Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Human Factor in the Equation

Randy, Tammy and me in better times.

These days, discussions about the economy and unemployment and all those issues seem to be handled in the abstract.

That may be the toughest part of it for the people who are affected by the bad economy. And, unfortunately, I am one of those people. I've been out of work for nearly 11 months.

Sometimes it seems like our political leaders — in both political parties — treat it as a big numbers game. And I understand that the bottom line is the main consideration for everyone. The human factor often seems to be ignored.

I guess that is the most frustrating part of being out of work. Of course, I can't speak for the millions of Americans who are out of work or who are working part–time jobs or who have just plain given up looking because they can't find anything. I can only speak for myself.

But I can say, from personal experience, that dealing with this must be more difficult for those who live alone. I hope most of the people who are unemployed have someone who can give them a boost, a pep talk, when they need it.

I know there are frequently times when I need that. But I live alone. And, for much of the last 11 months, I have had to deal with it on my own. So I think I know the special kinds of challenges that some people have to face.

When Barack Obama tells us to be patient, I try to be patient. I want to be patient. But sometimes that's easier said than done.

Especially when economists say it's going to be a "jobless recovery" and that the employment picture isn't going to get better until sometime next year — if then.

And then there are those who have been saying that the government should just get out of the way and let market forces do their thing. Seems to me, when I was in school, I read about similar advice being offered during Herbert Hoover's presidency. He followed that advice. It doesn't seem to have worked.

I know, there were different forces at work. And that was a different time, of course. My parents were mere children then. It was my grandparents who had to struggle to come up with the rent money and the money for food and clothes and all the other things that kept body and soul together.

Somehow, they did. I really wonder, sometimes, how they managed. What was their secret? What did they know that I don't? I wish I could ask them. But they've been gone for many years.

As scary as things are today, they seem like they were a lot scarier then. At one point, one–fourth of all adult Americans were unemployed. That makes the 9.5% unemployment rate that we have today seem tame by comparison.

But there were fewer people in America then. It is estimated that there are about 306 million people in this country in 2009. That is about 2½ times as many people as were living here in 1930.

So maybe a 9.5% unemployment rate in 2009 works out to the same raw number of people as 25% represented in 1932.

But that doesn't take into account the fact that perhaps that many additional Americans are not counted because they have part–time jobs or they're working at low–paying jobs for which they are overqualified or they have just given up altogether.

When that number is factored in, I have to think there are more people suffering today than there were more than 75 years ago.

I don't know. What I do know is that this draws us back into the numbers game. And that, as I said before, ignores the human element.

A few hours ago, my best friend since my high school days, Randy, called me up and we talked for nearly an hour. He lives in the St. Louis area, quite a distance from Dallas. It's been a long time since we've seen each other.

But just hearing his voice helped. Things have been difficult for me this month, more difficult than they have been. And I was incredibly grateful to hear his voice, to hear his encouragement.

I've learned that you don't make many true friends in your life. But Randy is probably the truest friend I've ever had. I've known his ex–wife, Tammy, a shorter time, but the two of them made me the godfather to their daughter, Nicole. That was a proud moment for me.

And I had some anxious moments back in the spring. Randy had a heart attack, then he underwent bypass surgery. I think it is safe to say I was not completely focused on looking for a job in those days. Randy is my link to better times.

Today, there were moments when Randy and I were talking and, in my mind, I was transported back to better times in my life — and I couldn't help wondering if all those "better times" are behind me now.

Tammy tells me that isn't so. And I want to believe that. I really do. But it's hard, sometimes. Damn hard.

Do you suppose that, maybe, that was my grandparents' secret for surviving the Great Depression — the love and encouragement of friends and family?

No comments: