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It’s still the economy

It’s still the economy

The figures paint a grim picture: Arizona’s jobless rate stands at 9.7 percent, revenues have come in below forecast, the state’s budget deficit could reach $700 million in the current fiscal year.

And now the U.S. Census puts the number of Arizonans in households earning below the federal poverty level at 1.4 million. That means we’re second worst in the nation – next to Mississippi.

I have been staring at some of these numbers for days, but somehow they never sank in.

Not until recently.

A few events that all happened in one day delivered the most sobering of realizations – to me, at least – about how dire the situation is.

True, I know people who have lost their homes to foreclosure. A friend is in the process of short-selling his home. Another couple I know is moving out of their house in a few days.

But foreclosure is so rampant it has become the norm. No one is surprised to learn that the house with the overgrown weeds around the bend has finally put up a “for sale” sign.

So when our neighbor, a chemist, told me a few days ago that he finally found a job after 19 months, well then, the news really cheered me up. In fact, he’s holding a “back-to-work” party on Sept. 18.

Our neighbor had been out of work ever since we moved into the area last year, and I had been printing out any job notices I’d get and inserting them in a crack in his door.

That afternoon, I was withdrawing money when I noticed two balance inquiry slips at the ATM. I thought of minding my own business, but of course I couldn’t help it. So I looked: One showed a savings account with an available balance of $105.62.

The other showed exactly $3.76 in the checking account.

There are a thousand plausible reasons why I shouldn’t be affected. Maybe the slips’ owners were just waiting for their paycheck to go through. It was obvious I couldn’t draw anything except the most cursory and probably skewed assumptions from a piece of paper.

But then maybe, just maybe, one of them really just had $3.76 in the bank. I couldn’t shake the thought from my head, particularly since we bought groceries later that day. I couldn’t remember how much we spent, but I can assure you I wouldn’t have been able to afford it if I had only $3.76 in the bank.

I’m sure you know the feeling when everything comes into focus. Well, it was clear to me that while most of the rhetoric on the campaign trail is about immigration and a myriad other important issues, such as the quality of Ben Quayle’s supposed blog posts, some people are just barely making it.

Later that day a friend of mine told my wife that her work hours have been cut. She said the only thing they’re pretty much buying nowadays is food for their two babies.

The political rhetoric will likely heighten in the general election, when candidates will try to more sharply contrast their positions against their opponents. I hope they focus on how to revive the economy, too.

But maybe that’s putting too much faith in the electoral process. Do elections really change the state’s – the country’s – direction?

Here’s what I know: I want our neighbor to keep his job. I want my wife’s friend to get more work hours. I want the owners of those balance inquiry slips to have more money in the bank, or at least enough money to afford the groceries we bought that day.

- Luige del Puerto

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