The television tells us that people are on the road again. The TV says they are looking for jobs. They go, in their vans or their cars or sometimes their trailers, from cityto city looking for jobs that are not there. They eat in soup kitchens and sleep in missions and cry sitting on the curb. Happy days are here again.
In Washington, a minister who runs a shelter reports that recently he has been getting families in for the night. No longer just the street people, alone, by themselves--the drinkers and the crazies. Now he gets families. He gets mothers and children and fathers and children. He separates the men from the women and allows them to spend the night.
The Wall Street Journal ran an article the other day on the possibility that the recession will turn into a depression. There have been several articles like that recently and I thought the one in the Journal was going to say it could not happen. The writer, after all, was until recently the assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He said it could happen.
The new figures for unemployment are out: almost 9 percent. Not since the Great Depression have so many people been out of work--about 10 million, and of course that figure is just a joke. The actual number is way higher. The actual number would have to include people who gave up looking for work a long time ago and are no longer counted. But they're out there. And they eat too.
The dirty secret on Broadway is that you can get tickets to almost any show you want. People don't seem to have money anymore. The dirty secret in the restaurant business is that a lot of them are in lots of trouble. There seem to be fewer people eating out. The dirty secret in the retail business is that trade is way off. Some department stores look real deserted and stores that wouldn't give you the right time of day two years ago now are offering discounts.
Oh Dad, what was it like back in the Great Depression? Did it start like this or did the stock market just fall and trigger it just by itself? What was it like to live in those times and how was it to be without a job? Did the president say he knew what he was doing and did all of a sudden you hope to hell he did? Did your views on things change suddenly and did you stop taking certain things for granted? Did you stop thinking that things would automatically get better?
Were you scared back then, Dad? Because people are getting scared now. You can sense it. They're not spending money and they're not looking so confident and no one talks about growth anymore. The newspaper feels lighter in the morning and the cars look older and all of a sudden what seemed so certain, so secure, no longer seems that way. I know people who cannot find a job.
Oh, what a joke on my generation. What a laugh on the graduate school crowd, those of us who were born middle class after the Great Depression and thought that the greatest struggle in life was the search for meaning--not jobs. Boy, could we spend money. Boy, could we not save. Our parents could save, could save and save and repair things and recycle them and wear clothes until they wore out. Not us, though. We believed in spending and in debt. After all, the government had supposedly outlawed rainy days. Tell me again how it was, Dad. This time I'll listen.
Even the Golden State of California is hurting. People who came there years ago looking for work are now looking for work again. Unemployment is way up. The housing industry is desperate. The movie business is hurting bad and farm income is down by 6 percent. The other day, they closed a car plant. The last car rolled off the assembly line. People watched and then they put their hands in their pockets and tried to figure out what they would do next.
Maybe it won't happen. Probably it won't happen. We're only in a recession, not a depression, and there are things the government can do now it could not do in the 1930s. There's all kinds of insurance and social programs. But still, people are on the road again and plants keep closing and being out of work is being out of work. It reminds you of something, doesn't it?
Happy days are here again.