What does the economic downturn look like to you? I found myself faced with this question in a professional development seminar this morning. The task was to create a collage with clippings of pictures from an assortment of magazines that depicted some aspect of your experience with the fall out from recent economic events, which would complete the sentance, “It seems like…” It could be personal, your observations of others, your perception of the economic climate, or some combination thereof. No words allowed, only pictures.
Not being the most creative lady in the world when words are banished, I was already at a disadvantage. More than that, I actually found myself at a complete loss as to what overarching theme I should pursue. I’ve seen a lot of angles of this crisis up close and personal.
There’s the wealthiest of the wealthy, with whom I have the occasion to mingle at times on a professional level. They have the most and, in some cases with which I’m very familiar, have lost the most. Worries from those at that level can seem either trite or horrifying, at turns. Downsizing the household staff? The shame! Losing everything because one invested with someone seen as a friend? That’s honestly probably worse than never having had anything in the first place.
There’s the guy two or three years out of college, full of ideals and bent on making a difference. Already scraping by on an entry-level salary, he’s laid off. Far more organizations seem to be downsizing than hiring these days, so he’s digging through every craigslist posting along with a multitude of others recently out of college or grad school, wondering how exactly one starts one’s career these days, let alone how one advances. Those stories grandpa tells of his days with IBM (where he worked from the age of eighteen on), always knowing what to expect from day to day, seem completely foreign. For the first time, “we’re lucky to have a job,” really seems to mean something.
There’s the woman who works fifty hours a week at her day job and then freelances as a makeup artist evenings and weekends to make ends meet and help her mother, whose hours at her shift job have been practically cut in half. The elephant in the room is what will happen if they fall off the tightrope and the 50% cut turns into a layoff.
There’s the fifty year old husband and father of three who has worked his whole life, made a decent living, but has seen his retirement plan eviscerated along with everyone else who has been socking money away long enough to have accumulated any sort of nest egg. There’s no bailout for that, it seems.
All of these realities compose elements of my firsthand experience with the present situation. My collage ended up as follows: Pictures of houses, grand and modest, covering the 8.5×11 poster board sheet. On top of the houses, in a camouflage-style sequence, are randomly placed chunks of a black and white scribble pattern. The accompanying tagline? “It seems like the stereotypical ‘American dream’ is slipping away.”