The patchwork economy, or are you canning vegetables yet?

1 million plus layoffs happened
in the US in 2008. There were 181,671 corporate layoffs announced in
November, and there will be at least 20,000+ in media and technology in
December. In other words, if you’re not the person contemplating filing
for unemployment benefits, how it sucks to look for a job right now,
and will I end up on the bread line?, you’re living with, related to,
or close to someone in this situation.

There is nothing like a holiday where covering costs in the year
ahead is an open question to kill off holiday cheer. Being one of the
rats on the sinking ship may be an evil joke when you work at Yahoo, but it’s terrifying when it’s your own little ship that may be sinking.

According to Chicago outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, November 2008 was the worst month
for layoffs since January 2002, when large employers cut nearly 250,000
jobs as the nation tried to shake off the prior-year recession and the
Sept. 11 attacks. For all we know, December may surpass November in job
loss, and for those without steady gigs, the sheer magnitude of the
numbers seems daunting.

Welcome to the patchwork economy of 2009. Given the severe nature of
this recession and the sheer redundancy of so many laid-off product
managers, writers, editors, marketing folks, sales people,
administrative coordinators and so on, it looks like we’re headed into
a time when far too many of us are going to be doing a little of this
and a little of that to get by.

Blogger, writer, editor, barista, cleaning lady?

So many of my friends are reeling, well aware that the bottom in
their industries–and in the economy as a whole–just hasn’t been hit.
I’m not going to be surprised, after the holidays, when I hear about
friends doing small projects together, or taking service-y part-time
jobs (if there are any to be had) or, like in the last recession,
packing up and heading for somewhere cheaper, or with more family to
lean on.

On one hand, I find this situation incredibly depressing–we’re
plummeting from over-expanded go-go years into enforced austerity with
almost no transitions. On the other hand, I wonder what new things will
come out of it—will Americans reinvent their priorities now that we
are out of cash(and credit)?

Will neighbors use social media tools like twitter to create
planned–or on the fly–dinner clubs? Or swap and share tools, maybe
creating a community list, rather than buying unto themselves? Will we
dial Christmas down to a low murmur where we can actually consider what
we are truly thankful for–rather than focus on what someone else could purchase, but we couldn’t?

The good news about a patchwork economy is that is has the potential to bring people closer together, out of their President-Bush-sized palatial
homes in the burbs and their apartments in the cities, to consider how
they can help each other get through the downturn. The good news is
that the patchwork economy can take some of the air out of America’s
adrenalin-driven, reality-TV show hyper-consumerism, where the
important what you drive, how you look and what you buy are the values
imparted.

The bad news though, is that the patch-work economy is hard.
Hard-headed, hard-nosed, fragmentary, scarce. Patchwork means patching
or piercing together, often the scraps and the bits left over. And as
anyone who’s every sewn any stray bit of doll clothes for a child
quickly learns, it’s tedious work.

In the patchwork economy, we’ll be trading off time-that precious
commodity we used to have too little of–for dollars, or for services
that will keep us from having to spend the now scarcer dollars we do
have. Perhaps the patchwork economy will be the impetus for more of us
to grow food–crops and urban chickens and herbs–in our backyards–I
know I am thinking about it (though I will probably skip the chickens).

Perhaps more people will be moved to reduce their impact on the
environment as much as they can by buying recycled items, bicycling and
walking, taking public transport and moving away from those insidiously
evil (and enduring) plastic bags.

It would be optimistic to imagine that adversity is going to bring
everyone together; my fear is that the marginal will become even more
marginalized, and as the numbers of homeless and dispossessed persons
rise, so do the numbers of those we see as “other.”

For myself, in the midst of launching an exciting new startup and at
the relative beginning of a new relationship, there is the challenge of
understanding how, over the next 12 months, I am going to cover my
expenses. A year ago, I might have said “Find a new job.” Six months
ago I would have said “Raise some angel money.” But today, I’m telling
myself to tighten my belt, conserve costs, and look for consulting gigs and project work, joining the patchwork economy where it lives.

(Cross posted to Huffington Post)

Latest Comments

  1. Francine Hardaway says:

    I cut back two years ago, and believe that now’s the time to be starting a business.I tend to ignore the macroeconomic news, because it reports on the old economy and I am not in it. Yes, I can’t sell my house, but in every other way I never did participate. I must say being an entrepreneur is a rocky ride, but because it is ALWAYS a rocky ride, you don’t feel a recession as much rockier:-)

  2. JesusS says:

    Layoffs are not pleasant—neither for the company nor the worker. In slow economic times or during a recession, layoffs are inevitable because companies tend to earn less but spend more. The result is that workers become jobless casualties through no fault of their own. To anticipate if you might become the victim of a layoff in the current economic recession, consider these eight telltale signs. . During a recession within our country, the economy falls into something of a mess, and people find themselves panicking about saving money and protecting their investments. Nobody needs to wait until a recession hits to fret over their finances, however, as there are plenty of ways to prepare now. For example, one really good investment that most people do not consider until they absolutely have to is to purchase a car second hand rather than new, both during a recession, and when a recession is looming but has not yet hit. . In the middle of a recession, banks are typically a lot stricter with lending. They feel the pinch as well as everyone else, and they don’t have the resources to continue with previous practices. So, if you come up a bit short, you have payday loans as a plan B. It’s a small, short-term loan, which can be cheaper than overdraft fees or credit card interest that you pay back in a short period, usually your next payday. Payday loans or cash advance loans make an excellent plan B.

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