The Great Recession grinds on, dissolving jobs, short-circuiting careers, reducing retirement nest eggs, emptying subdivisions of home-owners, shrinking tax revenues and in numerous ways large and small, replacing hope and confidence with fear.
Unemployment continues rising in our rural county of 45,000. In January, unemployment stood at 17 percent, up from 15.4 percent in December, according to the California Employment Development Department.
In the little community of Mountain Ranch, unemployment is at 26.7 percent. In Angels Camp, the only incorporated city in Calaveras County, the unemployment rate is 19.6 percent.
Who is unemployed? Construction workers. Lumber yard employees. Those who work in mines, the lumbering trade or real estate, to name a few. And when they don’t work, they don’t spend. So the gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and other local businesses watch their revenues fall.
Doctors and dentists in our county have gone to four-day weeks due to reduced patient loads. That, of course, means their staffs now work part time, and have less money to feed their families and fill their gas-tanks.
This week, a local newspaper reported that 41 percent of Calaveras County households are now receiving help from food banks or food pantries. People in need can get about three days’ worth of food per month (about 43 pounds that include fruits and vegetables). But as the economy continues to slide, this is not enough.
In 2009, county food bank staff served 23 percent more people than it had in 2008 and the staff expects an 18 percent rise this year over 2009 numbers.
During this 2009-2010 school year, the food bank has also provided 1,071 school children with weekend food. And a private donor has enabled people to get a two-week animal-pet food supply.
And still, people are hungry here.
When I hear folks on nightly newscasts saying the economy is improving, I think of my neighbors. The many solid, hard-working folks who have always paid their own way. Now days they walk around with taut, in-drawn faces as week after week, they try to figure out the best way to get by.
Fortunately we have rivers and lakes full of trout and other fish, and mountain meadows filled with deer and wild turkey. And lots of folks are planting larger gardens this year.
The one thing we do have plenty of here in the Sierra Nevada foothills is natural beauty. From rushing rivers and plunging waterfalls to snowy jagged peaks and lush mountain meadows, there is enough beauty to flood the heart and soul.
And we have each other. Several local churches are serving free lunches two or three times a week. And some neighborhoods are pooling ingredients and cooking up Soup Supper Fridays where everyone can eat as much as they want and enjoy neighborly conversation along with the meal.
None of these things make up for the lost jobs, lost homes or lost savings, but they do remind us that we are not alone. And I am daily – sometimes hourly – reminded that beauty surrounds us. The trick is to recognize and receive its blessing.
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