Dispatch from the front lines ...

They don't return your phone call. They don't acknowledge receiving your resume. It's as if the profession you crawled to the top of no longer exists. Imagine the legal profession suddenly evaporating, leaving exactly no demand for attorneys of any stripe and you'll come close to imagining the size of the community who surprisingly find themselves on the front lines of our first white collar recession.

Note from Vienna: "We started noticing it in December 2007." Note from NYC: "My wife and I are living off home equity lines of credit." Note from Seattle: "We feel lucky because my wife was chosen to be one of the transition team and is guaranteed double pay for the next year, then she'll lose her job." A note from Brooklyn: "I've stopped contributing to my 401(k), investing in freeze dried food and cases of booze, which will be liquid currency when the dollar gets revalued."

Five years ago, these people were at the top of their professional lives. Earning the big bucks. Contributing members of society. Today they're filing for bankruptcy, flunking food stamp tests, and falling back on survival tricks they learned twenty, thirty, or more years ago as undergraduates. The social safety net was constructed to see blue collar workers through a down season or a temporary transition, not to support a flood of white-collar service professionals who's skills are as indistinct as their future.

What, exactly, did they do? Well, they planned. Some coordinated. Others tracked. Quite a few controlled. Many managed. A few led. Some played strictly by the rules others shaved. None of them were responsible for their security slipping out from under them. Those who planned for their future were little better positioned than those who did not, because their future did not occur as planned. No retirement saving left now. No savings at all. No income, either. One by one the necessities of life distill into a startling few: Two meals a day. Park the second car, no need to license it that way. Coffee and wine, optional luxuries. Bread, a daily necessity, baked at home. Meat, as Jefferson suggested, better served as flavoring than main course. Maintaining spirit grows increasingly difficult when the work you relied upon to provide confirmation of your competence just isn't there anymore.

What will you do? What will you do?

You'll try to sell the house in a down market. You might borrow from family, perhaps old friends. You'll start selling your possessions. That second set of china. Some of your treasured books? You'll hold your breath, scream at the top of your lungs, and sometimes whimper, hoping no one else in the world will hear you.

You'll try to paint a bright face on it, but others will smell the stink of desperation on you. The kindest will offer introductions. The clueless will offer free advice on how to prosper, worth every damned cent they charged for it. While the government sends billions to bumbling banks and promises tax cuts to people who only dream they could once again make enough income to qualify to pay taxes.

And even the strongest wonder sometimes if anyone understands what's really going on out here.

Happy New Year!

blog comments powered by Disqus