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Cook column: Recession is hurting families

The layoffs keep coming. And while many of us empathize ó we appreciate our jobs more than ever ó we don’t really know what it’s like to suddenly be thrown out in the cold.
This man does. He wrote to the Post after we asked to hear people’s stories about the recession. We’ve been calling these stories “Faces of the Recession.” His letter is a voice of the recession.
Maybe this will help us understand.
“I don’t want my face shown or name mentioned,” he wrote. “Maybe I feel like an outcast, even though I know the recession happens to millions.
“Four years ago, I was making $50,000 to $55,000 per year. My wife and I had no financial problems.
“Then the problems started in different stages.
“1. My wife was diagnosed with cancer.
“2. The company I worked for sold out. I was permanently laid off, I assume because of my salary.
“3. I tried at maybe 50 places for a job; some locations I would try two or three times.
“4. I had and have no health insurance. I couldn’t afford it. No income.
“5. I know the economy is bad. Also I know that companies discriminate because of age. I’m 61 now.”
Then came the hardest blow. His wife died. He was blessed with the support of a local hospice and family members during her last weeks. But that time has passed now, and he worries.
“I’m in a position where I could lose my house and land. I know it’s materialistic, but I worked hard to acquire what I did.
“Now I feel like my heart has been ripped out. Maybe it has.
“I know there are countless less fortunate than me and pray that a miracle will happen to raise them, as I, up.”
– – –
Abraham Lincoln is said to have turned to prayer many times during the harsh days of the Civil War.
“I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go,” he once said. “My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for the day.”
Though the economic slowdown hitting the world today is not as bloody as the Civil War nor as extreme as the Great Depression, it’s hard not to fall into a siege mentality. Hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs. Many more have lost large chunks of their retirement savings. And foreclosures have hit hard.
How is it that some people are able to go on, concerned but still enjoying life, while others fall into a pit of despair?
The degree of financial calamity may have something to do with that, but that’s not the only factor.
– – –
Several studies were done in the 1990s of families who lost their farms and how that calamity affected them.
Psychologists found a pattern, what one researcher called the “family economic stress model.”
“In essence, they found that families enter a complex, downward spiral,” said an article by Tori DeAngelis on the American Psychological Association Web site. “As incomes fall, families experience such pressure as being unable to pay their bills and having to scrimp on food, utilities and health care.”
Stressors mount, parents become distressed, and the logical things follow ó depression, heightened anxiety, irritability, anger and alienation. Family relationships hit the skids.
Who is hurt the most, psychologically?
Children, if their parents have difficulty coping. Youngsters “weren’t terribly bothered by not having a lot of stuff,” says Dr. Rand Conger of the University of California, Davis, quoted in the article. “What bothered them was when their parents became angry and irritable and withdrawn.”
So how on earth do you not become angry and irritable if you’ve lost your job, have a mountain of unpaid bills and face the very real possibility of losing your home?
Judging from the psychological studies, the worst thing you can do is withdraw and dwell on the situation.
“Children in families whose parents put family first and continued to communicate despite the hardship fared much better in the short and long term than those who allowed the crisis to fracture them,” DeAngelis wrote in the article.
She goes on to quote Dr. Glen H. Elder Jr., a research professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, who says strong community ties help:
“Kids whose parents were connected to church, school and civic organizations lived their lives the same way. Those involvements really predicted what they were going to do in their lives and how successful they would be.”
– – –
The Post will be publishing more stories in the coming weeks about the impact of the recession, including the psychological impact. People are hurting. They need to know how to get help. And they need to know they are far from alone.
– – –
Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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