Toss-Up: Which Is the Day’s Most Depressing Recession Story?

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Today is a fine day for indulging in hard-luck stories for our hard-luck times—a.k.a., recession porn. These are tales of lost jobs, no prospects, and unemployment benefits that have run out. Or if there are jobs, they are jobs that have a 24/7 work week: no vacation, no weekends, no health insurance. And the people featured in these stories have no faith that things will change anytime soon.

The Washington Post gets right to the point with the title to its long, grim piece about the struggles of folks who’ve been unemployed for what seems like forever. “Nowhere to Go But Down” is the chipper headline to this story.

The WSJ, meanwhile, discusses how freelancers and the self-employed are finding it impossible to take even a small break from work—because they feel like in this economic climate, they have to be available for all the work they can get. People aren’t safe or secure enough to get away from work even for a long weekend.

The NY Times looks at how difficult it is for people who have gotten laid off to return to anything approaching their old incomes—if they find work at all, that is. Some explanation:

“On average, most workers do not recover their old annual earnings,” said Till von Wachter, an economics professor at Columbia University, who recently completed a working paper with two other economists that examined the long-term earnings of workers who lost their jobs in the recession of the early 1980s.

Mr. Wachter studied workers who had been with their companies at least three years, then lost their jobs when their employers reduced their work forces by at least 30 percent. He found that even 15 to 20 years later, most on average had not returned to their old wage levels. He also concluded that their earnings were about 15 percent to 20 percent less than they would have been had they not been laid off.

One of the main reasons for the drop-offs, according to economists, is that workers who endure a layoff are more likely to be laid off again.

But if this is a match-up to determine the most depressing story, it’s no contest. While I certainly relate to the WSJ piece, the WP story wins outright. Here’s a snippet:

His mind settles into another round of “What if?”

As in: What if we don’t have cash to buy milk, eggs, bread or diapers? What if our unemployment benefits run out? What if we never find jobs?

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