Saturday, December 6, 2008

Staying afloat in the soup

I've just spent the last hour reading real life accounts of how the economic crisis is affecting the lives of normal people.  Here's the link if you'd like to read some of these accounts for yourself and please don't be deterred by the website itself, this is hardly a partisan issue anymore.  After all, I believe Bush finally admitted we're in a recession this week, after the National Bureau of Economic Research stated the recession started last December in 2007.  So at least we're finally past arguing about the definition of the word recession, which is a relief as we approach the definition of a depression.  As I watch the news, I notice the media reports are so focused on the topic of bailouts, first for insurance and banking and now moving on to the auto industry, that the stories of real people are being ignored.  

From stories about previously retired people being forced to now look for work after the savings they had spent a lifetime accumulating is now gone, to those who have lost their long-held jobs and don't know where to turn---their first-hand accounts are all in that link.  Their tales are important and heartbreaking because they are victims of doing everything we've always been told we should do to get a piece of the pie.  Their previously comfortable lifestyles are now the casualties of the willful greed and ignorance of others, yet so far no move has been made by the government to help them.  

I've even seen it firsthand while reading through the resumes my company has received for an entry-level position with our firm.  There were hundreds of resumes received from all types of applicants.  But I was most alarmed by the number of over-qualified individuals answering such a job listing, some having been in the financial industry for well over ten years.  I can only guess how dire the situation of each of these applicants.  The realization that these people were so desperate in my own industry was a wake-up call for me.  While we are all wise to constantly remind ourselves how easily replaced we are in our jobs, it is scary to see the possible competition's resume.  And it's even more frightening to put yourself in their shoes.  Those with education and experience are normally  more assured to land a position during tough times, whereas now these qualifications mean almost nothing.  I thought my degree and work ethic would always insulate me from struggling like so many I had seen growing up.  This recession seems to be leveling the playing field though.

Recent graduates and young adults entering the job force for the first time have been on my mind lately too.  How discouraged they must feel when they send out a metric ton of resumes and get no bites.  But I'm especially thinking about family members of mine that will graduate high school shortly and the fear this recession must cause in them.  (And if any of those family members want to hear my advice, I want to tell them to get their butts in college come hell or high water.  Yeah, yeah I read my previous paragraph about how a degree won't always help you in this economic crisis.  But enrolling in college will buy you some serious time for the state of our country to hopefully correct itself.  If money is a concern, enroll in a branch campus of a bigger school, get a part time job, apply for loans and scholarships and use the internet as the valuable tool it is.    As long as you are working your butt off in school, I'm quite sure the family will help you foot the bill anyway they can.  If you are floundering over what to study, may I recommend any subject dealing with green technology or sustainability programs.  Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now.)

Part of me thinks the economic meltdown will ultimately be good for this country forcing all of us to get back to basics that really matter.  Who knows, maybe the number of people popping prescription drugs to make themselves feel better will even go down.  In my opinion, American unhappiness crept in as we started to think more about our stuff and how we could accumulate more stuff than we did about our relationships with each other and how we live our life.  The good thing about focusing on surviving is it leaves little time to think about all the crap that really doesn't matter.  You've got food in your belly and a roof over your head?  Good for you, feel blessed and be thankful.  If you've got people you love and love you back there with you, there's little else you could really need.  Let's just help each other stay afloat during the tumultuous times ahead and we should be just fine.


Jessica Swesey said...

It's all so depressing and infuriating at the same time. I think hard lessons are ahead for most people, but ultimately I hope that this leads to a better economy and a return to a "live within your means" value system, which has been sorely lacking these last 10 years or so.

Thank god Bush is out! While I don't think Obama is going to magically make it all better, I at least feel more secure in the fact that he understands the changes taking place across the world right now, and that better education is ultimately the place to start to get our own economy and job skills at least catching up with a rapidly changing marketplace. Let's get rid of this consumer-based system!! It has taken us nowhere except to the poor house (with a lot of nice, useless stuff in it, by the way). How on earth are we supposed to keep competing with rising powers across the globe when we've given our kids no incentive to excel - or at least not in any way near the way our global partners do. When the public schools I used to walk by in Oakland don't even have books? Really! Or, you have the other extreme where you watch kids in college piss away their parents' money only to graduate and have a life long career as a barista.

What many may not realize is that these developing countries have a hunger for achievement and success that America once had, but in comparison, no longer does. Maybe this recession will spark up some of that hunger again.

Man, it's too easy to get all preachy on blogs. The Internet is a soapbox by design I guess. :)

Jessica Swesey said...

OK, so I just noticed this commentary from Ben Stein who is for the auto bailout. I'm endlessly surprised by who comes out for and against it. Interesting read, and most of the comments say he's insane:

Sonya said...

Ha! I love you lady and yes, it is WAY too easy to get all preachy on blogs. I have hormones to blame for why I feel like my brain IS ON CAPS LOCK WHEN I READ ABOUT THE STATE OF THE US! But really, I think my anger is coming from years of bottled up frustration after watching this slowly unfold and now the realization that I'm bringing a new life into this shit storm.

As for where America went wrong, I think we started measuring our achievement and success in terms of the money we made and the things that money could buy so we could show off our value to others. Success is no longer about doing a good job for the sake of doing a good job---people expect extra compensation if they do a good job. And that's what drives them to go the extra mile---money. Now that I stop and think about this, I've seen kids rewarded for years with money for getting good marks on a report card. So we're teaching them young!

I think the success of other countries is that those people do not define themselves soley based on their career choice the way Americans seem to. When I talk to people all over the world, they seem much more interested in the world at large than they do about excelling in their jobs per say. Their jobs are a means to allow them to pursue the things they really care about---travel, their families, their hobbies, etc. So I don't think they necessarily have more of a drive to achieve for the sake of achievement alone, but their value system is set up that they don't work for the sake of status like we do.

I agree with you that we need to re-examine our values. And as we've discussed through our blags, I think this recession is the most obvious means to that change in thinking. Even if it's gonna hurt.

Sonya said...

Interesting article from Ben Stein. I always enjoy what he has to say, not that I always agree with it.

I guess he loses me when he says that GM builds great cars and trucks. Maybe that was so at one time, but what they are putting out now is not a competitive product.

And of course I agree with him that we should not let Americans get unemployed in the first place. But does that mean the US taxpayer should bailout every unviable business out there to avoid people losing their jobs? Does Ben Stein think this auto bailout is going to magically make the Big 3 into profitable and self-sustaining companies? I don't know, maybe he knows something I don't---like this $14 billion is made of magic beans.

I see the bailout as inevitable of course, and at the very least I just hope the Dems stick to their guns and insist that the Big 3 drop lawsuits against CA's emissions standards. I'd hate to see us grant them loans so they can free up their money to spend on lawsuits. I mean come on, we're already dipping into the 25 billion set aside for the development of green technologies as it is.