I have a Dot-Com Bubble memory to share with you all. This particular memory actually resides somewhere between the very pinnacle and the initial reverberations of the bust, when the concept of the massive layoff was first introduced. I was working for a highly successful and widely regarded online news organization, which was populated by ambitious (but not too much so) twenty somethings like myself. The entire editorial staff had been called into one of our many conference rooms for an emergency meeting. Standing amongst the retro arcade games, the massage chairs, and the gratis soda machine dispensing all you can drink caffeinated drinks, we were kindly told that the wave of plentitude had finally crashed and that some of us would soon be loosing our jobs. This was solemn news for the lot of us, as we had grown very comfortable with our abundantly cushy jobs in the new corporate America. Our Editor in Chief was living up to his title by taking a leadership role and providing comfort to all who were left anxious and uneasy from the announcement. He assured us that, while we would have to cut back and “don our skinny suits for a period of time,” we as a group (the most of us, at least) would weather this as a family. Maybe I was less cynical back then (or simply more naïve) but his words provided some much needed comfort and brought the shaken lot of us together in our battered lifeboat.
Needless to say, we all lost our jobs within a year, but that is not the point of this anecdote. The intended point is that, through a clear message of unity and a need for frugality, we the discouraged were moved to feel something more than encroaching doom – we were temporarily brought together.
I was reminded of this particular moment in my personal history by, not only the economically grim reality of which we are currently living through, but also the informative Judith Warner piece about how the “Great Recession” is affecting families. While the article hits hard with dispiriting data like, 20 percent of Americans have seen their available household income decline by 25 percent or more. It also reveals a pervasive silver lining in this entire decline – and that would be, less money might equal more family unity. The idea is that all of the swirling negativity and lack of resources to indulge in such things as frivolous consumption and other consumer indulgences, frees us up to simplify our lives and be truly together as a family. Warner asserts, ” The glue of all this new happiness was meant to be togetherness — a belief that still sustains reports that people are volunteering more, pulling together and even replacing their propensity to compete with their neighbors with a new spirit of cooperation and solidarity.”
But the article is not entirely an argument championing the idea that this recession will purge us of our excesses and usher in an era of unheralded family togetherness. Warner also sites data that says, for most families the miseries of the Great Recession don’t represent a break from the recent past, just a significant worsening of the stresses they’ve been under for years and years. And some families, that are contending with significant financial hardships, are seeing detrimental effects as is evidenced by a New York Times/CBS poll of unemployed adults last winter found about 40 percent saying they believed their joblessness was causing behavioral change in their children.
While we still don’t know how “great” or how lasting this current economic downturn may be, can we really determine how good, or bad this will be for the family unit? Is it too early to tell? Is it too subjective to pinpoint? Or is the glass half-full in some families, while it remains half-empty in others? What is your personal, and family, view of the situation?