Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Worst Recession Since 1981

Collage of 1982 images -- a Police poster, Apple II, black TransAm and a bunch of people in early 80s fashions
Over the last six to nine months, I've seen stories similar to this one (from the March 28 Pioneer Press) at least once a week:

If you lived through the 1981 recession ... and are convinced the one today doesn't feel as bad -- yet -- you're right. And now there's an easy way for you to check.

After launching a national recession-comparison tool on its web site in early January, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has added state data to the site, The interactive tool allows the curious to compare employment levels in any state during any of the post-war recessions -- 1953, 1957, 1960, 1969, 1973, 1980, 1981, 1990, 2001 -- to employment levels in today's downturn.
The headline on the story? "Think this recession is bad? Check out 1981..."

I remember the recession of 1981 (and its extension into 1982). I graduated from college in '82 and couldn't find a job, despite what I (in my naive way) thought was a stellar resume.

I don't recall thinking my lack of success was because of the economy particularly, although I do remember indulging my new habit of listening to All Things Considered that summer and exclaiming over the fact that the stock market was continually going up, despite the fact that the economy was in the tank. (1982 was the year the stock market finally picked up after almost 10 years of stagnant results.)

Xeroxed bus ticket for the June 12, 1982 antinuclear march in New York CityIt's weird to read all the stories in recent months about students graduating from college with no job prospects, since that was exactly what happened to my cohort -- only nobody was talking about it in a 24-hour news cycle back then, so we didn't realize how bad we had it. We'd lived through the inflationary '70s and the energy crisis, plus we were all worried we would be nuked any minute (I also remember attending the million-plus-person antinuclear march in New York City during June of 1982 -- just found my $15 dollar round-trip bus ticket).

So not finding a job right away was just part of life. I guess we did okay in the long run.

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