Economy taking toll on U.S. society

Monday, March 1, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:17 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

Those who use the stock market as a barometer to test the economy for signs of recovery are jubilant. Those who use the job market as their measuring tool are depressed. Some of us are wondering if these two segments of the population will ever find common ground again.

It’s perfectly understandable why we don’t feel that we are all in this economic morass together. If you happen to tune in on business news and view most of these experts on the economy, you can quickly observe their smugness and arrogance, as if they are looking down their noses at viewers who don’t seem to be able to get it through their heads that this slump is practically over and we’re all going to be home free. You can easily get the impression that being out of work at the very moment when they are putting forth their theory is downright un-American. While these folks are contending that as many jobs are being brought into the country as are being sent out, they are having a problem getting unemployed workers to believe it. Others seem to take offense that some folks are not interested in training for jobs that no longer exist in America. And while it’s certainly possible that the free market will create millions of new jobs, most folks won’t believe it until they see it. In other words, not only are many of us not on the same page, we’re not even reading out of the same book.

Whether it’s the economy, the war on terrorism or the winter doldrums, one thing is clear: The stress level among members of the public is extremely high. The people I run into don’t seem to be much in the mood for political games. The only good I can see in this situation is that some family members who are down on their luck have to move in with other family members. While this may not be an occasion to celebrate, for some, having to share space or automobiles with family at least presents them with an opportunity to appreciate each other.

A friend reminded me the other day of why it’s so much more difficult to manage on less money these days than it used to be. He began listing all the things we spend money for now that account for new entries in our budget. Along with the different kinds of insurance we pay premiums for, we pay for Internet providers, extra telephone lines and other equipment for our electronic devices. Some folks have monthly parking fees, memberships to health and fitness clubs, investment clubs, ad infinitum. What constitutes today the necessities of life are a far cry from those required by our parents and grandparents.

I think what annoys me most about this situation is that the same people who constantly obsess about the markets, the opportunities to make more money, the ways to sell more products and the need to mind the bottom line, are the same folks that complain about the evils of society. They rant and rave about parents who work long hours and deprive their children of a decent home life for the sake of making more money to consume more stuff. The same folks who criticize the sex and violence in television programming are often the ones who pay for this kind of programming in order to advertise and sell their products. Surely, these advertisers have children and grandchildren who are consuming this televised garbage. I don’t know who they are trying to kid with all this so-called concern for the welfare of children. At some point, “we the people” are going to have to decide whether we own the money or the money owns us.

There are some people who have grown weary with riding the money trail and long for the simple life. Sadly, there are so many built-in costs that it’s virtually impossible for some to change their lifestyles.

I guess those who want to make a change will have to draw on their own fortitude and ingenuity to take control of their own lives and head off in a different direction. Sometimes, one has to dare to risk that she can challenge the odds and win. Still, I suspect more people do this than we realize, but they are just not the type of people we hear about.

I’m sure we are all hoping that the experts are right and the economy will straighten out. But I’m not sure that the brokenness between the rich and the poor will ever come as close to healing as it did in the past decade when little pieces of the pie became available to more people and hope and promise was kept alive. It appears that goodwill is not something that the rich value as they flaunt their affluence before the world. Apparently, envy is the commodity they most desire.

I shudder to think of the lessons we are teaching children as we muddle on feeding our base appetites with the fodder of material excess. Perhaps, we should welcome the opportunity for moderation.

Anyhow, it’s a thought.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen

by calling at 882-5734 or e-mailing her


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