Hard times have shaken our confidence

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A recent study found that American workers are discouraged and disgruntled, and it’s no wonder why.

Unemployment remains stubbornly high and those fortunate enough to have jobs find themselves working harder, longer and often for lower pay.

According to a study released last week by Towers Watson, a human resources consulting firm, employees say they are either too fearful or discouraged to seek new jobs.

“We’ve found that since the recession, people are ‘burrowing in,'” Max Caldwell, a managing principal at Towers Watson, told The Wall Street Journal.

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More than half of workers felt they had no clear path for advancement at their current employer, and 43 percent felt they could only advance by leaving that employer.

Which is what Americans have done in past recessions: When the going got tough, the tough got going. 

This time, however, more Americans are finding themselves unwilling or unable to move.

First, there’s simply no good place to go. Previous recessions have been more regional than this one. During the recession of 1981-82, for instance, workers fled the Midwest as large manufacturing industries like steel, rubber and auto collapsed.

But, they had a refuge — the Sun Belt.

Not so this time. The states hardest hit by the home foreclosure crisis are in the South, West and Southwest.

In Michigan, for example, the rate of population loss declined between 2008 and 2009, even as the unemployment rate soared to 15 percent, according to the Economist magazine.

Florida, meanwhile, over the past two years has lost 50,000 people, often people who have lost their homes to foreclosure.

Second, many workers who would like to move cannot because their mortgages are, as they say, “underwater” — they owe more than their houses are worth.

While Maine had been showing very slow but steady population growth, that trend has reversed. The latest Census Bureau numbers show we lost 1,390 residents from 2008 to 2009, mainly due to a steadily falling birth rate and less in-migration.

If this trend continues or worsens, the state will have fewer wage earners to support the increasing expense of its growing elderly population.

Still, there are reasons for optimism.  A year and a half ago, our economy was teetering on the brink of disaster. Many were predicting another economic depression or a 10-year recession.

Today, the Dow is up more than 4,000 points from its low point, home prices are slowly rebounding and retail spending is up.

This country has weathered 47 recessions since 1790, 14 of those since the Great Depression.

Each of those has been accompanied by predictions that America had lost its economic might and that we would never be as well off again.

Hard times have a way of shaking our confidence.

Yet, each time, our people and our economy have shown their resilience.

While this recession has been unusually long and deep, we can take comfort that history is on our side.

editorialboard@sunjournal.com

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