This economy is making me anxious all the time. It doesn't seem as though it should -- my husband and I are two of the lucky ones who have jobs, and our employers seem to be doing OK. No, it's not really my personal situation that has me anxious. It seems like something in the air. First of all, the sheer number of people laid off is astounding -- 663,000 people lost jobs in March alone, and 3.3 million since October. Those are U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, so they're probably an under-count. The BLS tends to miss informal work arrangements, people who are discouraged and have stopped looking for work, those who would work more hours if they could, and people who used to have higher-paying jobs.
Every time I think of that number -- 663,000 -- I try to picture all of those people out of work. I really can't. First I come up with a vague image of a tractor rusting in a Midwestern field. Then I picture empty Long Island Rail Road seats as Wall Streeters stay home instead of commuting into NYC. And then I think of how hard it is to be home when you want to work, how much tension it creates.
The other cause of my anxiety is that I feel poorer because of what has happened to my retirement and college savings. We are still shoveling money into these funds, and I have no idea whether that's a foolish thing or not. One theory is that we are "buying low" right now. But is my 401(k) administrator really purchasing stocks? The last time I looked, much of the money had been shifted into bonds. Doesn't this mean that I have "locked in my losses?" I know that I should be more diligent, and maybe take over control of this account myself. But I really don't have any expertise in that. I just signed up to be a journalist in this life. Now, I'm supposed to be picking stocks? Or what? No retirement for me! It's overwhelming.
I can't even get into the college savings stuff. Each of my daughters' accounts has lost about $3,000. What happened to the "magic of compound interest" theory that I was raised on? It's not there any more! There is no more magic. I keep wondering how much debt I will be saddling my children with -- and here's the really crazy part. They are both still in grade school.
Like I said, this anxiety thing is insidious.