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Quite the World, Isn't It?

The Great Recession close up

I met with a couple of women the other day outside a local coffee shop. One was a friend, the other I was introduced to for the first time. They were putting together Spring courses for a UC Irvine-related program of continuing education for older folks, and it looks like I'll be doing one and maybe two courses (as a volunteer, unfortunately). Both the women I met with are of retirement age, though both had still been working -- until the recession. Now both have been laid off, one as an overseer of student teachers and the other from the jewelry department of a major retail department store chain.

There's a lot of that going around -- the first anniversary of my lay off from the LA Times came a couple of weeks ago. But the meeting got me thinking about the far reaches of this recession, and what it has meant.

My wife, a first grade teacher, now has 25 students in her class instead of 20, a massive increase in work load given that they're all 5 and 6 years old. I play soccer regularly in some neighborhood pickup games. One guy was laid off from his job with a software company. Another, an artist, has left the area to move in with his in-laws in San Diego. A third player lost his job and has since formed his own PR agency. A close friend of a neighbor -- a regular visitor -- has been laid off twice from accounting jobs tied to the mortgage industry. And every time a rumor swirls in the LA Times about more layoffs there, I get emails from folks still working wondering about how to get ready for the ax.

Our family is surviving. Margaret's job is reasonably secure, even if the workload has increased. We've thought about moving for another newspaper job, but pretty much ruled it out. Even if someone was hiring, it's not a smart gamble to cut the security of Margaret's job for a newspaper job that can still easily disappear. So I'm freelancing when I can, teaching journalism part-time at Chapman University, finishing up the current book project and putting thoughts together for a proposal for the next one. With one son in college and the other heading there in two years, this has meant a radical shift in how we live, but we're surviving and trying not to think about the age of the cars, let alone setting aside money for retirement.

But we're surviving. We're the lucky ones, I know. And it's a strange indicator of the times that where once we were thankful for good jobs and health, now we're thankful for good health and that we're not at risk of losing the house.

There has got to be a better way.
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