Real People

So far the economic recession has only affected me and my family indirectly.  Budget cuts at work caused an overload course to be canceled, losing that income, and out of concern for the future we’re trying to change our economic habits.   But our income has remained steady, so far our jobs are not in peril, and everyday life is pretty normal.

However, I have seen the impact of the recession, and it’s not been fun.  Being President of the local chapter of AFUM, the faculty union (associated with the NEA), I experienced the first major faculty job cuts since the 80s.  Five people were cut, including a 30 year ground breaking and beloved Dance Professor.  Of those cut, some have found new opportunities, and in one case our university was hurt more by the cut than the person cut.  But still I got the phone calls on the day the cuts were announced, I met with most of those involved, and felt the emotion of the job loses.  Even though it was indirect, I noticed how everyone, even those who ultimately ended up arguably better off, was put through the emotional ringer by these cuts.  Moreover, faculty across campus feared they were on the block before the cuts were announced, and are worried moving forward.  We face a $1 – $2 million deficit for FY11, so next year might see even deeper cuts.

On Thursday, there was another jolt.  Our day care center is closing.  For us personally, it’s a mere inconvenience.  Our son Dana, age 3, will have to get used to a new place, but he’s a happy adaptable young guy, he’ll do fine.  Ryan, age 6, is already in Kindergarten and has after school and summer activities galore to explore.  But when I picked up the boys today, just hours after Donna, the director of the center found out, I felt the same sense of pain.  She has been with this child care center since it opened, and has seen children ‘grow up’ here, from infancy to first grade.  She gave herself to building this facility, it was her joy and mission in life, and so many children benefited from what she built.  Options for people thrown out of jobs at this point are limited — for them, it’s a life changer.

When we moved here from Augusta in 2007, Ryan was having problems.  With a new brother, he felt jealous and was acting up.  The YMCA day care in Augusta couldn’t really handle him.   The “Y” was the premiere Augusta day care center, with brand new top notch facilities.  Franklin Child Care in Farmington was small and the facilities were unimpressive.   Yet Ryan showed quick improvement — Donna’s teachers and system helped guide him to better behavior.  The teachers (and the Director) matter more than the building or the facilities.    (He’s lucky to have found a similarly engaged and caring Kindergarten teacher here in Farmington with Ms. Kenney.)

Donna worked hard on maintaining the day care center, even adding to her work load as budget cuts in the past caused positions to be lost.  Then suddenly on a day in May she found out it was ending.  Besides her own personal situation (and that of the staff), the facility she built with her love and hard work was going away — cut from the budget as the hospital, which subsidized the center, had to cut non-clinical budget items due to increasing financial pressures.

You can’t blame the hospital or its administration — cuts are hard, but budgets need to be balanced.  It’s simply another affect of the recession, another story of pain and loss as money grows tight.

In October Michael Moore will release his documentary about the financial meltdown, making the argument that this was a result of a swindle of the American people by the very wealthy.   When you think about it, that’s what it was.   Massive fortunes were made in the last ten years, increasingly centralized to those who are the most wealthy.    Companies cheated on mortgages, created wild new financial products, and the goal of CEOs and the Wall Street elite was to make money fast.   It seems they were so caught up in the game that they didn’t realize the devastation they were about to unleash.

The “schemers who cheat all the rules” ran the show.  Vast profits were made simply through trades and speculation.  Little was produced, and as long as the wealth was entered into a book and existed in virtual form, the imbalances could grow.    Inevitably something was going to cause the house of cards to fall apart; the winds that did so were the collapse of the housing market alongside a spike in oil prices.

And so across America real people suffer the consequences, losing jobs, losing benefits, and watching these effects ripple through the economy.  I’d like to say that Obama’s administration is bringing real change, but that’s not yet clear.   The programs initiated are major, but they tend to help the very people who got us into this mess.   It’s tough — they believe we have to revitalize the financial sector and credit markets, and the only way to do that inevitably helps those who created the problem.

Still, the economy we had was unsustainable — a rebalancing like this was inevitable.  Yet it’s not an abstract bit of economic adjustment, it’s a blow to the lives of real people now coping with situations they wouldn’t have imagined possible a couple short years ago.

Yet, as I try to figure out how to end this post, nothing comes to mind.  Only that for all the words, arguments and theories out there, the pain and distress caused by this recession is intense and growing.   I guess all we can do is help each other out, build community, and remember that family and friendship are ultimately far more powerful than anything the economic storms can produce.

  1. #1 by henitsirk on June 7, 2009 - 02:36

    Idaho State also had a pretty big faculty layoff this spring, mostly but not entirely adjunct faculty. Staff had a lot of budget cuts as well, and it’s been very, very stressful for many people. My husband was very glad to have a secure job (having only arrived here last August) and that his management team has tried their best to preserve jobs where possible. And I’m extremely grateful that my freelance work has not seen any downturn at all — in fact, I’m busier than ever, in part because of one client not replacing a permanent employee. I assume they save money on benefits that way.

    I recall from my days in supervision that the hardest thing I had to do, by far, was lay people off or fire them. Even though you know people will most likely find other work and life will go on, it’s tremendously disruptive and emotional, especially being fired. It’s one thing to read about 9.5% unemployment and shake your head at the state of things, and another to watch people you know become unemployed.

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