The steady drumbeat of depressing news is permeating Americans' psychology. Virtually every day, one sees another story that doesn't exactly inspire confidence.
The poverty rate surges to a level not seen since 1993. Median American inflation-adjusted household income falls 7% since 2001 back to 1996 levels. The consumer price index ticks up 0.4% in August. The financial crisis in the euro zone spirals out of control as its negative feedback loop accelerates. U.S. retail sales stay flat as consumers postpone spending. SAT scores for reading and writing reach a new all-time low.
Enough already. It takes me back to the summer of 1975 looking for summer jobs as a student living in Boston. At the time, Massachusetts had the highest unemployment rate in the nation. Still, I was able to find work that didn't exactly thrill me. Three days in a
car wash at the minimum wage prompted me to switch jobs and spend five days as a cab driver, where I estimate I only earned the minimum wage on two of those five days.
Nonetheless, I was hardly miserable. Maybe I was just too naïve to get depressed. Boston was a fun city and entertainment for students was cheap in those days-although there were several days when I wished the apartment that three of us were paying $200 a month for had air conditioning. Much to my surprise, the gut class I was taking, geology, proved interesting and I enjoyed writing a final paper on earthquakes.
For someone who grabbed Time and Newsweek magazines out of their parents' mailbox when I was 10 years old a decade earlier, it was impossible to be oblivious to all the economic turmoil going on in the world. But things could always be worse; in fact, one politically ambitious student made that his campaign slogan when he ran for student body president.
Ten years later in 1985, I was in the workforce and would revisit Boston frequently, go out to great seafood restaurants with old friends-we could suddenly afford them-and marvel that Massachusetts had the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. Amazingly, we had found our way into the labor force and were working in jobs that suited our talents. Many of us, having been hired at bargain basement salaries during or immediately after the nasty 1981-1982 recession, were suddenly getting double-digit raises from employers all too well aware that a rival could still find some cheap talent.
The technology boom had spawned all sorts of businesses out on Route 128. Digital Equipment was the dominant tech player in the region, dwarfing another company, Microsoft, which was conceived across the river at about the same time I was quitting the car wash. Other 1970s start-ups like Apple were just emerging as mainstream concerns.
So what's the point of all this? That people adapt, that businesses evolve and the U.S. economy is difficult to hold down for a long time. Microsoft, Apple and Hewlett-Packard (born in 1934) were hardly the only companies launched in lousy economies. People often perform best with their backs to the wall.
Evan Simonoff, Editor-in-Chief
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