©2013 Text & Photos by LeeZard
Thursday July 25 – Denver, CO
The State of Colorado actually did better than the rest of the country over the course of the recession and, according to a report from Chase/JP Morgan, its recovery is pacing that of the nation. Yet, Colorado’s unemployment in 2012 still hovered between eight and nine percent.
I looked up these figures before heading to Denver today and the State Capitol. Unfortunately my busy schedule did not allow time to interview Governor John Hickenlooper, nor did I have time to return more than 15 calls from his office (Ahem). I decided to "stakeout" the capitol's parking area for mucky-mucks with the hope of "ambushing" him. It's an old reporter's gambit. Unfortunately The Hickenlooper was a no-show but I was able to talk to some state employees on their way into the capitol building.
Even though the state fared better than most over the course of the recession, at its worst in 2009, Colorado was right there with the rest of the nation and my interviews reflected that.
Thirty-seven year old Rachel Fain works in the state’s Child Care Assistance Program (C-CAP), a new position for her. Before this, she held a similar position with the City of Denver.
“It was just crazy,” she says, “we went through furlough days, there were no more raises and a lot of the programs lost funding. Very early on about 10 percent of the staff was cut.”
Rachel’s husband was unemployed for the entire recession and all their plans came to a screeching halt. “We were going to buy a house and ended up stuck in the place we were renting. We stopped using credit cards; now it’s debit cards and that’s it.”
She also echoed what is now a theme throughout my interviews, saying it was good in a way because it’s taught her children to “appreciate more what they have now.”
“The experience definitely changed me, she adds, “I feel more responsible for my family than I did before. It used to be that we’d always make it through somehow but now the whole extended family is a lot closer.”
Fifty-five year old Seretha works on the staff of the Legislative Budget Committee. “In Colorado, we have to have a balanced budget and we were struggling because there wasn’t enough revenue to continue funding many programs.”
Also passing through the capitol grounds this morning was 34-year old Lindsay, a writer for Denver’s popular magazine 5280. She says the recession only slightly affected the magazine, fewer ads=fewer pages but her job was never threatened.
I asked Lindsay what she wrote about. “Everything,” she answered.
“So, then,” I replied, “what was it like out there during the worst of it; what were you seeing and hearing?”
“I saw panic,” she quickly answered. “People really didn’t know what do.”
Understandable; even though Colorado didn’t suffer overall as much as other states in 2009, at the very depths of the downturn, it was dead even with the rest of the country. My interviews in Denver reflect that.
Thirty-seven year old Phil McCormick is an architect and, until the recession, that’s how he made a very nice living, until he was laid off. It took him 10 months to find a new job in a new field, real estate.
“How did you live in that 10 months?” I asked.
“I had savings,” he said. “In one year I took $30,000 from my savings. And, I will always have savings for the rest of my life in case this ever happens again.”
Even though he is single with no children, Phil does have a mortgage. He says, “it was very tough but I leanred to never under estimate the power of friendship and the power of love. I had people I could rely on; I had family. I will no longer take for granted the things that really matter.”
“Still, I had self-worth issues. I sat around and watched other people get jobs and wondered, ‘why not me? Why won’t they hire me?’”
McCormick did get hired but took a 50 percent cut in pay.
Fifty-two year old Georgine is Director of Internal Audit for the Colorado State Department of Revenue. “We lost a lot of positions; a lot of people lost their jobs,” she says, none of us received raises and medical insurance went up.”
“At the same time, my husband lost his job. He was a mechanic in the boat business. It was very tough. Unemployment insurance helped quite a bit and we cut way back on expenses. The whole experience made us much more conservative with our money. We already were conservative so we had some savings but it definitely affected my retirement. I’ll probably have to work for the state at least three years longer than I planned.”
Almost everyone with whom I spoke is optimistic about the future. Construction around the state is beginning to pick up and people seem to sense that Colorado’s recovery is well underway.
I have two other observations about my week in this beautiful state. Number one, just about everyone is looking over their shoulder and living like the whole nightmare will recur. Secondly, and this is not news, the people who live here absolutely love living here.