What we talk about when we talk about the economy

Recession, the end of fun
Recession, the end of fun

We talk about numbers. Hundreds of banks per month, hundreds of thousands of layoffs, unemployment and unwillingly idle statistics. I theorize that in allowing the corporations to set the tone of journalism, we’ve lost site of the fact that stories should both give us facts and highlight the humanity behind the story. In an attempt to provide this illumination, here’s a story.

As desired entry-level positions are replaced with internships and other “opportunities” slaves wouldn’t consider worthwhile, the number of young people deciding to attend graduate school rather than settle for mind-numbing internet-addicting laze jobs is rising. Well, a lot of that is my theory: the quality of entry-level positions is dropping such that people won’t choose to maintain the position for long, and rather than take another job just like it, they move back into the academy, hoping to bypass the schlock with a graduate degree. Whether the schlock ever goes away or simply becomes more refined I have yet to see.

As the unemployment percentage moves to break 10% and underemployment moves to break 5%, people like my parents fear for their jobs. Articles such as this one, which makes it sound as though the layoffs were lagging behind and have finally caught their stride again, make me worry for my parents. My father is in mainframe software sales support and my mother in middle-management quality assurance, both software related fields. And my mother’s company is military-based, so as we argue over the Lockheed Martin F22s, look to see other military-funding decisions like it that will directly impact my mother’s security. My father has already been laid off four times in ten years and has no fantasies about the security in his current position, though he loves the flexibility of his current job.

Idle grandparents watch the news and don’t know which fearmongering to listen to and which to let roll on by. They fear for their banks, for their children, for their grandchildren. They fear for their savings and for their children’s social security, which they’ll be able to collect on within the next ten years. They watch the news, and a faceless fear that is the abuse of our current media oversaturation takes hold, an ignorance that’s both attacked and perpetuated by the media status quo. In their houses alone, they wait for phonecalls from the people they love that will turn their whole world upside down, that will interrupt the forced peace of their retirement.

Broaching the subject
Broaching the subject


“How are you, man?”

The question took me off-guard. So busily did I contemplate how I would make everything work, I didn’t give my status second thought.

I paced the dark, broken street. Construction barrels blocked my natural path, and I dodged them unconsciously.

“I’m fine, Steve. Fine. I got to see Ashley and I side by side with my parents this weekend. That was creepy.”

“Yeah?” His voiced buzzed through the phone, old and tired and needing replacement.

“Yeah. I never realized how similar she was to my mother. I couldn’t deny it, though, not side by side.”

He laughed but didn’t reply.

The broken down Boston neighborhood hovered like a menace. People didn’t linger in the street but to smoke; no sounds of life or celebration. Those were reserved for the bars. How could Ashley do well in this broken down West End neighborhood, lively only when BankNorth Garden held an event? But it was packed tonight, Trivia Tuesday.

I saw her bounce out the door, smiling after all. “She’s coming, I’ve got to go. Thanks for the chat.”

“No problem, man. Anytime, you know that.”

I closed the cell.

“I made a hundred and fifty tonight! Oh, it was so hectic! I ran that whole room myself!” She was all beams and glee, and my world shifted up a notch in brightness.

On the way home, we discussed for the first time not how to make ends meet but what to do with the extra money. We splurged on sandwiches at The Federalist, an expense we could finally afford. Our relationship was filled with expenses we couldn’t afford; clothes at the Goodwill to keep her in good spirits, a brownie for me with lunch, a personal-sized French press for her to use at work, a Virgil’s rootbeer to make my nights a little sweeter. A trip to New York when she just couldn’t stand Boston’s rain anymore, and a trip to the North End when both of us just wanted out of town. We couldn’t afford a dime of it, and yet somehow all our money came together. That night, we discussed Harry Potter; we should buy tickets before they sell out. We didn’t; they sold out.

She, feet and, I would imagine, cheeks, fell asleep. I checked my email, my blog stats, facebook, and then played Bejeweled Blitz while waiting for my mind to surrender consciousness. In between games, I received the following email:

I am afraid I won’t be sending any more bonds for a while, maybe not till next year.  I have just read in the paper that my bank is losing money and is trying to get some of the “bank stimulus money” from the govt.  I really feel nervous about it and I am not sure how it will affect my checking and savings accounts, so I am going to hang on to the bonds in case I need them for emergency funds, etc.  I am not sure if they will be able to get a loan from the govt. and how it will play as far as getting cash, etc.  I hope it won’t put you in too much of a bind.  The bank is Guaranty and it is not a local bank, I believe the main office is in Austin.  I may have to open a checking account with the local Community bank.  We will see.  I will hang on to the bonds and hope that I won’t have to use them to tide me over.  Love always, Nana

Take our rags, sponsored by Guaranty
Take our rags, sponsored by Guaranty

I turned away from the computer, ashamed. But it wasn’t our fault that we couldn’t make ends meet; we were relying on so many things, banks staying open, savings holding out, social security. I looked at Ray, my husband, and I knew that we were making the right decision, and yet shame permeated my heart, and I could see a similar sadness in his eyes.

My grandson is in graduate school. He went away to Boston, alone to chase his dreams, and we’re all so proud of him. I’m so proud of him. I bought a five-thousand dollar savings bond for him in 1987, when he was four. I had planned on giving it to him when we passed away, Ray and I, and while he’s been in school I’ve sent him five-hundred dollar sections of it every other month so that he doesn’t blow it all at once; youth has its irresponsibilities. He sends me emails every now and again to tell me how appreciated the money is, that it makes the difference between making ends meet and living a comfortable life. I know he appreciates them, and that he loves us, and we love him.

But with my bank on the verge of closing, depending on whether it gets this federal loan or not, how am I supposed to send away the money? We may need it; Guaranty has all of our savings! How could things get this bad again? They tell us about mortgages and stimulus packages on the news, but I know we’re not getting the whole story. I know that something insidious is happening right now to bring all of this back to us again. America the brave, the true. Sure. I’m still scared, and so is my husband.

At least my daughters are alright. Donna and Curt are alright. No matter what happens to us, even if we need the bonds, Donna and Curt can look out for Greg.


“It doesn’t make any sense,” my father said, “but there’s no reason to tell her that. It’s all FDIC insured, so she won’t lose a dime.”

“I know that, but I don’t want to confuse her. It does make me wonder how I’m going to make rent in August, but we can talk about it later.”

I heard the conference call he had muted drone on in the background; a symptom of our economic failure is lodged deep in that unrecorded conversation and its hardly conscious participants and all calls like it. I remember something my mother had said earlier in the week, that she wasn’t a trust-fund kid but a work-until-they-kick-you-out kid. My father had laughed, had said that he hoped he could work another four years without being laid off again.

“Yeah,” he said, “let’s talk about it later. 10 o’clock on Friday might be too early, but I think I can work it out.”

“Don’t worry, I can wait at the station. I’ll bring a book or something.”

“Alright, I’ll talk to you later.”

And we hung up.

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Author: Greg Freed


3 thoughts on “What we talk about when we talk about the economy

  1. Very nice.


    It’s scary to have it pointed out just how much money makes the world go round. Sometimes, when things are going well, I can forget that it’s the underpinning of almost everything.

    I often ask myself the questions: how much of what we depend on and what makes us happy derive from our jobs and the money we get from it? How much of what we depend on and what makes us happy comes solely from people, the community, and the bonds we have with them?

    I don’t often like the answers. And I believe it’s why most people we care about can prove to be so… expendable.

    Such pain…

    Family bonds help. They’re not expendable, even if we want them to be. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we can drag a significant other into the family, and then some children out of that significant other.

    It’s connected a lot to your last post, and how money and power consolidate in the hands of the monied and empowered.


    Keep writing!

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