At Your Service: Dec. 30, 2009

by Maggie Inge
We come to the end of the year and with it, the end of a decade. A new millennium is off to a start riddled with monumental troubles and historic changes. It is a period most are happy to put behind us; yet, there is cause for hope as we look forward.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of this decade is how thoroughly modern religious fundamentalists embraced the motivation expressed in the 1578 handbook published by the Roman Catholic Church setting forth the guidelines for Inquisitors: “...punishment does not take place primarily and per se for the correction and good of the person punished, but for the public good in order that others may become terrified and weaned away from the evils they would commit.” Modern terrorists seeking to further their agendas have flown planes into buildings, walked solo into hotels and other public gathering places with bombs strapped to their chests and gunned down individuals, from doctors providing abortion services to political leaders and protestors. To the extent that we are all more frightened in general terms than we were ten years ago, they have succeeded.
Our fears have been nurtured by dramatic changes in the economy. At the beginning of this decade, our country had a trillion dollar budget surplus. Two wars and the deepest recession since the 1930s later, we have a greater than trillion dollar deficit. While the latest reports from the Departments of Commerce and Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) present a slight uptick in economic indicators, few people are experiencing anything other than concern about their financial stability.
The very personal unemployment rate impacted the lives of over a quarter of Americans this year. A startling number of people have seen their jobs evaporate all together or move overseas in a trade deficit that is expected to continue growing through the next decade. Almost as many more people have been impacted by the need to pick up the slack for those un- or underemployed family and neighbors. This facet of the economy is most impacted by the painful conditions challenging small businesses.
Our Main Street businesses know all about how difficult it is to stay in business in the face of the national economy. Yet, we are seeing a mini-resurgence locally. While the last year saw the closing of some businesses and job cutbacks at others, we have seen many replaced by the new ventures of a brave few. The breadth of goods and services currently available in these mountains is growing at the fastest rate we have seen in many decades. You can now buy almost everything from clothing, toys and groceries to appliances and used cars without leaving the Town of Middletown. Expand your reach to neighboring communities and you can find whatever you need.
More people than ever are scrambling to make ends meet by working at two or more jobs. With fewer jobs available at the area’s “big” employers, it has been a deeply challenging year for many; for some the worst in their lifetimes. Quite a number of people have created their own second job by starting a small business; which is slowly creating other jobs and the aforementioned local expansion of services.
The BLS projects that by 2018 the unemployment rate will have dropped to around five percent nationally. A primary factor in that projection is that we baby-boomers will be leaving the workforce in massive numbers, offsetting the continuing loss in manufacturing jobs. While recent financial setbacks are delaying the retirement plans of many, ten years hence we will nonetheless be out of the workforce and needing various personal services in large numbers.
These changes present extraordinary opportunities for us locally. We can provide unique personal services for the many who retire here for a major portion of their year, including those for expanding health care needs. But perhaps the most extraordinary contribution available to the many here is a perpetuation of the spirit that keeps people strong in the face of the challenges. We may have new reasons to be fearful, but you have to take a long ride to find a stop sign on these byways. Most of us are well-practiced at living with less and, at the same time, generously helping out our neighbors.
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