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Are you there Recession? It’s me, Iowa City.

BY DEAN TREFTZ | JUNE 29, 2009 7:21 AM

Call it recession depression. There’s something oddly disappointing about living in the city with the lowest unemployment in the nation during the biggest recession in 75 years.

Iowa City had an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent in May. That’s opposed to 8.6 nationwide, 13.6 in Detroit, and 26.9 in El Centro, Calif., advancing my hypothesis that our fair city is more like a tutorial for the real world where you can get used to the controls and the enemies don’t fire back yet.

I just can’t shake the feeling that I’m missing out on the definitive mass-participation event of the young century. Not to say that recessions are fun, but I guess I’m of the mind that when in Detroit (as most of the country is), do as the laid-off autoworkers do.

Part of me wants to feel that desperation after being turned down for an interview for the 20th time in a month. There’s a definite hint of the patronizing upper-middle-class adventure into reality to this desire (sadly, I can’t imagine it in non-montage format), but I’m OK with being a bit of a cliché.

There’s also a good chance that this feeling is just an extrapolation of the 6-year-old’s masochistic desire to sip his dad’s beer — as soon as I leave this abundance bubble, I may merely claw at my tongue and wish I could forget the taste of long-term, involuntary unemployment.

But while I’m still young and dependentless, this recession’s struggles beg to be experienced, its abstractions (from here, anyway) yearn to become tangible. In a way, it’s kind of an opportunity; I’m not going to starve.

Another way to put it is: Who isn’t at least kinda glad that Eve took a bite of that erudite apple? Maybe I’ve spent too much time around journalists, but Eden sounds a little too Flandersish for anyone not composed primarily of dust.

I also need to confirm that the recession, in fact, exists (no, I don’t think that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is conspiring with the major media outlets to fake a recession in order to tamp down inflation so the Federal Reserve’s egregious over-minting isn’t noticed until it’s too late). Until I have trouble finding any job, all the numbers and simplistic heart-wrenching CNN anecdotes in the world won’t prove anything beyond that the news shows are pushing an economic downturn plot-line.

Hell, I’m having trouble forcing myself to look too hard for jobs outside of Iowa City because my instincts can’t be convinced that it’ll be all that difficult.

Finally, there’s a nagging fear of potential grandkids’ questions about what grandpa did during the Great Recession (or whatever the hell they end up calling it).

Who wants to say “grandpa prudently waited out the worst of it in his college town, which happened to be one of the safest places economically thanks to a lot of government-supported jobs and inflows from the surrounding state and suburban Illinois”?

I’d much rather grunt “it was tough, but I made it, didn’t I?” possibly while squint-grimacing à la Clint Eastwood. Then there would be a little reverence in their parents’ head-shaking explanation that grandpa’s experiences in the Great Recession are why he (still) keeps several weeks worth of corned beef hash and kidney beans in his basement.

Then again, I am fully employed at the moment, so why should I care what those spoiled little bastards think? They’ll never do one day of real work in their lives.


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