The many faces of recession

It is important to be mindful and introspective of our own problems during hard times.

Uttam Das

On Feb. 16, around 3 p.m., I witnessed a tragic incident. Walking through Market Street toward the United Nations Plaza in San Francisco, I saw all eyes were drawn to a balcony on the top floor of a busy commercial hub. I saw a man in his 40s who was bare but for short trousers. He was muttering inaudibly. Voices from the crowd were asking the man to be cool, calm and to come down. Within a moment, police rushed over, but the man paid no attention to anyone. He jumped off the balcony and fell to his death on the pavement. Like other witnesses, I was forced to reflect on the razor-thin line between human life and death. No one knows why the man did this. However, there were some whispers he might be another victim of the stress of our ongoing recession. This is the reality of American life now. Though the economy is reportedly showing signs of a rebound, human tragedy and toll continues to be apparent. As columnist Peter S. Goodman observes, âÄúâĦ millions of Americans remain out of work, out of savings and near the end of their unemployment benefits.âÄù An estimated 2.7 million jobless people are going to lose their unemployment checks before this coming April unless Congress approves the proposal to extend unemployment payments. It is estimated that 6.3 million Americans have been unemployed for six months or longer. According to labor experts, the economy needs 100,000 new jobs a month to facilitate absorption of the entrants to the labor force. However, now an estimated 15 million Americans are officially jobless. I met one formerly comfortable San Francisco family now on the verge of homelessness since layoffs have made them unable to pay off their mortgage. I met a journalist who is now working as a freelancer in the area. Her Bay Area newspaper had to lay off 20 reporters. Now, she has to depend on the earnings of her husband, which are simply not enough for the family of three, which expects a new baby in May. There are around 3,000 âÄúfreelancersâÄù in the Bay area who were laid off from their regular jobs and are thus victims of the recession. Some immigrant communities are experiencing even greater turbulence. Newly resettled refugees from Bhutan and Burma have had to experience the exhaustion of government support; there is no imminent possibility to get jobs that are required for survival, and most are unable to speak English. Students are also being hit hard. The National Jurist, a magazine for law students, reported this month that large law firms âÄúhave been hit the hardest by the recession.âÄù Quoting a survey, the magazine reports that 43 percent of private practice law firms have had to lay off employees. However, some see this recession as an opportunity as well. The assistant dean of Winder Law in Wilmington, Del., was quoted in the Jurist as saying: âÄúâĦ be competitive for the jobs that are available.âÄù Newsweek columnist Julia Baird suggests that the recession should provide us with reason and momentum to look inward. âÄúWe should be self-sufficient and not rely on debts,âÄù she writes in the Feb. 22 issue. Baird advises to âÄúlive more simply, consume more wisely, think of generations to come and wonder what desires we want to plant in childrenâÄôs hearts.âÄù The Bengali mystic poet and singer Lalon, who lived until the end of the 19th century, called for such meditations. Calm introspection and an honest evaluation of our problems and possibilities are essential in these challenging times. DonâÄôt allow yourself to feel powerless and lost in the grand scheme. Instead, make an earnest effort to live with power, purpose and humility. If we can individually focus our energies there, the grand scheme will take care of itself. Uttam Das welcomes comments at [email protected]