Thursday, May 28, 2009

Out of Work, Luck, Sight, and Mind

September, 2008 - 321,000

October, 2008 - 380,000

November, 2008 - 597,000

December, 2008 - 681,000

January, 2009 - 655,000

February, 2009 - 651,000

March, 2009 - 699,000

April, 2009 - 539,000

These are the official figures of non-farm job losses, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And what a story they tell. The economy hadn't been a good story for sometime, but in October, it went over the cliff, and by November...well, the numbers tell the story. Come to think of it, there are many more stories that the figures don’t tell – several million stories.

You often hear it said that the economy is shedding jobs. Shedding jobs? If you’re a few pounds overweight, you might want to shed a few pounds. You may get mad at your cat, when she sheds all over the furniture. Let’s agree to drop the word shed and replace it with hemorrhage – as in blood. Much more appropriate, don’t you think?

To listen to some, we should have taken to the streets and celebrated those April job loss numbers. They were “surprisingly good.” The markets reacted well. There’s cause for optimism. The May numbers will be out on June 5th. Who knows? We may fall below the 500,000 mark. That will certainly be cause for celebration. Won’t it?

Imagine only 500,000 new souls being added to the ranks of the unemployed. As if that spectacular news isn’t enough, we are hearing reports that the housing market may finally be bottoming out. It probably hasn’t quite hit bottom yet, but let’s try not to be the skunk at the picnic.

Make no mistake about it. Good news will soon be upon us and we’re going to greet it with open arms. We’ve been waiting anxiously for it and we’re ready to start cheering, no matter what.

But about those millions of stories that don’t get told. The human stories behind the staggering numbers that are mostly confined to charts and graphs. Unless, their story just happens to strike a certain human-interest cord, which gets them singled out by 60 Minutes or featured in your local newspaper, you will not know them. And they will not know each other.

Today, dignity is protected, at all costs. No more standing in line to get your public assistance check. Our sensitive society spares you the humiliation. You go online. You get it in the mail, or by direct deposit. They give you classy looking debit cards, rather than ugly, demeaning food stamps. You are protected from prying eyes. From busybodies who want to know your business. You are practically invisible.

I did not live through the Great Depression. I know those sad times only through books, movies and black and white photographs. Those pictures of men standing in the bread lines or swinging pick axes by the side of a road made an indelible impression.

For those men there was no anonymity. They were out in the open. But, they were with each other. There were lots of others standing in the same lines, who were just as down and out and just as visible – real faces, not just statistics.

Today, how awfully alone some people must feel in the dignified privacy of their own homes. Not seeing the faces of neighbors and strangers as burdened as themselves. And how much worse it will seem to them when confronted with headlines and news stories announcing: The End of The Recession, and reports on a Return to Normalcy.

Get ready to hear about how well so many of us are doing. Stimulus money creating new businesses and revitalizing existing ones. New opportunities creating new fortunes. Consumer confidence back at last. Mall shoppers once again piling onto the escalators.

But don’t look for good job numbers quite so soon.

Jobs come back slowly – painfully slowly. Businesses get good at running lean. They will see the economy getting healthy, but they will not yet trust it to stay healthy. They will wait to hire. And the employment numbers will stay bad, though experts will tell us that they are not as bad as they could be – not nearly as bad as they could be.

But what about all of the individual downward spirals that have been set in motion – taking families and futures slowly down the drain? For so many, a job loss is just the first loss, followed by losses of incalculable value: marriage, home, health, life-savings, education. For some strong or fortunate souls, the spiral will slow or maybe stop, providing breathing room, allowing them to recover.

For others, it will not.

I have no idea how many will fall into the recover category and how many will continue whirling downward. I just know that there will be a lot of each. For the recoverers, let’s be grateful – not just for them, but also for ourselves. We’ll remain stronger.

For the down-the-drainers, I guess it’s better not to see them. Seeing them up close could cost us our optimism.

Remember, you heard it here. The good news is coming.


  1. Your writing is excellent, your points well-taken. Mostly because they aim right at the heart of the matter. I, for one, get the message loud and clear. Thanks for doing this.


  2. Bruce,

    This post was excellent...considering i am one of those in the unemployment line...i feel isolated like I'm alone in this yet i know this is not the case...hopefully we will see a rainbow coming after the storm fairly soon...

    Thanks for coming by and checking out my page...


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