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The numbers game

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The magazine staff each month waits for the state to release its latest unemployment figures, whistling past the graveyard a bit by guessing what the new percentage will be. But in mid-March, when the rate for February was released, even this grizzled group that’s been saturated in the bad news of the economy for more than a year was startled. The 10.8% rate was beyond any of our guesses.

The depth of job loss in this state and across the country shouldn’t have surprised me. In my own family, I have several 20-something nephews and nieces in Orlando who cannot find even a part-time job. One nephew, axed from his construction job, is painting houses for cash, a part of the underground economy that we explore in our cover story.

I have a sister in Ohio who has given up on her commercial real estate business and is trying to find any job. She’s been overqualified for sales clerk and secretary jobs but has not been able to land even those. In St. Louis, my brother-in-law’s franchise tool business is hurting pretty badly, and my sister’s environmental engineering company in Fort Lauderdale has been shedding dozens of people for the past year. They’re still hanging in there, but they don’t know for how long.

Then there are the friends here with the same stories: unemployed spouses; college grads grateful for a part-time job at Baskin-Robbins, if they can get that. My husband and I have been lucky so far, but it’s hard to feel any joy when so many around us are trying to figure out how to keep their home, keep their kid in college or just keep it together.

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My old friends from the newspaper industry are in really deep Bandini. The newsroom I left in southern California five years ago is about half the size it used to be, much like newspaper staffs around the country. Some of those folks have ended up re-employed, but many have not and are still looking for jobs after a year, despite their years of experience, college degrees and awards. The local publishing scene, including us, has had its share of layoffs and budget cuts. Our terrific interns — all college grads — here at the magazine are finding their journalism prospects grim. One was so discouraged he applied to the Peace Corps.

Waiting for the ax to fall has become part of daily life, whether you’re head of a company or working the night shift. Maybe that’s why so many people still start their own business despite the crummy economy (see page 32 for our story). At least they don’t have to worry about getting that awful tap on the shoulder.

The unemployment figure was never just a number to me, but I think I’ve lost my appetite for the monthly guessing game on how high it will go. It’s one bet I don’t want to win.


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