The boogie-bear we’re using to excuse doing little

A wide-ranging survey of recession-related im-pacts on American life begins by saying, “the recession is profoundly disrupting American life: More people are delaying marriage and home-buying, turning to carpools yet getting stuck in ever-worse traffic, staying put rather than moving to new cities.”
This litany of generalizations provokes a skeptical, “Oh, yeah?”
The worst recession in 70 years has had a severe impact on the 10 percent of the work force now unemployed. It has been a disaster for businesses forced to close. It shattered housing prices, reducing the net worth of every homeowner in the country. It has played havoc with retirement accounts, the wealth of the wealthy and the not-so-weathy who owned shares of stock now worth less — or worthless.
But surely it is a gross exaggeration to say that American life has been “profoundly disrupted.” Truth is that most Americans are coming through the recession into the recovery just beginning pretty intact. Yes, their house is worth less. But if they haven’t borrowed against it, or don’t intend to, which covers most of us, little pain comes with that paper loss.
As for these other imputed effects, take them one at a time.
— People are delaying marriage — and have been for years and years. Americans marry later than ever and more are staying single for many reasons, most of which have nothing to do with the recession. Possibly the most important factor in this sociological change is today’s sexual mores. Cohabitation is accepted at all age levels above puberty. Every reader of this page knows one or more — perhaps many more — unmarried couples living together.
— House-buying is on the upswing. It fell drastically when the bottom dropped out of the market. It is now recovering and prices are beginning to rise. That’s how Adam Smith said it happens. It’s a dandy time to buy a house.
— Smaller numbers moving to new cities is, indeed, a result of fewer jobs being created and more people being unemployed.

THE POINT IS that as pervasive as this recession has been and still remains, the pain caused affects far fewer than in past major recessions because state and national governments and a host of non-governmental organizations are doing a better job of helping victims cope. The unemployed have received checks and still are, hungry families get food stamps or are fed directly, many cities provide for the homeless and transport those who need a ride. There are more public and private programs addressing a wider variety of human needs than ever before.
Because America has been so rich for so long, every town and city has an over-abundance of vendors of second-hand clothing and household goods. Families can clothe themselves and set up housekeeping on a welfare budget.
And even though there are 47 million Americans without health insurance, emergency health care is now, and has been for as long as any adult now alive can remember, available to those in immediate need.
Higher unemployment and the slow-down in new business growth has interrupted the growth in immigration. About half of the 50 states showed a reduction in the number of immigrants from 2007 to 2008 as it became more difficult for low-wage workers to find jobs.
Immigration from Mexico and other Latin American countries dropped significantly. On the other hand, India sent more well-trained workers into the U.S. to claim jobs in telecommunications, manufacturing, computers and software.
While the recession partially explains why fewer are pouring across our borders after day-labor jobs, the fact that high-tech companies re-main eager to hire India’s well-trained leg-ions is about India, its wise decisions and highly motivated young, not the recession. The message to America is to beef up its tech schools and persuade more youngsters to attend them.
And the overall message to all of us is that the recession is a pain, but it is also a teaching time. Let’s learn.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.,
a survivor of the Great Depression