Just one of the faces behind those numbers

Home Editorials Just one of the faces behind those numbers

by Steven Feldman

It’s hard to get through a day without hearing something on TV about unemployment, foreclosures, etc. These concepts are always defined in numbers: 8.3%; 425,000; down 11%. But behind the numbers is something much more important: people.

I really never gave it much thought. It’s because no one in my circle had their job claimed by the economy. Sure, I know a mortgage broker who obviously fell on his face in the midst of the housing collapse, but he picked himself up and found his way to a different industry relatively quickly.

And then I received an email from an old friend, someone with whom I had lost touch after he moved to California in the early ’90s. I remember Joe (not his real name) as a smart, aggressive, accommodating, talented individual. He had been given a second chance at marriage, had a few kids and was living a full life the last I knew in the early 2000s. And then I read his email, and for the first time I could put a face to those numbers.

As it turns out, Joe was working for a printing company and earning $80,000. This was during 2008-09. He continued to advance in his career in an industry that was seeing hard times. But toward the end of 2009, the major client expected to be producing much less print work due to the economic downturn.

Contributor No. 1: Decreased business forecast. As a result of that forecast, the owner was forced to decrease the work force. He decided to retain an employee who had been with him 10+ years in lieu of Joe and have that person assume Joe’s duties.

Contributor No. 2: Layoffs. Joe learned of an available position at one of his former employers. However, it was a much lesser-paying position. Even though it was a step backwards in his career (and a $30,000-plus salary cut), it was paying more than unemployment and he needed to feed his family. So he took the job.

Unfortunately, the economy continued to go south and the cost of living continued to rise, especially where he lived in Southern California. He was hit with yet another setback when his wife lost her part-time job as the company for which she was working closed its local office and moved out of state.

Contributor No. 3: Businesses consolidating.

Joe could no longer afford to pay for his home given the sharp decline in household income. He was faced with foreclosure and lost his home in early 2011. Contributor No. 4: Foreclosure.

Joe proceeded to move in with his wife’s family until he could get back on his feet. He realized, however, that the cost of living, especially housing, was just too high in this area and decided to head back east to central New Jersey, where he has family. He secured a simple administrative job at the same reduced salary he was earning in California. However, this part of the country was more affordable and he could survive.

After settling in, Joe was set to start his new job. And then he got cut down at the knees when he received a call from his new employer. The owner had suffered a massive heart attack and decided to close the business for health reasons. He was left unemployed—again.

Contributor No. 5: Bad luck.

Trying to remain positive, it was time to find another job, which he knew would be tough, but not impossible, given his versatile skill set. However, it has been harder than initially thought. He has been told he is overqualified for many simple positions. For jobs at his level, he has made it to several second interviews. There are so many qualified candidates out there.

Contributor No. 6: Competition.

Joe is one of many in this country. He is a very talented person who has had to rely on public assistance. He has become one of those families we only read about, and never think it will happen to us.

So the next time you hear about an unemployment rate defined by numbers, take a moment to think about the people behind those numbers and realize how lucky we all are.

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