When the numbers start to hit home

Darren D'Altorio

I never really think about the numbers – unemployment rates, stock indexes, interest rates – but I pay attention to them.

I don’t want to pay attention. I want to be oblivious, nestled ignorantly in this socially irresponsible world known as college. But I’m forced to open my eyes and ears to the reality that exists beyond Ray’s for a couple reasons.

For starters, I’m a budding journalist. In a profession that is all too concerned with tracking and reporting the numbers, it helps to be familiar with the data parading around as news. Familiar is the key word here. I don’t obsess or rabidly concern myself with the numbers. I simply familiarize – no thinking.

Beyond this basic need to crunch numbers, I’m a bartender. Much like vodka and martini shakers, the numbers are an essential tool behind the bar. When I take my post and drop some knowledge about recent fluctuations in the stock market to the gray-haired men dressed in fine suits, their brows shoot up, they order another drink, they entertain the conversation and they tip generously.

Sure, I might be talking out of my ass at times, relying on some vague memories from my first three years in college as a business student to keep the conversation going. But I’m not feeding them B.S. I’m familiar with the numbers. But I’m not thinking about the numbers when I have these conversations. I don’t like to think about them.

The editorial board of the Daily Kent Stater provided some interesting numbers yesterday. Apparently, some experts released the unemployment figures for March this past weekend. The national unemployment rate is 8.5 percent, and it could rise to 10 percent by year’s end. March came in like a lion and out like a depression – 624,000 jobs were lost in the month.

Kent State’s TV2 released a video yesterday about the numbers, too. The news segment spotlighted the job and internship fair at the Kent State Student Center last Wednesday. Four students gripped a microphone and talked briefly about their job-hunting processes on camera.

“It’s not very fun,” one student said.

“It’s scary,” said a suited-up, gelled-hair student.

“I feel a little bit of pressure. I did have a job lined up when I graduated,” another student said. “But when I entered the job market, they took the offer away for the job.”

Crash. This sound played in my head repeatedly the minute I started thinking about the numbers. Crash. This sound took control of my life when the ignorant wheels in my mind shook off the rust and started turning four months ago. Crash.

My mom became a number, laid off from her job as a top administrator at an area hospital. She worked there for more than 20 years. She said she felt it coming. She started updating her resume and thinking about a future elsewhere months before she got the news. She was more in tune with the numbers.

She interviewed for months, traveling here and there, hearing promises and salary figures from recruiters and HR representatives. Hell, she even got a job recently, equipped with benefits and a signing bonus. She set up a beautiful home office.

She was supposed to start Monday. Then, similar to the student at the job fair, the job disappeared. The company realized it didn’t have the means to pay her what was promised. Damn numbers. Crash.

Then there’s my uncle. He’s a workhorse. He and my aunt raised three children. Now, they’re helping raise six grandchildren. He’s worked his entire life, learning different trades and skills. He’s been a mechanic, a leather worker, a race car driver and most recently a machinist. The numbers got him, too.

He was the supervisor at a machine shop. He went back to school to gain the certification to use the equipment for the job. He got a 4.0 after decades away from the classroom. He saved money. He bought a nice house on Lake Erie, dreaming it would be where he and my aunt would retire. He even bought a run-down boat to restore so he would have a project and a toy to play away summer days on the lake.

Then orders stopped coming into the shop. Then it closed. Then he couldn’t pay the mortgage on the house. Crash.

My aunt and uncle will be moving in with my mom and stepfather soon, just until he finds another job. My mom is working double duty, looking for jobs herself and helping my uncle, her brother, through his hard time with the numbers.

What’s funny about the numbers is that they aren’t numbers. They are people disguised as numbers. The numbers have faces and stories. The numbers put food on tables, clothes on backs and gas in tanks. Here at Kent State, we are numbers: Banner IDs and Responsibility Centers. And across the board, the numbers are down.

Brain, turn off now.

Darren D’Altorio is a senior magazine journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. You can contact him at [email protected].