By. Kristopher Loranger
Practicing Grit Through A Recession
The year 2007 seems like a lifetime ago to most people, but not to me. I’ll always remember what was stolen from me. In December of 2007 the American housing market completely collapsed. I was a 22 year old who had just finished a four year apprenticeship with the carpenters union and wouldn’t be able to find a steady job for many years to come. When your 22 you don’t know much, and when your broke and unemployed its simple math you’re a loser. It took me eight years to realize I wasn’t a loser at all but rather a kid stuck in a downed economy with the wrong skill set. I had valuable skills at one point such as framing houses, building bridges, hanging doors and cabinets; skills most men wished they had yet I couldn’t find a job.
Simple economics tells us that during an economic down turn the first jobs to go are in the construction industry. I wish I’d of known that when I was swearing my oath to local 803 that warm September night back in 2003. At first working as a carpenter was great. I was outside all day working on my tan and being paid to work out; I actually remember saying “the only gym in the world where they pay you to get in shape”. But that was short lived.
At first they didn’t have a name for what was happening to our economy so the media just kept referencing “The Great Depression” of the 1930’s. Between 2007 & 2010 “The Great Depression” was referenced so often that it only seemed fitting that the media started calling it “The Great Recession”. Everyone was scared and in January of 2010 the national unemployment rate was 9.7% while in the construction industry the rate was much higher at 24.7%. In February of 2009 the government issued everyone stimulus checks in an attempt to stop the bleeding and “stimulate” the economy. The government was giving us money and encouraging us to spend it in a frivolous manor. I personally had to spend mine on overpriced south Orange County rent and wasn’t able to stimulate much of anything besides a bitterness for the suburban dream.
Eventually no construction jobs would even look at you let alone hire a young journeyman with just four years’ experience. Every construction site I went to all of the positions had already been filled by family and longtime company men and if you weren’t blood or law you’d have a better chance becoming a defense attorney without going to law school. Luckily for me a byproduct of the carpenter’s apprenticeship was a handy forklift certification that I was able to parlay into a job with a warehouse that specialized in food and beverage flavoring.
O’ how I loathe the flavor factory and its malted milk powder that left a 1/8” thick layer of dust atop everything on the warehouse floor. Or the “raw” materials that were extremely hazardous and often displayed the notorious skull and crossbones that are so often associated with certain death. The choice was still an easy one, come home every night reeking of Dad’s Root Beer and Jelly Bellies or find a nice quite place to sleep in my car. It was by far the worst job I’ve ever had and it gave me a new perspective as to where and how our foods are made. On Saturdays the whole place processed kosher cheese powder, you know the kind that comes in packets with your hamburger helper and mac n cheese. By Saturday afternoon the entire warehouse floor was completely coated with cheese fat dust and if you weren’t careful you’d easily lose your footing and do a face plant right there in the middle of the floor. I endured the injustices of a corporate flavor factory for almost seven months before the company was ultimately sold to a foreign rival leaving the majority of their employees once again unemployed and looking for work.
In the spring of 2011 I was able to land a job as the maintenance man of a large condominium complex in Oceanside. It paid half of what I made as a carpenter and didn’t have benefits but it sure beat the hell out of a Jelly belly stained wallet. I worked there for three years and was able to pay the bills and go to school; I eventually left the maintenance job for a union job in early 2014 where I was hired to remodel elementary schools throughout San Diego.
If you do a Google search on “The Great Recession” it’ll say the time between December of 2007 and June 2009 when the unemployment rate hit 10%. The reality is that the unemployment rate was much higher in many parts of the country and one in four construction workers was jobless. The building industry didn’t bounce back until 2014 that’s five years after the history books claim the recession ended. From 2014 on the building industry has experienced a boom, a boom that reminds me of when I was a kid and there were more jobs than there were men to fill them. I hope were able to recognize the warning signs of an economy primed for a crash in the future and are better prepared. I’m hopeful that our economic hardships are behind us and that eventually our wages will rebound to pre-recession levels. Hard luck and flavor factories aside “The Great Recession” humbled me and taught me the most important trait a man can have is grit.