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Arbor Outlook: Grateful hearts in difficult economic times

By Margaret R. McDowell Special to the Times

"Hey I'm not complainin' 'cause I really need the work

Hittin' up my buddy's got me feelin' like a jerk

Hundred dollar car note, two hundred rent

I get a check on Friday, but it's already spent."

 - From "Workin' for a Livin'" as performed by Huey Lewis and the News

The waiter covered his face with his hands as he leaned on the bar, alone. His mask obscured his nose and mouth, but I could see that his eyes were downcast. His body was slumped in defeat.

There were no food or drink orders to fill, and few customers to converse with. The television soundlessly played above his head, broadcasting a baseball game. No one watched.

Barstools were unoccupied. Only two or three tables were in use in a large dining area. In fact, there were more employees than customers.

My husband and I were frequenting one of our favorite restaurants, an eatery that is normally crowded and convivial, especially during tourist season. Neither of us could remember the last time we had eaten dinner out. But we felt the urge to test the waters.

That the pandemic has been financially devastating for owners and employees of many small businesses is well known. But to encounter its effects directly in person is to witness a sadness and suffering that's difficult to ignore.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' July report shows national unemployment hovering at just above 11 percent. Utah (4.5 percent), Nebraska (4.8 percent), Idaho (5.0 percent) and Kentucky (5.7 percent) are the only four states with unemployment rates below 6 percent.

Economies built around tourism and the service sector have been impacted severely. Florida's unemployment rate is 11.3 percent. Nevada, where gaming has been hard hit, has the nation's third highest unemployment rate at 14 percent. Massachusetts has the worst unemployment rate in the nation, at 16.1 percent; New York is right behind at 15.9 percent.

It was only six months ago that our national unemployment rate was down around 3.5 percent. As recently as last year, employers competed for employees, raising salaries and benefits to entice workers to join them. Small businesses were sprouting like crocus bulbs in spring. Now, economists agree that as many as 40 percent of recently shuttered small businesses will not reopen. That's a lot of jobless folks.

The experience reminded me how grateful I am to be gainfully employed. All of us at times complain about work. We grow weary of the daily grind, regardless of our career or job. It's human to complain, to vent about the large and small irritations associated with being employed.

But if the pandemic has taught us anything, it has taught us to be grateful for work and for other blessings; to appreciate what we have now, rather than to live in misery because of what we have not yet been able to purchase or acquire. When the worst of the pandemic passes, and pass it will, Americans will return to work in full force in a joyful fashion. It's a day we're all anxiously awaiting.

Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC, AIF, author of the syndicated economic column “Arbor Outlook,” is founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850.608.6121 – www.arborwealth.net), a fiduciary, fee-only, registered investment advisory firm near Destin. This column should not be considered personalized investment advice and provides no assurance that any specific strategy or investment will be suitable or profitable for an investor.