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I went with a friend while he went to file for unemployment. He has been in construction, subcontracting as a plumber, for many years. He had always said that homes and apartments, new and old, always need the plumbing installed or fixed and that he would never be out of work.

He didn’t foresee this current recession. He never would have believed that southern California—the golden state—would stop building new homes and condos. That people would learn to fix their plumbing themselves or hire an unlicensed day laborer off the street to do it for them.

So now he has to collect unemployment, if he can. I don’t know if he is eligible as a self-employed person. I’ve hired him to fix several thing in my house, not all of them water related, rather than get someone else, but now I’m in the same position as everyone else. All the so-called discretionary funds have been poured into food and fuel for the car and the pool is dry.

I’m seeing a lot of this phenomenon in the families of my friends. The women have jobs in education and health care and are still working. The men are often out of work if they have been in manufacturing or construction. Many were two-income families, just barely making it into the so-called middle class. With the high paying construction jobs gone, they are scraping by on the women’s pay, which has always paid less (low wage, dead-end, no benefits) and is now stagnant. (Perhaps the growing knowledge economy will see a greater parity in pay for those with the education and expertise to become part of it).

My employer is proposing furlough days for next year as a cost cutting measure—furlough days are involuntary unpaid days. So not only is my pay stagnant, I may be looking at a pay cut. For the younger women, it will be devastating. For me, I will be able to make ends meet by taking careful looks at what I spend, by postponing major repairs to roof and plumbing and by riding the MTA to work, not eating out at all and cutting coupons out of the paper (I saved nearly $30 last week!). I absolutely refuse to get rid of the dog and the cats, but I have cancelled all subscriptions except the one to NetZero for internet access.

I empathize with the men (and women) who are unemployed. From personal experience I know how closely tied one’s sense of worth and purpose and self-respect are to one’s work in the world. Especially if you are the sole source of income or the major one in the household. And I sympathize with the women who have to make do with less, keep working full time and now take care of the man at home along with children if she has them, too—or, if she is older, become caregiver to family members. And worry about losing her job and losing everything. No wonder women say they are tired!

Also I empathize with the retired people who have to go back to work. And then, like my friend, get laid off because new hires are paid less, as are women. There’s enough pain to go around.

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