More than 6.3 million Americans have been out of work for more than half a year, and the average jobless stint currently lasts longer than nine months. When people do finally get back to work, the likelihood of earning as much as they were making before is slim.
Not a laughing matter by any means. We read the stats, hear about the budget trimming methods people employ and maybe pause for a minute when it happens to someone we know closely.
But have any of us stopped to think about what a layoff or firing really feels like in the middle of a challenged economy?
I have a very close friend who successfully fought back from phase 4 cancer. He desperately clung to his sales job through his battle.
He made calls at all hours of the day to assure clients he was on top of their orders. He employed friends and family to make deliveries on his behalf to keep clients informed and happy. He even achieved new business by setting up meetings and leaving his recovery bed and pulling together enough energy to make sales calls that bore fruit and added dollars to the company bottom line.
Shortly after he was given a clean bill of health, he was asked to meet his manager in Chicago. He thought it would be a meeting to review what he had accomplished during his recovery and thought there might even be a promotion in the works.
He had a Power Point presentation worked up on his laptop to provide an up-to-the-minute “snapshot” of his progress, intended to get right to business and save time for his boss.
As he walked off the plane, he saw his supervisor waiting at the end of the ramp, a solemn look on his face. After a quick handshake, he was ushered to a little table near the boarding area.
He reached for his laptop, explaining that this five-minute presentation would put them both on the same page, but the boss grabbed his hand and said not to bother – it didn’t matter.
Sixty seconds later, my friend was unemployed. He clutched a sheet that explained his severance and was told to hurry to the departure gate to head right back home – there was no need to stay in Chicago.
Dumbfounded, he returned home. His wife saw his face and burst into tears. The kids asked what was wrong. His in-laws came over that night with a bucket of chicken and a few hundred dollars in an envelope to make the evening a little easier, but he was heart-broken.
Over the next six months, he would be forced to borrow money from those in-laws to make house payments and pay his share of his remaining medical bills. He tapped his parents and friends for similar “loans,” which we all knew we would never get back.
His pride shattered and his spirit shot, he drew into himself and on my most recent visit he said, “I swear, I’d rather have the cancer back than this.”
He said when the kids ask to get something as simple as a pizza, he has to debate whether or not he needs that $10 for gasoline tomorrow.
“I have no pride left whatsoever,” he tells me.
He is now cutting lawns, with about 20 clients throughout the neighborhood, but feels such shame when he is working on a yard and the father of that home drives in from work and waves to him.
In the years that have now passed, he has put himself through training and certification programs in financial planning and insurance, but feels he has little credibility to sell instruments like that when he himself is a poster child for poor planning and short-sightedness.
In short, he is now among those that not only are unemployed, but have stopped looking for opportunities to get employed.
He’s been given all the “chin-up” pep talks by friends and family, and he has truly tried, but clearly he spent a lot of his chips on his cancer recovery and keeping his job throughout that period.
He constantly talks about having a 401K and a retirement package just a few years ago --and now there is nothing, nothing at all.
He knows his depression is hard on the kids, but they know that things like college will be only a dream unless they themselves fund it through loans.
He knows it is not poverty yet, but he can’t believe how slim the line is between having and not having.
“I never knew,” he says. “I never knew what rock bottom really feels like. How can I NOT say, ‘Why me?’ ”
These are the stories that are being lived out among us, friends. And I know there are people who have it a lot worse than my friend – he knows that too.
But the demise of this country has a lot of demons behind it. They include a myriad of characters. There are the ones we blame in the news all the time -- greedy bankers, investors, bosses, owners.
And then we blame ourselves. We always hear about our credit card spending and carefree habits despite all indicators of brewing storms. But most of us aren’t that extravagant – we just want to give the kids a life full of the things we didn’t have.
But as summer wanes and the experts forecast another 20 percent devaluation of our homes, we know the holidays are going to be tight and the heating bills are going to be plentiful.
The desperation we feel, the fear of things happening to us that have happened to those around us – the absolute liquidation of the human spirit and will -- make it clear to me that anyone using the term “recovery” should be arrested for blatant lying.
There will only be recovery when people begin to believe in our country again, and that sure seems to be a bit unlikely at the moment.
Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.