The Great Recession is affecting everyone. All around me I see stark reminders of just how bad things are, although I sometimes forget that it’s not only me who is struggling.

On a recent trip to the store, I saw people standing patiently in line at the CoinStar machine for a chance to turn their change into dollar bills. I knew one of the ladies in line, so I stopped to chat. At first she seemed embarrassed and quickly stepped in front of her container full of loose change. As we talked, she told me her husband had been out of work for a while and the only way her son would have school supplies this year was for her to turn in her change.

“This was supposed to be our extra money for vacation,” she said. “But sometimes you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. Heck, we probably won’t even go on vacation this year.”

I nodded my head in agreement. I knew exactly what she was feeling.

The next reminder came in the form of an event I used to dread — the NASCAR races. 

(Courtesy of Marianne Steffey)

I live about 30 minutes from Bristol Motor Speedway, and every year in the spring and beginning of fall, thousands of fans travel to the Tri-Cities to watch the races. It’s a great moneymaker here in East Tennessee and in Southwest Virginia.

This past weekend I went camping at the track. As I was toiling walking the campground, I noticed an strangely high number of empty lots.

“Is this the usual crowd?” I asked the owner.

“No,” she said. “This isn’t even half of the campers we usually get.”

She went on to say she had to tell a few of her employees that she didn’t need them this year — she had no work for them to do. To keep her business going, she is doing the work herself.

It was yet another example of how hopeless it has become for many of us. What happens when we run out of change to take to the CoinStar machines (and more immediately — since my friend can’t even afford her son’s school supplies — how will she pump any money back into the economy by taking a vacation)?

And if the campground owner has lower attendance and can’t put her business back in the black, how does she expect to keep it open? 

I’ve run out of “hope” that anything will “change” or that I will find a job before Christmas.

How can I be positive when everywhere I turn I see examples of others who may not be in the same jobless boat, but are hurting nonetheless?

There’s been a lot of talk about jobs, jobs, jobs. In my opinion, it’s not the jobs we have to worry about but the environment that allows business to prosper. When we figure out how to make businesses and corporations feel profitable and certain again, the jobs will come.

Until then, I guess we’ll bicker and argue and watch others suffer.

If something isn’t done soon, I can almost guarantee there will be more joining the unemployment line come November 2012. And I can bet many of those claims will be filed in Washington, D.C. Then maybe Congress and the president will experience firsthand what the millions of unemployed are experiencing every day in this Great Recession.

Marianne Steffey, a 32-year-old former journalist from Erwin, Tenn., has been unemployed for seven months. Read more about her here. Read about the “Help Wanted” project here. Visit the project home page here.

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