When did it happen?

History books will document the period we’re living in, although I’m not sure what they’ll call it. My grandparents endlessly recounted the horrors of the 30s. My husband and I took it pretty hard in the 80s. What will our descendents say about the first decade of the 21st century? As recently as October 2008, news journalists and even economists were debating whether we were in a recession (and I wrote a post on my personal blog I know it when I see it.) The official benchmark for a depression is defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research as “a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales.” A simpler definition is that recession occurs when real gross domestic product (GDP) growth is negative for two or more consecutive quarters.

Well the official depression marker has been reached, and no one had to tell us in libraries that it’s official. Our branches are busier than ever from open to close. Folks are waiting in line to use our computers to find unemployment and job search information. By everything we count, library use in East Central Minnesota is up 20% or more. People are using our resources and services -at no cost – and are using our collections to find ways to save money. East Central Energy donated 5 Kill a Watt electricity usage meters to check the amount of efficiency of household devices. The devices circulate just like books and there are currently 157 people on a waiting list to check one out.

An old story goes: A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. Over the last months fewer and fewer people are working. As a result, tax receipts are going down and government is less able to fund services.

To see a gut-wrenching graphic depiction of the spread of unemployment, check out When Did Your County’s Jobs Disappear, on Slate (an online magazine published by the Washington Post.) Using the Labor Department’s local area unemployment statistics, Slate presents the recession as told by unemployment numbers for each county in America. In January 2007, many blue dots represented areas of net job gains. Moving through month by month, red dots representing job losses take over the map. Check it out. Link to online article.

Barbara Misselt, Director

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