In February, The Nation asked our online readers to be our eyes and ears --and report how the recession is making itself felt, in big ways and small. Here's a sampling of the reports we received, reporting on what's happening in the workplaces, the corporate offices, local governments, kitchens and classrooms across America. We welcome your reports in this ongoing series. Please use the e-form at the bottom of this page to report on conditions in your community.
SHARED PAIN AND PROGRESS IN OREGON
Although unemployment has risen to 9.9 percent in my home state of Oregon, I feel very fortunate to still have a job. I work for FedEx and, like many companies large and small, it is feeling the negative trickle-down effect of the recession. I'm glad that my employer has taken a proactive approach by cutting administrative costs across the board to maintain its workforce. We have been forced to conserve energy and materials, and have learned to cut waste.
I have actually gone from being a part-time worker to full-time. They decided that instead of continuing to use an outside company to service their drop boxes, they would instead offer the job to a current part-time employee. But I am one of the lucky ones.
Lower-level management is taking a 5 percent pay cut. Upper management, 10 percent. President and CEO Fred Smith has taken a 20 percent pay cut. Lower-level employees will have a pay freeze. In addition, the company's 401(k) matching contributions have been suspended--a first in thirty-plus years--all to avoid layoffs. Management is saving the company money and at the same time working to consolidate and streamline operations.
I recently heard a speech by CEO Fred Smith at the National Press Club luncheon , which was originally delivered on February 23. He talked about the urgency of introducing electric vehicles, carbon emission caps, etc. Although I didn't agree with everything he promoted ("clean coal," nuclear), it was good to hear him embrace the need for cleaner energy developments such as wind and solar.
I know many folks who have lost their jobs and are scrambling to survive. It is time for us to reflect on the mistakes that have been made, visualize where we want to go and move in the direction of sustainable recovery. The silver lining is that we have the opportunity to evolve into a better world, which is urgently needed.
CONSERVATIVE CALIFORNIANS COMING AROUND?
Apple Valley, Hesperia and Victorville are three communities incorporated into one. This is a highly conservative enclave in California with many Bush supporters still wandering the streets. However, there have been many changes that have hit home hard and appear to have opened some eyes.
Many major stores have closed--such as Mervyn's and several furniture stores. There have been layoffs in the construction industry and sales of new cars, especially gas-guzzling trucks and useless vehicles such as the Hummer, have practically stopped. Many former Bush supporters now realize the consequences of their ignorance and grudgingly admit to it, although they still resist giving Obama any benefit of the doubt. Suspicion against government and the cynicism are still prevalent and will be a major stumbling block.
Many are still convinced Obama is a Muslim with a secret agenda, while others (myself included) are extremely angry that no one is seriously contemplating charging Bush et al. with war crimes and murder and putting them in the equivalent of San Quentin. Finally, I believe that government will never be taken seriously unless some heads roll.
Apple Valley, CA
THE BUILDING BUST
My husband has served on our town zoning board for fifteen years, and for the very first time there are absolutely no petitions for any remodeling, let alone building--nothing. And this is in an affluent town in affluent Westchester County.
Also, for weeks my sister, who owns a title company in a suburb of Akron, Ohio, has sacrificed her profits to keep her employees on healthcare--and even so has had to cut their hours.
Julie Leininger Pycior
COOK AN EXTRA MEAL FOR THE HUNGRY
My partner (former baker) and I (former private chef) are conscious of increased hunger in our mostly affluent community. Not only are Americans cutting their consumption of material things, they are reducing the amount of money they spend on nutritious food for themselves and their families.
Improper nutrition is rampant in our society, with fast food becoming the default choice in the lives of people having to work harder and commute further to keep families together. Our activism surrounding hunger during this (greed-caused) economic nightmare consists of speaking out to friends, family, strangers, workers, about feeding families nutritiously when you are broke and how to open one's home to the hungry during depressions.
It's possible to feed a family of five on pennies a day. We learn from our ancient ancestors how to subside/thrive on basic staples that satisfy our nutritional needs. We have invited and assured friends, family, strangers, workers, that they must never go hungry if they can get themselves to our home.
Those of us who still have intact jobs, need to open our homes, hearts, and cooking pots to our community as was done in the Great Depression. My grandmother was known in her Midwestern town as "the woman who would feed the bums" who rode the rails and would have starved to death without those in our community who shared their good fortune with those less fortunate, trusting that people who were hungry would not harm them.
Can we do this now? It's riskier due to our increasingly violent American society, but it's a life-giving part of our return to being a nation where people care for one another when capitalism's inevitable cycle of greed and bust takes a turn for the worse. Cook an extra portion or two tonight, stock the freezer with these portioned dinners and let people know they are welcome to pop in without asking for dinner if they have the need. Don't assume your neighbors have enough to eat. So many don't.
Vic Kent Marshall
LOSING IT AT THE OFFICE
The effects of the recession and the stress and aggression it has released became apparent to me during a contentious business meeting I sat in on last week. The senior executive in the room, burdened by a vulnerable deal, reacted to a challenge to his authority by balling up the meeting notes and throwing them at his interlocutor. He followed this up with a torrent of swear words.
I reacted by displaying the measure of calm and control I've needed to cultivate in order to be a manager in corporate America. In truth, part of the reason I did not react was probably because I was still processing what was happening as it was occurring. I had never witnessed a scene like this in my entire time in the professional world.
It is a measure of the uncertainty and pressure this recession has placed on people that an intelligent, dynamic, accomplished person could react this way. I am still grateful for my response. Dignity is one is one of our birthrights--as we move through economic pressures, our seminal qualities must be unmoved by the fluctuations of the market. To lose that would be far worse than an erosion in wealth.
CLAWBACKS FROM THE SCHOOL SYSTEM
Our city and county are now asking for money back from the school system and other organizations. Our school system is already running on fumes. I think it is horrible that our Republican officials, who have made it known that they didn't vote on the stimulus bill, are now holding out their hands for the money and at the same time taking money away from the schools and other organizations (help for the needy) that really need the money. Our schools in the country really need money pumped into them. That is our future. I will never, ever vote for a Republican again. Ever. And I've let them in this city and state know it. I have had it with their hypocrisy.
As far as our family goes, we are saving our pennies. Groceries are way up. I use to spend $80 to $90 dollars a week; it is now $130 for the same items and I use coupons and shop the sales. We only buy now if it is a must-have item. No vacation this summer either. I'm really worried about this upcoming year.
In today's Charlotte Observer is an article about how the youth jail is going to be cut as well. This county tends to keep putting money into arena's, light rail, Bobcats, etc. even when the people here voted no. There is a white water rafting park here as well that is losing millions yet the city is still sinking money into it and they make cuts where we really need the money--education, police, and the needy. I think Obama has been handed a mess and only the Dems and the American people are willing to support him.
PUT CHILDREN FIRST
I just turned 65 and I am retired. My wife still works in the health insurance industry. So far my life has changed very little. I don't do much and I don't expect much. I still have a thousand books to read and try to understand.
My grandfather was a banker and I remember him telling stories of how laws had changed to protect us the citizens of our nation from the greed of man. I knew something was wrong with the mortgage industry when I discovered my nephew (picture a box of rocks) was employed closing mortgages--that will tell you of my skepticism of the mortgage industry. The idea that people were building homes with more bathrooms than bedrooms told me somebody was indeed full of shit!
If you remember the chatter about the new millennium, the Des Moines Independent School District had a wish list for the twenty-first century. Four hundred million dollars would fix everything and offer a bright educational future. Instead, my village opted for another lane of I-235 freeway. I knew then my village was full of idiots. If we don't put our children first, we deserve what happens.