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Unemployment in 2020

Bunch of GrapesToday we are going to talk about unemployment. But it’s more fun to say that we’re going to talk about grapes, because we’re going to do that too. Sour grapes, sweet grapes, and even “Grapes of Wrath.”

A few weeks ago, I was sitting comfortably and overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, watching the sun go down. And yes, I have seen the “green flash” twice before, but not that day — you can see it on Google, but that is cheating. Technology is not the answer to everything.

Anyhoo, I was watching the sunset, eating blackberries, and my year-and-a-half-old grandson came up to me and said, “Grawp.” After a few more progressively insistent “GRAWPS!” I finally figured out that he was asking for — or perhaps demanding — a grape. Given the probable fruitlessness (yes, that would be a pun) of explaining the difference between a grape and a blueberry to him, I simply handed him one. I assumed he would be seriously disappointed with the flavor (and the seeds.)  He wasn’t.

He seemed to love it and immediately requested more, an alternating monologue of “Maw” and “Grawp”.  (It’s been a while since I was fluent in toddler-speak, and it takes a while to get it back. I am a work in progress as you know; apparently, I am also a work in digression.) In any case, he got all the blackberries he wanted, until they were all gone.

Grapes of a more literary variety

Winding RoadWhich obviously — at least, to me — leads to the question: Which matters most, the destination or the journey? I’ve been re-reading Pilgrim’s Progress this past month; I don’t think I’ve ever read it all the way through  before, which probably provides meaningful insights into my life and character for people whom I no longer have time or tolerance to listen to at this point.  Ridding yourself of unnecessary burdens along the journey is a good take-away here, I think.

In August, I also watched Henry Fonda as Tom Joad, in the film The Grapes of Wrath, travel to California in search of enough work to feed his family during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The Grapes of Wrath novel used to be required reading for high school students; I wonder if it still is. Regardless, it would behoove us all to be better students of history. Their journey was fraught with peril, drama and interesting adventures — yet it was not so important as the destination.

For the Joad family, the destination was what mattered; it was not California. The “destination” was a life of decency and basic human dignity, a life far enough above the poverty level to be able to feed, clothe and shelter a family after an honest day’s work, a life without unemployment looming overhead. But, work simply wasn’t there for the people fleeing the Oklahoma dustbowl at that time; these were people whose skills and education equipped them for farm work, but not much else.

Unemployment in 2020 – where are we going?

This relates to another question I receive often: Are we headed in this direction now in regards to unemployment, even a depression? To answer, let’s look back at the timeline of The Grapes of Wrath: the 1930s.

Unemployment reached double digits for most of the 30s and was over 20% for much of that time. It was also a time when we didn’t’ have any federal social welfare programs, central banking authority, or many of our labor laws. So, no — I don’t think we are headed to a prolonged depression — because we have tools today that were not available to America in 1930.  However, I also think that we shouldn’t be bursting into a chorus of “Happy Days are Here Again” just yet.

The recovery will take time

Stop LightOur economic difficulties including unemployment today are, at least in part, the result of a “Stop Work” order to lessen social interaction and thus reduce the spread of the coronavirus.  It is reasonable to think that when we find a solution to managing the virus, people will return to work — and we will begin the return to a healthy economy. I also believe, however, that it is not reasonable to assume this will happen in weeks or even months. Let us be careful to avoid accepting prognostication as fact only because it make us feel better and is easier to do so.

Far more differences between 2020 and 1930 than similarities

I find this time in our society to have some aspects in common with the 1930s, but far more differences.  One obvious commonality is that, like the 1930s, 2020 is a time of great upheaval and will likely result in lasting changes in our society.

From a financial standpoint, this represent a time of heightened risk — but also, a time of great opportunity. It is a time for watchers, readers, and those with patience to be extra diligent in laying a path forward to avoid pitfalls and reap the benefits.

Choose opportunity; choose to be excited to be alive today!



September 2020

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