Reflecting Obama

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JANUARY 28, 2009 10:52AM

Death By Unemployment

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What if each unemployed person were considered a potential death? Would congressional Republicans then show a sense of urgency in getting the stimulus package passed? What if each citizen out of work were regarded as having cholera, malaria, or AIDS -- on the verge of dying? Would the Republicans, then, understand the impact of dissing President Obama and obstructing the legislative process has on workers in America?

We have an epidemic on our hands, as bad as an historic influenza outbreak. Every day there is a new report of 5,000 or 3,500 or 6,000 workers being laid off by businesses across the country. It adds up, over time, into the millions currently out of work. Somehow, when the numbers are so large, we lose sight of the fact that these are individual people who are losing their jobs.

I worry for our economy. I also worry for the businesses that may possibly go belly up. I worry mostly though for the workers who have lost their jobs and are struggling. They struggle financially, and a chorus of questions haunts us: "How do I make my next car payment?" "How do I pay the rent?" "Can I afford to take my child to the doctor?"

I spoke with my retired father on the phone this past weekend. The conversation gradually got around to the economy of Indiana, where he and Mom have lived for fifty-seven years. He told me that things weren't good, that the unemployment rate had hit 12.4% in Elkhart County, in northern Indiana.

Yesterday, he emailed me shocking new figures that had just been released. He attached a map that is mind boggling.

The official U.S. unemployment rate right now is 7.1%. The state of Indiana is at 8.1%. Like state and presidential elections, though, to get a clear picture of what's going on you need to look at the local and county levels. In Indiana, Lagrange County's unemployment is at 15.1%. Elkhart County, where my parents live, is at 15.3%. Both are more than double the national average.

Now, since those counties rely heavily on the recreational vehicle industry, I guess you could criticize the the area for not diversifying their economies, for allowing this outcome to occur from some kind of negligence.

That case can be made. In recent decades, Elkhart's economy has been fairly diversified, however. The city used to be supported by a three-legged stool: trailers, trumpets and tablets. The musical instrument industry hit the highway and headed down south in the eighties. Pharmaceuticals - you know, One A Day and Flintstone vitamins - left town more recently. And, now it appears the RV industry is on life support and may have to close up shop if things don't turn around. The stool has crashed to the ground, dragging the city of Elkhart down as well.

What frightens me is that Elkhart, Indiana is not alone. These kinds of events are happening all over our country. Most cities and towns are not yet struggling quite as badly; some though are worse off. If things don't get turned around soon, very soon, our entire country may come face to face with 15% unemployment across the board.

We typically hear about the financial burdens that are placed on our national economy, which leads to discussions of toxic assets or failing banks. I know it is all interconnected, but what about that woman who has just lost her job? What about that guy who was pink slipped?

I'm currently out of work on disability and I have worries: physical, financial and psychological. But I have disability insurance that helps make ends meet. I worry also for those who have lost their jobs and are without insurance because they may not make it.

I read last night of a man in L.A. who killed himself because he'd lost his job. He was canned and didn't know how he and his family were going to survive. He became despondent and, undoubtedly, irrational because he went out and shot himself ... after pulling the trigger on his wife and five kids.

Don't the Republicans in Congress understand that there is more than money attached to work? That there are also pride, self-esteem and emotional security attached to being employed? When you lose your job you certainly take a financial hit. But, perhaps even worse, you go through a psychological death.

And it ain't pretty.


 Cross-posted from "Reflecting Obama"

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Michael, can you fix the link to the map? It takes me to the front page of Open Salon. I'm sure that wasn't the intent.

I grew up and came of age in a dying midwestern factory town (probably less then 150 miles from you). It started bad and got worse. Once the clay pipe and glass manufacturers closed down in the late 70s, unemployment his something insane (over 20%). I'm not entirely certain it's ever recovered.

I fear we're going to see more of this kind of thing.

I really, sincerely hope Washington gets its shit together.
(I meant 150 miles from northern Indiana, not YOU. Gah.)
This is very powerful stuff. The Congressional Republicans have no awareness of this. Congress lags behind its citizens. I hate to be a pessimist, but it's going to be months before this start sinking in Washington.
Thanks for your comment. I think I've fixed the map now. Take a look; it's fascinating - and sad. Like the clay pipe and glass industries, I'm afraid the base industries leaving Elkhart will also cause long-term suffering. I just hope the stimulus can get things back on track.
I appreciate your feedback.
Old English,
Thanks for your comment. There are times I also lose hope. We'll see how far this stimulus goes and what kinds of changes it can bring about. Even after this huge package, I'm afraid it's going to take another bundle to deal with this mess.
It scares me too. It terrified me even before I lost my job. Every month someone would be let go. Then it happened. My turn came and due to workforce reductions I was the one let go. Me, the single mom of two who wasn't making enough to pay the mortgage. Since my husband left I'd been desparately trying to get out of the mortgage. Couldn't re-mortgage based on my pay. I had no choice but to try to sell and get something with a smaller payment. Of course no one is buying houses. Now, without a job I cannot get a mortgage at all, even if the house does sell. I can't even get a lease. I have no idea what the kids and I will do when they finally come to forclose on the house. I'm glad to hear you have your disability money to help you out, yet sorry to hear you have a disability.

Maybe we should get the goverment thinking about the fact that all the people who have no jobs will not be paying taxes this year...
avogana, y0u're right on target. No jobs, no taxes. I'm sorry you've gone through such hard times. My hope for you is that a change will come soon. Hang in there!
Michael, thanks for your post. I'm worried for our country too. In fact posted my thoughts recently on my blog at

We have to get "bully" on the people we are paying. They are so "overpaid" it isn't funny! Just saw a comment that said, "No light at the end of the tunnel until 2010"!! Geez! I hope President Obama makes this story a precident in his new administration. What is really going to hurt the most is that alot of people spent alot of money on educating themselves to have good paying jobs, to move their families to an area that employed them to buy a new home, go to work, and "BOOM", no job! I'm crying for them...
Time to "GET BULLY!!"
Thanks for the great comment! Indeed, it's time we let people know how we feel.
By the way, I like your site. It's looking good. Great map!