Thinking of taking a couple weeks of vacation this summer? You may want to reconsider. An article in The Washington Times [May 18, 2009] suggests that the choice could be between taking a few days off or keeping your job. The reason, says reporter Andrea Billups, is the chance that when you return, your job won’t be there. Or, to put it another way, “to be gone is to be forgotten.”

The unemployment news remains troublesome. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says payroll employment continues to decline – 539,000 jobs lost last month alone, with the total unemployment rate at 8.9 percent and rising. This widespread loss of jobs has made more than a few employees nervous and skittish over a variety of issues, including whether or not to take some time off.

Here’s the scenario: you and your family take a “hard earned and much deserved” vacation. While you’re gone, the boss (who has been instructed to trim the office staff by a few souls) notices that your share of the work is being done proficiently by office staff. They elected to defer their vacations until the economy and the labor market settle down. They have reason to be nervous. Since the recession began in December 2007, more than 5.7 million jobs have been lost. And the economic gurus say things won’t turn around until the middle of 2010, if then.

The irony is that conditions have never been better for vacationers. Hotels and owners of rental properties are lowering prices. So are airlines, trains, car rental firms and cruise ship operators. Travel agents say they would have to go back a few years to see travel bargains like the ones currently being advertised. But still, would-be travelers are holding off, not sure when the other shoe will drop – and whether it might drop on them.

Adding to the anxiety is the way many Americans handle their finances. The Federal Reserve Board has taken surveys showing that the average American family has less than $4,000 in the bank. The monthly mortgage or rental, and expenses for food and other essentials keep those families from increasing the amount in their savings accounts. Do the arithmetic, and it won’t take long to conclude that the $4,000 will be gobbled up briskly if unemployment rears its ugly head.

Many financial advisers are counseling their clients to cut back on expenses and build up their cash reserves. There are other calamities other than being laid off: illness, injuries, property damage, legal entanglements and other misfortunes could cash out your bank accounts in the twinkling of an eye. There is yet another issue, worthy of its own blog: retirement savings. The Federal Reserve Board notes than less than half of the families in America have some form of retirement account. And for those who did set aside savings for their retirement years, the recession did its dirty deed to those individuals too. Many companies (some airlines in particular) have announced that the retirement fund has shrunk or is depleted, so take off that flight uniform and start learning how to sell real estate – if anyone is buying.

While all of this sounds like unending doom and gloom, the fact is America’s economy and America’s workers have taken a near-lethal body blow. Most will survive, wiser, more cautious, and perhaps more cunning. Others have suffered damage that is irreparable: foreclosures on homes (342,038 in March) that will never be replaced – in many cases the contents were lost too, because there was no money to move or store them; senior job positions that will never be attained again; educational goals for the children that had to be lowered if not abandoned.

No wonder that millions of Americans are experiencing white-hot anger at those who mismanaged our nation’s capital funds and savings, and then awarded themselves and their colleagues and collaborators handsome bonuses and retirement packages. Add to this frustration vacation packages that are more affordable than ever, but dangle just out of reach because of job uncertainty, and financial unpredictability.

One New York travel expert, Blake Fleetwood, suggests that the best of all possible worlds is to visit nearby parents, relatives, or friends instead of traveling far from home and paying for five-star hotels. And take plenty of quarters to feed the phones wherever you are, to check back on whether someone has placed your office belongings in a cardboard box.


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