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by SixFigureStart | February 20, 2009


For those of us in the mid-to-late thirtysomething category, this recession has a specific discomfort to it. The recession of 2001 is still a sharp memory, and today?s turmoil rustles up primal and unpleasant memories of that year?s slump.

That terrible year and all that came with it?9/11, job losses, the stock market?s collapse?hit many of us right in the psychological jugular. By 2001, we Gen Xers, the entitled, ?slacker? generation had gathered our momentum and were wrestling with real-life responsibilities?our first management jobs or kids or aging parents or a mortgage or a partner needing either commitment or escape.

Then, poof?

In a way, I think I?m still recovering from that period in my life, making peace with some of the choices I made in order to cope ? moving to lower-cost Seattle and diversifying my work in order to survive.

And then along comes 2009: Our homes are worth nothing, the stock market stinks, employment is dropping, and we can?t spend money to stimulate the economy because we?ve already spent too much.

How are you doing so far? So far, my ship remains afloat?ditto for most of my same-age peers here in Seattle. But the problems of 2001 unfurled over several quarters, and we?re only a few quarters into what officials now concede is a humongous mess?which means the mess probably started much earlier, and will unspool slowly and continuously for many seasons. I?m expecting it to get worse before it gets better, just like 2001.

Here?s my 2001 in a nutshell. First, my income went: I freelanced exclusively for publications focused on the dot-com and technology boom, and by the first quarter of that year all my titles were for sale, folding or undertaking freelance-free makeovers. I?m resourceful, as most freelancers are, but I had to turn down projects because I had other issues demanding attention: In May, my family learned my mother?s cancer was terminal. I went to Virginia to be near her, and in July, she died. By September, I decided I?d stop the grieving and redouble my work efforts. (Alas, freelancers?along with the growing ranks of unemployed?don?t get bereavement leave or pay, and they can?t phone it in for a few weeks under the protection of a compassionate manager.) I had a few months left in New York before a move to Seattle, and I remember sitting at my desk on September 10, thinking how nice it was to plan my return to the world. The next morning, of course, I did no such thing: I stood on the roof of my uptown apartment building, using a neighbor?s binoculars to watch the first tower burn.

I keep reminding myself that 2009 is not 2001, that I don?t have any catastrophic family business in the offing; that the notion of warring with the Middle East is no longer a novel horror; that I?ve diversified my work sufficiently so I won?t end up twice dot-commed; that if I?m leveraged with my own debt in 2009 it?s because I just financed my own wedding and not because I?m charging groceries or paying an exotic mortgage; and that, at 39, I?ve already been through a few recessions?graduated in one, worked through another. By now, I should be Zen.

But I?m not: I can?t help resenting the obvious signs of re-entry into a cautionary economy?assignments about layoffs and foreclosures (hello, Recessionwire), shorter stories (for lesser pay) in ad-strapped publications ? watching one of two Seattle papers up for fire-sale, the concept of feeding my IRA for the golden years seemingly fruitless. What should be years of middle-age achievement, for many of us, consist instead of a subsistence economy. Two friends with Ivy League masters degrees are scarily on food stamps. The recessionary road bumps laid in the path of those of us who took out student loans and mortgages, tried to save for the future, leveraged ourselves (somewhat) to a star called economic growth, remind us that our plans for the future are predicated on optimistic theories that no longer hold, that our stars hang in a lower horizon ? like at elbow height.

I feel guilty, as a middle class college-grad, kvetching about the contracting economy. I?ve got it lots better than so many other folks. But hope, optimism, a sense of opportunity and expansion? A recession?whether in 2001 or 2009?can steal even those priceless commodities from everyone. We may recover economically within a year or two, but emotionally? It could take decades.

--Posted by Jane Hodges,

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