American Dream is Alive and Well
As January 2009 comes to a close, we continue to be bombarded with news of the economy. Every day it seems like we learn of another company closing, another round of layoffs, or another proposed bailout. 2009 rang in with most people hopeful for a new year, a new administration, and a new beginning. Unfortunately, it seems, simply turning the page of the calendar doesn’t equate to a global economic recovery.
Many are drawing comparisons with the Great Depression of the 1930’s with the recession lingering and seemingly growing stronger every day. However, research shows a striking contrast between that era and today’s economy.
• The unemployment rate peaked at 25 percent during the Depression, while it is currently approaching 7.5 percent.
• It was estimated that 1.5 million were homeless in the U.S. during the Depression. There are currently 677,000 homeless.
• 2,489 banks failed during the Depression compared to 28 during the past year.
• Unlike today, there were no unemployment benefits, Social Security, or federal deposit insurance in the early 1930s.
One theme that holds true in both periods is the search for inspiration and leadership. Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President in the midst of the worst depression in U.S. history. Most are familiar with the FDR quote from his inaugural speech delivered on March 4, 1933, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. A few days ago I ran across the quote in its entirety; “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
I don’t think I could remotely understand this quote until now. Most of us alive today have no perspective on what our country experienced in the 1930’s. As the saying goes, “a little perspective goes a long way”. I have seen and heard the fear from my clients, friends and family as the economy continues to toss and turn. The fear of what could happen, the fear of ‘what if’ and the fear of lost control. Strangely, in the middle of all the uncertainty, I draw encouragement from the willingness and determination from most around me to reassess, to move forward, to get back to the basics, and to eventually advance.
While it might not compare to the Great Depression; job loss, foreclosures, debt, and investment losses are all real reasons for anxiety and concern. However, I am proud of the reaction I’ve seen from our community in the face of this adversity. The hope for a renewed future and the resilience we are showing as a society is heartening. As Roosevelt also said in his inaugural address, “These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men”. I am confident the American dream is alive and well.