Despite optimistic murmurings about the economic recovery, which started in 2009 when some economists declared that the recession had ended, real progress seems illusive. And those murmurings are really starting to annoy me. I keep hearing about the post-recession this and the post-recession that, but I’m not feeling it. Are you? Here’s what I’m seeing in real life:
My neighbors are still unemployed. Of my three neighbors in closest proximity, all of whom worked in different industries but were downsized the same week in 2010, two are still out of work and the third is underemployed. Both Pete and Jim have been out of work for a year now and Norma is working part-time. Several other neighbors are moonlighting on second jobs to make ends meet because their spouses are unemployed.
Short sales and all-out house abandonments are still raging. Maybe it’s worse here in Florida, but the number of darkened homes in my neighborhood is holding steady. People have walked away and no one has picked up those properties, many of which are on the waterfront. Some of my unemployed neighbors keep themselves busy by taking care of the yards of abandoned homes, which at least keeps the grass from giving away the fact that our former neighbors quietly packed up their cars and drove away in the middle of the night.
Costs keep going up, but the paycheck (like the song) remains the same. For those of us fortunate enough to have been continuously employed through the recession, the cost of getting to work keeps going up, starting with more expensive gasoline. In the meantime, employers have shifted more costs to employees, so premiums and out of pocket fees for heath care have risen. Food costs more – everything costs more. And for the most part we can’t keep up with those rising costs because pay is unchanged. Except (of course) CEO pay, which is up 11% (thanks for that, media outlets, great way to start the work week). What a relief – no more worries for CEOs about how to budget that yacht club initiation fee this summer. Yeah. I said it.
We’re in abusive relationships with our banks. It’s almost sad – like an icky, dysfunctional relationship – we keep hoping things will get better but they don’t. Although interest rates remain in the dumper, people continue to choose to make deposits to commercial banks. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that deposits have increased 10% since 2008, to the tune of $8.1 trillion. But the cash that folks have stashed in bank accounts is doing little to nothing in terms of working for them, with earned interest pretty much at zero and, in reality, the money we have set aside is moving us backwards when we take rapidly rising costs into consideration.
We are on the endangered species list. When I say we, I mean people who went to college and maybe took on student loan debt or worked our way through school or a combination of the two. We entertained dreams that seemed realistic at the time – finding a job, maybe if we were lucky, in a field we loved and in a profession doing something we cared about. We hoped to maybe have a family and be able to provide for them, nothing lavish, but perhaps one day we would own a home with some grass we could mow on the weekends. Maybe we even day-dreamed about taking our 1.5 kids and the family dog on vacation, or camping or fishing once in a while, like we did with our own parents.
But most of us just can’t afford it. We’re too busy working to pay the bills or perhaps too paranoid about leaving the office to go on vacation for fear we will indeed prove to be non-essential in our absence. Or we worry that if we spend the money on the family trip we will be caught up in a RIF a month or two later and be that much closer to joining the ranks of those squatting in their own homes or walking away after handing the keys to the bank.
Middle class dreams seemed attainable 10 years ago, but not so much now. The gap between the middle class and the wealthy is becoming a yawning chasm that’s starting to look more like an abyss. As corporate profits rise we see median income falls, and sometimes all I want to do is roll up into a ball and watch a really bad Keanu Reeves movie. I like to believe that, for the most part, life is a most excellent adventure. But lately, it’s been feeling totally bogus.
How are things in your neck of the woods? Are you seeing signs of recovery, or are you still waiting?