My husband and I went on a guided hike around Helen on Saturday. We joined a small group of delightful strangers from different cities in Georgia who had all traveled north to enjoy the great outdoors. As we eventually ate lunch together on a platform overlooking a waterfall in Unicoi State Park, two things struck me as worthy of note.
First, we are privileged to live in a gorgeous state with incredible natural resources that enhance our quality of life and are worth treasuring and preserving. Second, in an arbitrary party of nine, which included folks in their early twenties to late fifties, three of our hikers had lost their jobs in May.
This latter fact was astonishing to me because according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the unemployment rate in Georgia in April registered at 8.9%. This is slightly higher than the national unemployment rate President Obama touts as falling to 8.1%. Yet the actual unemployment rate amongst our random sampling of Georgia residents was a whopping 33%.
Of course, I realize this number comes from an anecdotal experience. I am no Paul Krugman; this was not a scientific poll, and I don’t even know the detailed circumstances surrounding why three people in different industries had been so recently laid off. (It is always bad form, you see, to drill too deeply into another’s misfortune an hour or two after exchanging names.)
Yet it somehow felt significant that subsequent to crossing a stream and eating turkey sandwiches, three people felt comfortable enough to share the loss of their livelihoods, as if such losses have become so common, they are now a topic of casual conversation, as neutral a discussion as how those Braves are playing.
If this perception is reality, politicians should take note, because it hardly inspires faith in an “improving” economy.
I mean, even in that peaceful setting amidst wild rhododendrons and purple butterflies in the Georgia mountains, 33% of us, at least, were carrying a burden of uncertainty about the future that no statistics spouted on the nightly news have the power to alleviate.
Rather, it should seem as clear as sunshine in this newest election cycle that the one thing that will matter most to an astonishingly large number of voters—whether they keep an R or a D behind their names—will be the path that leads them to a new employer.