He's a victim of our Great Recession, as it has come to be called--the two bubble bursts in the American economy, first the collapse of the technology stock market some years back and then of the credit market misery of more recent vintage.
He worked for an enterprise closely allied to the insurance business when he was abruptly and ignominiously dispatched from a high-profile and highly paid job at the unfortunate age of 60 with an unpaid mortgage, a child still in college and a diminishing pension account by the company he had worked for with distinction for decades.
He was set adrift, on a month's notice, with no benefits and a fancy resume that screamed aloud that he was too high-priced and too old (the polite excuse was "overqualified") to suit the fancy of a limited range of companies that were also strapped by the economic realities of the times.
My good friend was indeed in dire straits, too young to lay down his sword and shield and too young to claim Social Security benefits.
A lifelong two-fisted drinker with the proverbial "hollow leg," Dave soon crossed the fine line between social imbibing, between sometimes wanting a drink and now needing a drink--in other words, into outright addiction. Down he sank, quickly, into the horrible disease of alcoholism, propelled by the usual drivers of that disease: resentment, frustration, depression and anger, among others.
Eventually, he sought help. He went into a counseling program, into a recovery program, into Alcoholics Anonymous, with little avail. Today, he's still struggling but well aware that his life looks no better through the bottom of a whiskey glass.
I thought of Dave when the statistics came out of Washington a month or so ago that the unemployment rate had hit 9.5 per cent. Shortly thereafter, we were told that, when it was taken into account the numbers of people who were underemployed--that is to say, who were working part time but who wanted to work full time--and those who have given up altogether, the numbers were scarily higher--greater than 20 percent, for example, in states like California, Oregon, Michigan and South Carolina.
"A jobless rate of 20 percent is clearly shocking", wrote The New York Times. "It sounds like something out of the Great Depression."
I thought too of Jason, a young man, the nephew of a good friend, who underwent emergency surgery for a life-threatening tear in his aorta. His employer said if he wasn't back to work in two weeks he'd be fired.
And so he was, even though his doctor advised the company that the minimum recovery period for such a procedure was 12 weeks. Cut off without benefits, Jason doesn't know which way to turn, not the fault of the insurance company, though you know it will get more than its share of the blame.
I point to Dave's and Jason's stories as examples of the human fallout of the current economic crisis and its toll on our industry. Hopefully, Jason and so many others with similar stories will fare better than Dave.
I'll drink to that.
THOMAS J. SLATTERY,
a writer on industry affairs, is managing director of Slattery-Esterkamp Communications, Baldwin, N.Y.
August 1, 2009
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