This past week there has been a lot in the news about the economy. Just when the media is reporting that our economy is turning around, I'm starting to see the impact of our reckless economic policies. For months I saw the reports on television about the housing crisis, and I heard the monthly unemployment statistics, but in spite of all the reporting, it didn't really hit home for me. My life wasn't impacted. It wasn't personal. It was easy to dismiss the story of the family who didn't pay their mortgage. I could chalk it up to making bad decisions and over-extending their spending. They didn't make responsible choices. As someone who has never been out of work for an extended period of time, it was difficult for me to imagine going months or years without a job offer. I could rationalize that they're being too choosy or not trying hard enough. It was easy to stay in my comfort zone, blame the victim, and distance myself from the possibility of economic disaster.
Last week I had an email from a former co-worker. He is my age, late fifties/early sixties. We worked together in the Migrant Education/ESL Program in the early days of my educational career. He's a smart guy with advanced degrees. I remember that he was a good writer. He played the guitar and used music in his English as a second language classes. Although he is a native English speaker, he spoke Spanish fluently. He has been out of work for several years. He sent me a note because he was "mourning" his early educational career. He remembers it as a time where his work was valued and his supervisors were supportive. He wonders who decided that the work we did, educating migrant children, was not worthwhile or worthy of continued funding. He has held several teaching positions since that time and then worked in the business sector, but lost his job when a hearing loss impacted his ability to do his job. He has actively searched for work for several years. Most recently he was searching openings for farm workers, but worries that he does not have the physical stamina to work in the field all day. Here is someone who has followed all the rules. He went to college and completed advanced degrees. He learned a foreign language. He married and raised a family and contributed to his community. He can't find a job.
My son-in-law lost his job in October. He's also followed all the rules. He has a college degree, not in one of those fluffy liberal arts areas, but in chemistry. He has a solid employment history of challenging positions. Several years ago he accepted his "dream job"and moved his family to Austin, Texas. They bought a house and settled in to raise their family. When his employer was unable to renew government contracts, he was among the staff who were let go. He is aggressively looking for a job, but has been unsuccessful.
I was in Austin last month to visit my grandchildren. My youngest granddaughter is four and until her father lost his job, she attended a preschool/daycare program. When daddy first lost his job her parents decided to keep her in preschool for half a day to minimize the impact on her schedule. A half day of preschool in Austin is $600.00 a month. After three months out of work they could no longer afford $600.00 a month for preschool.
Monday morning, while her older sister was at school, the two of us went on an adventure. She wanted to ride the merry-go-round and then go to lunch at McDonald's. We sat on the plastic furniture by the play structure at McDonald's and my granddaughter said to me, " I really miss my friends at school. I'll never see them again. I really loved my school, Nana."
The economy has become personal.