.

With the unemployment rate already at 7 percent, Georgians won’t see any real signs of recovery for at least another 18 months, said Dhawan, director of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State.

I’m old enough to remember the Jimmy Carter Presidency and its repercussions. Honestly I would love to say that Ronald Reagan inspired me to vote, he did but only towards the end of the campaign when I really paid attention. It was my first Presidential vote and I knew I HATED Carter. That’s really what inspired me. HATE is a strong word. Even then I remember the media trying to sway me with fear. Watch out, if Reagan gets in there will be global cooling. If Reagan gets in there will be nuclear war. Yet what did I have under Carter? I felt as though I was planted firmly in the land of have nots.

I didn’t have a car myself back then. Living near DC I took the bus and the subway everywhere. What I can still remember to this day is wondering if it was an odd or even day. For those who were not aware you could only buy gas on the days that corresponded with your tag number. What it an odd or even tag? Well on an odd day you could buy gas if your tag was odd if not then you were out of luck.

At that time I was looking to buy my first home. Interest rates were at 18% when I was looking to buy. Even my childhood home would have cost me about $800 or $900 a month. Still I wanted a piece of the American Dream and so I squeezed every penny which wasn’t easy in the recession.

I remember looking for a higher paying job in 1979. This was in DC a city many felt was recession proof. I had gone to an agency that used to randomly call secretaries to tell you about better job opportunities routinely. I had gotten almost all my office jobs through them. When I arrived in their office the job counselor said she’d never seen anything like this before. She just couldn’t believe the job market and how tight it was.

I remember working two jobs and listening to the radio talk about the annual inflation rate which rose from 4.8% in 1976 to 6.8% in 1977, 9% in 1978, 11% in 1979, and hovered around 12% at the time of the 1980 election campaign. There were 8 million people out of work (about 7.7% unemployment). It was frightening back then and I had two jobs. It is just as frightening, maybe more frightening now.

I think it is more frightening now because I don’t have the invincibility of youth. The Depression for me was something they talked about in history class, that you saw on the show The Little Rascals, and the reason Grandma was afraid to throw anything away. It seemed as though those times were far away and hadn’t we made stop gap measures to keep this from happening again? Now I come from a different perspective. I remember going through several recessions now. I remember being in college and watching people with degrees standing in huge lines to try to get jobs as wait staff in a resort opening in Reston , Virginia . Desperate times and they loom in the shadows waiting to take me under again.

Darryl said he didn’t know why I’m such a pessimist and why I’m focusing on the bad things instead of all the good things we have. He can’t seem to understand why I feel the icy grip of this recession tightening around my throat. Maybe it’s easier for me to focus on the loss of a dream house because there is a definite end to me owning it. There is an uncertainty of when this will end.

Yesterday we talked to Jennifer, our neighbor, who is going to sell our home. At one point she says she was making insane money but now she’s not making anything. She sold her house at a loss and we will be selling ours at a loss. For Darryl, the house is already gone. For me it is still there, still in reach, and still helping me keep a grip on the uncertainty that wraps itself around me. Jennifer said that she heard that home sales might not pick up until 2013. Economists tell us the worse might be over by the end of 2009 or sometime in 2010. When are we going to be out of this recession?

Darryl is so over the house. For me it’s like an extension of who I am. Many women get wrapped up in all those extrinsic things that give us our value. Things like our husband, our home, our kids, our looks, and the list seems endless. Women are such social creatures and we look for outward symbols that say “Look I Belong”. For a man he gets some of those same feelings from his job, his wife, and his car. Darryl threw up to me that I one time told him I could live in a trailer as long as I had him by my side. He asked if I still felt that way. I do love him. If given the choice of keeping the house but losing him there would be no choice, the house would go because he means so much to me.

That choice is not there. The choice is not pick me or the house. There is no choice. I am losing the house. I even asked “What if you got a job by next Friday making as much as or more than your last position, could we keep the house?” He merely answered that we’d discuss it but then went on to argue about all the things he didn’t like about the house and the Homeowners Association. So I feel upset that he doesn’t see that either way the importance of this house to me. I feel my sorrow is falling on deaf ears.

The other day I was typing on the computer and the song “ Allentown ” by Billy Joel began playing in my head. “Filling out forms, standing in line.” “For the promises our teachers made, if we worked hard, if we behaved.” I had thought I worked hard and thought I had behaved. I thought it meant something.

I listen to the talking heads talk of lagging indicators. They say that unemployment represents the past state of the economy more than it indicates where the economy is headed. For the unemployed - and those looking for jobs - it is certainly not good news.

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