Recession. Economic downturn.
We call it a different name because nobody wants to think of it as a depression - that's such a depressing word. It's been all over the news for months now - how the economy is going downhill and it's only going to be getting worse before it gets better. Pessimists say that it's about as bad as the Great Depression. But that doesn't really mean much to me, since I wasn't alive then.
I've read Grapes of Wrath, but it doesn't look like that. In that book, it seemed like everybody was barely getting by - deprevation, starvation, death were everywhere. But the people here don't really look any different from what I remember a year ago. There don't seem to be any more beggars on the street. I don't see any reduction in the number of teens chatting on cell phones or sporting cool new shoes. I do know a few people who have lost their jobs, but even they seem to doing okay so far - one of them seems to even prefer being on unemployment.
Maybe people are still pretending. I've heard stories about how during the depression, the men would still dress up in their suitcoats and leave their houses in the morning so that the neighbors didn't know they were out of work. Maybe people are doing that now.
But so far (knock on wood), the economic troubles may have done me more good than harm. Housing prices are falling to something a little bit more reasonable so that I can consider buying a house. Gas prices came back down. I've lost some money (well, a lot of money by my normal standards) in my retirement savings accounts, but I've only been investing in those for 18 months now, so it's not like I am dependent on their value. As stock prices continue to fall, I'm presented with an opportunity to buy them cheap. Probably the biggest negative impact is simply that I'm afraid to use my Roth IRA toward the down payment on a house because I'd have to sell low.
I'll admit that I'm somewhat scared that if it keeps going too long my job might be in jeopardy. I do, after all, work in retail. But I can't live my entire life in fear of the unknown. And I feel that my company has positioned itself such that it can be seen as a lower-cost alternative than most retailers. As times get harder, price sensitivity is going to increase and perhaps the two will balance each other out. As long as we can stay afloat, if we can weather this storm we'll have even more competitive advantage in the future. And I think that's the way it is for me, too.