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May 26, 2009

We Need a Recess From Recession

J0422200 My husband is an IT gunslinger, a technical guru with a holster full of expertise, spanning hardware, software, connectivity, accounting and business systems -- you name it.  He has developed computer software applications for the Fortune 500, made presentations to CEO's, CFO's and CIO's and gave management the reality check when others wouldn't.  Coworkers nicknamed him "Google" because he'd land on the right page, provide the right answer.

Tall, brash, smart, he's got a little more of John Wayne in him than "Entourage," and is several thousand light years from a metrosexual. 

And he is out of work.

He's between contracts, assignment-less for the past three months.  We've discussed, ad nauseam, the outsourcing of IT jobs and help desks to India, China and the Philippines.  My husband's debated world trade versus globalization at many dinner parties.  He and his IT colleagues have watched hundreds of jobs be funneled overseas.  Workers on Visa 401B's have been brought over to the U.S. to work.  American software engineers either re-train or lose their homes.

Author Barbara Ehrenreich speaks of the randomness of white collar layoffs in her book, "Bait and Switch."  According to Ehrenreich, white collar workers are often blamed for their jobless fates.  Examples include: you weren't paying attention to the market.  You ticked off management.  You were too nice, too mean, or too slow.  Or you were too ambitious and overreached.  You didn't network or play well with others.

As the ordinary schmoe, you watch executives cast their sails with golden parachutes, aiming for a swank resort, while you're stranded on the shore with no shelter, food or water.  When the glass bottle drifts your way and you open the message inside, it's about a celebrity in rehab or a reality TV show couple whose marriage is in trouble. 

No relevance to your life whatsoever.

The corporate world was odd for me, a Dilbert-ism.  I was the same exact person, yet my career trajectory could be remarkably different under one boss versus another.

The difference between then and now, of course, is that two youngsters are our ship mates, aboard our U.S.S. Family.  Their fates are intertwined with ours.  We have a slight padding, enough to keep us financially solvent for awhile, but not forever.

This recession sure feels like forever.

Driving around, I see "retail space available," abandoned store fronts and warehouses, residential areas peppered with signs like "reduced."  Capitalism's monoliths, GM and Chrysler, are boarding up their windows.  Airlines and the travel industry are gasping for air.  Newspapers and magazines are dying.  Some of the economic dominos are victims of mismanagement, greed, overgrowth, union woes, corruption.  The federal government seems almost giddy with spending.

If these American Titanics can sink, what are our chances, we who chart our family's courses on much smaller dinghies?

Tougher economic times test our mettle. Our elementary school has cancelled field trips due to fuel costs.  I've become a regular coupon user.  We don't take trips unless we absolutely have to, and I 'bunch' errands to conserve gas.  My kids are aware of our unemployment situation, that Dad's our main breadwinner.  We strive for candor about our circumstances, yet don't want our kids to be anxious. 

Twenty years ago, a made-for-TV movie chronicled one family's journey into homelessness.  Yes, this isn't the Great Depression of long soup lines and Steinbeck jalopies eluding the dust bowl.  But a lot of us know people who've lost their jobs and their homes, who have moved in with extended family until their luck changes.

Even hardy optimists are worried.  My husband isn't sleeping well, nor am I.  My mom and I talked about how our thoughts race at night, that crazy place between semi-sleep and doom-and-gloom stress.  I lie awake at three in morning, feeling something like cold despair, wondering, "What will we do if things get worse?"

This is an original post to the Chicago Moms Blog.  Contributor Cheryl O'Donovan usually covers funny topics in her weekly Pioneer Press column.  


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