(Editor's note: Unlike past recessions, the current downturn has taken a significant toll on sectors of the economy virtually unscathed by earlier economic crises. This is the third in a series on one family's struggle.)
SKOKIE, Ill., May 4 (UPI) -- What a relief to have Fred out of the house: Since January, his routine had consisted of job hunting and moping.
Usually a cheerful, optimistic sort, it was scary to see him so dejected. Now, at least, his mind is occupied. He continues the hunt for a job with adequate compensation, but his attitude has improved.
His first days on the new, short-term contract job were predictable: enjoyable work, pleasant environment, friendly co-workers. It's fairly nearby, but travel is on city streets -- in these days of counting pennies, we calculated the transportation costs are similar to those for his former job, which, although farther away, entailed highway driving.
He is diligent about trying to line up something for afterward. It would be great if the contract time were extended or if the company were to offer him what used to be known as a permanent position.
There doesn't seem to be any such thing anymore. Even before the recession, the concept of employment had changed to where one wasn't supposed to expect, or even want, to stay in the same job for very long. We've all heard the kids coming out of college today should expect to have not five jobs in their lifetime, but rather five careers -- unimaginable to those of us starting out long ago.
Fred moved to Chicago as a very young man to take a job with a large corporation in a career for which he'd carefully planned -- although he'd tell you he came here to meet me. He thought he was a lifer. After 20 years, he and 250 corporate colleagues were laid off. He received a generous severance package but realized he'd have to reinvent himself since the nuclear sector was in decline and his health physics degree no longer was in much demand.
He enjoys the kind of work he now does and has done for the last 10 years, but it's a niche market. He'd greet another career incarnation enthusiastically -- is there work out there for him? For anyone?
We're not interested in being wealthy. We're rich in the ways that truly matter. We've learned almost everything is a luxury to be cut and not seriously missed.
We're aware that millions of honest, hard-working Americans across all strata of society will never regain their former standard of living -- we're in honorable company and grateful for every day we can still keep it together.
Until we can earn enough, though, our expensive mortgage is the main problem. For that, along with bare necessities, we must still earn, between the two of us, the amount he formerly did all alone.
It seems we will qualify for refinancing under the Obama stimulus package. It'll be a drop in the bucket, but we're collecting every drop.