In case you have been living under a very large rock for a very long time, the economy is in a pretty grim state.
(Did you hear that? It was the “Understatement of the Year” alarm going off.)
An employment situation summary released Dec. 5 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted dispassionately that “job losses were large and widespread across the major industry sectors in November.” How bad was it? Well, during November, the unemployment rate in the United States inched up to 6.7 percent. That’s an increase of 1.7 percentage points since Dec. 2007. And perhaps unsurprisingly, the number of unemployed people increased to 10.3 million, up 2.7 million from this time last year.
That’s a lot of folks out of work. And a whole lot of other people who are lying awake in bed at night, wondering if they’re about to run out of luck and get a pink slip soon, too. As a freelance writer and editor, I’m not even traditionally employed, but I’ve found myself tossing and turning in the wee hours, worrying about all the freelance jobs drying up. Many of them are doing just that, as companies that often use freelancers find themselves staring down at their budgets with a red pen and the sword of Damocles hanging over them. One of my all-time favorite editors sent me a very sweet note recently, apologizing that they wouldn’t be able to pay for many assignments for the foreseeable future but were instead staggering under budget cuts. I understood. I’ve been following this whole trend somewhat obsessively, so I had anticipated it. Last week I was holding my breath for my former coworkers at The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, when Gannett announced massive layoffs. Fifteen people there lost their jobs. And that was a small number, compared to many other outlets.
And when I finish my middle-of-the-night worrying about my own income source vanishing, I fret about the possibility of my husband losing his (more steady, traditional) job. So when I wake up in the morning, I’m tired, but at least I had a bed to sleep in while I did my worrying, a bed that I don’t really have to worry about losing. When my son said his prayers the other night and started out with a “thank you for my warm house,” I wanted to utter my own emphatic “amen.” Not that I wouldn’t gladly welcome a whole new batch of freelance clients, but at least my husband has a stable job. So many, far too many, other people aren’t so fortunate.
So what got me started ruminating on this today? Well, I stopped by Swoozies, one of my favorite stationery and gift stores. I ran my hand over a beautiful hand-painted cake stand that I might have ordinarily picked up and then headed straight for the cash register. Then I realized just how unenthusiastic I felt about the prospect of spending $30 for something I truly don’t need at a time when I should be saving every extra dollar in case the economy doesn’t pick up for a long time. And then I thought about the young mother who sat by me in church on Sunday, a refugee from the African country of Burundi. The temperature was in the mid-20s on Sunday morning, yet she was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and flip-flops. There are people out there who truly need $30 worth of something, and it isn’t a cake stand.
Maybe the economy will turn around soon. Maybe more assignments will come my way, and maybe other people will pick up the phone to hear someone offering them a new job. But if you have as much as I have, please count your blessings. And consider reserving your own thirty bucks for someone who doesn’t have a warm house with a warm bed in which to toss and turn at night. After all, there are at least ten million people out there who may be worried, with cause, about just that.