We’re all slogging in the same economic slump

Among my many bad habits is an unwholesome combination of staying up late, channel surfing for financial news and worrying.

There’s no “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” for me. Oh no, I’ve got way too much on my mind. Can’t waste a minute on laughs. I have to know if that Dow Jones Industrials arrow is up or down, and how Warren Buffett sees today’s stock market. And what are the chances Fiat will save Chrysler, anyway?

Up fretting the other night, I decided I’d finally had it. Couldn’t I at least try to curb this ridiculous compulsion? The facts are, I don’t live in Detroit, I have a job, and my home mortgage is perfectly ordinary and affordable.

True, the bottom line on my retirement investments is way down. And my house is worth far less today than a year ago. Same for lots of you, right? We’re all together in this broken economy boat, all except the million- dollar-bonus people. We’re all trying not to sink.

On paper, I was richer a year ago. I’m considerably poorer now.

Really, though? Paper wealth or lack of it hasn’t made much difference in my day-to-day life. I get up, drive my son to school, go to work, cook dinner, do laundry and dishes, watch my boy play sports, take walks, mow the lawn, talk on the phone, read books and fall asleep watching the news — just like always.

Yeah, the money news is bad, but news of some sort is always bad. My life is more than the sum of a 401(k) plan.

I’m lucky, and I know that. Maybe it’s pure April foolishness to go looking for any bright spot after a bleak and worrisome winter.

Tuesday, out talking with people about money worries, I did come across a paradox.

A Machias man I chatted with had recently lost his job. Until Feb. 20, James Trucks, 45, was working as a contract engineer for the Boeing Co.

A Marysville woman, on her lunch break, was in a hurry to get back to work. “I feel pretty secure in my job,” said June Roylance, 57, who works in utility billing for the city of Marysville.

Which one seemed more anxious about the overall economy? It was definitely Roylance, who has a job and doesn’t expect to lose it anytime soon.

“With prices going up, we’ve had to make adjustments. We rarely go out to eat or take long road rides like we used to,” she said. “As you get older, you worry about health costs. I’ll probably be working till I’m 90.”

And the jobless man? Trucks remembers double-digit unemployment rates when he graduated from high school in 1981. He took a job cleaning schools in Wichita, Kan., then joined the Air Force. During the four years he was in the military, he attended college at night, earning a degree in applied science.

His employers have included the Beech Aircraft Corp., Jamco Corporation, and Boeing, where at one time he worked as a technical editor.

Just before being laid off, he was working 12-hour days. “My job was so intense, so demanding, this has given me an opportunity to work on my house,” Trucks said. “It’s been seven years since I’ve been out of work. It’s taken awhile to slow down.”

Confident in his skills, he’s hopeful about finding work in aerospace or a related field. “I saw this coming, and I’ve been paying off all my bills,” he said. Trucks, who owns a house in Snohomish County, has another home in Kansas, which he rents out.

“I have money in savings and I’m not behind on bills,” he said. “I might have to take a job I don’t want, but it’s important to get up in the morning, stay involved, and do networking and volunteer work,” he said.

I admit, I’m more like Roy­lance. We have jobs, but retirement seems a long way off, if it ever comes. “I thought I’d be at a better place at this age,” she said.

I know the feeling. When I confessed that I’m a financial news junkie, Roylance seemed all too familiar with my habit.

“I should just put on music,” she said.

Me too.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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