Ice storm, ailing economy affecting everyone

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By Stephen Lega

For two weeks, I've wanted to write a column about the ice storm in Marion County.

I wanted to write about the many, many good deeds I've heard about during the storm. It's been inspiring to see and hear what people have done for their neighbors and for complete strangers. It's also been inspiring to see this community endure.

But as much as I would like to write about that, I can't.

When I left the Feb. 9 Lebanon City Council meeting, I'd already written my news stories for the Feb. 11 paper. I had a few bits to tidy up in the morning before the paper went to press, but I knew I didn't have  to hammer out any lengthy stories.

I decided to call a friend who I hadn't spoke with in about a month. He told me about the AC/DC concert he recently attended - it was loud - which is where he was the last time I called him. I told him about the effects of the ice storm on Marion County.

But our conversation seemed to grind to a halt when he said, "You know I don't have a job right now, right?"

I hadn't known until that moment. He wasn't being accusatory; he just couldn't recall if we'd spoken since he got laid off from his job. If memory serves me correctly, this is the second time in about five years that he's been laid off.

Even though we don't work for the same company or even in the same field, I felt some survivor's guilt. Why did he lose his job? He's a good guy, after all.

I suspect there are a lot of people in Marion County who can relate to how I felt that day, but I suspect there are just as many who can relate to what my friend is going through.

The economy is in the tank right now. President Barack Obama has said 2009 will be a tough year. I appreciate his honesty, even if I wish he had something different to say.

Congress has approved a $787 billion stimulus package. Many people are convinced this is needed. Others are crossing our fingers hoping it will work, and still others are convinced it was a mistake.

I don't have the background to speculate on the long-term effects of such a plan, so I don't know if it will help.

Here at the Enterprise, we've written a few stories about the economy, but not as much as we should have. I admit that I don't have much of a background on economic reporting, but it's something I will be trying to learn more about. The economy will remain newsworthy for the foreseeable future, and we are trying to formulate a plan to cover this issue as it is affecting us, our neighbors, our friends and our families.

One thing I do know is this: people were hurting before the ice storm, and the storm didn't help. Some people are probably feeling like a boxer who survived a standing eight-count only to take another punch in the gut when the referee signaled to resume fighting.

Living without running water or electricity, even if it was temporary, can be difficult.

But losing your job after going through all that has to hurt even more.

Just like the ice storm hit some parts of the state harder than others, economic turmoil has slammed some areas much harder than others.

The automotive industry, in particular, has taken a huge hit. That means automotive suppliers are hurting, too.

And that means the employees, former employees and families of employees of those suppliers are probably hurting the most. In Marion County, these are our neighbors, our families, our friends.

Local companies have been laying people off, cutting back hours and shutting down. It's possible and even likely that more of the same could be coming in months ahead.

Regardless, people have less money to spend, which also means less money is being spent in local businesses.

After the ice storm, a weekend of warm weather melted the ice away, but we all know the clean-up will take months. We're still waiting for the winds to change in our economic storm, even if the clean-up will take years.

Until then, remember the words of Red Green, "We're all in this together."