Whatever any official data may show in the US, or UK, or Europe, the recession will not be over for many people until they feel that getting a job is an easier task than it is now. Not that working is the thing. But, paying for life is. That aspect has resonated with me recently as I have listened to people describing themselves as ‘middle class’ Americans tell of the things that mark the changes in their life style over the past few years.
They involve having to make hard decisions about what to do with the less-than-assured stream of income they now have. For many, that has meant not choosing the kind of education they thought they could afford for their children: this is not really a major issue until it comes to college education, which many Americans have seen as a right rather than a privilege, and paying for that has been expensive but still doable. The many scholarship routes now look more attractive. For a long enough time, many American families have realised that sport was not only good for the general well-being, but also offered a good route to higher education. While college athletics programs are full of great talent, most of it never goes on to greater heights once the students graduate. That’s not a sign of failure, as the process should be that the talent is being winnowed and only a small fraction go on to be the top flight competitors. But, if you have played your way through college on a scholarship, then it’s a lesser burden to deal with after graduation.
Another big concern is to not look like people on hard times. I think the images of the Great Depression are depressing, and people fear a return to such times, but fear more that they will be affected personally. That is something that many thought was unimaginable.
I heard a mother talking about the trend she noticed at school parents’ meetings over the past couple of years, after her town started to suffer higher unemployment rates. She noted how people were dressed in shabbier clothes, and suggested they had come from thrift shops. Imagine the sense of fall from grace that comes from wearing hand-me-downs. That was fine as a child but not as an adult.
Many families have seen the need to be frugal, and to start a process that was long overdue–that of reining in expectations. It’s not an easy thing to do, after several generations of thinking that all was possible and could be achieved now. One of the themes that has been sticking in the craw of incumbent politicians, not just those in the US, has been to deal with their populations’ sense of a dream betrayed. It is not much comfort to tell someone that their job prospects are going to be much less for a few more years. So much of life is about hope and the prospect of not working is something that leads many to feel hopeless. Those in opposition have grabbed what may be a poisoned chalice by pushing the blame for that sense of hopelessness onto those in power now. Pity them if they win the elections, though.
I will be spending a good part of today listening to economists talk about The Unemployment Crisis: Costs, Causes and Cures, at a workshop organized by the International Monetary Fund. I have a feeling that these aspects of the unemployment crisis may not get an airing. But, you never know.