The coming of a new year is supposed to be a time of renewal, a season of hope.
But as we enter 2009 it has become a season of "I hope," as in:
"I hope I can make the mortgage payments."
"I hope I'll have a job," or, "I hope I'll find a job to replace the one I lost."
"I hope I can keep my business afloat."
"I hope I'll be able to buy the kids the things they need for school."
I can't remember the last time we entered a new year on such a pessimistic note.
Few things will cause more stress to families and individuals than financial problems, and the economy right now is creating a lot of those.
For most of us, there is a feeling of helplessness, that so much of what has happened in the last year, and so much of what is going to happen in the coming year, has been or will be completely out of our control.
Last year's spike in gas prices ate heavily into the budgets of the average household, and unlike people who live in major cities, shifting to public transportation just wasn't an option here. There just wasn't a lot of cutting back you could do on your driving, especially if you commuted to Boise to work.
Meanwhile, we watched as the big oil companies reported record multi-billion-dollar profits. Did any of those companies try to help out America by lowering their prices and profit margins? No. Greed ruled.
We watched the assessed valuation of our homes go up, and therefore our taxes, because the housing market had gotten completely out of control in terms of prices, a product of banks rushing to lend as much as they could without applying any sort of oversight with regard to whether or not people could actually afford the loans they were issuing. Greed ruled. Behind the scenes, they played monopoly money games with mortgaged-backed securities, a problem that wasn't addressed by any of the bailouts (but which remains the monster in the closet). When people began defaulting on those overpriced homes, the house of cards collapsed.
Taxpayers were then asked to pick up the bill for horrible greed-driven decision-making. And asked again and again and again until millions became billions which became trillions of dollars worth of debt our grandchildren will be paying on.
And what happened to the people who created the mess? They walked away essentially scott free, continuing their own lavish lifestyles of multi-million-dollar bonuses and half-a-million-dollar vacation/business meetings. The disconnect between the very rich in this country and the average citizen has grown so great that the rich didn't even understand why any taxpayer would object.
The bigger you were, the more you got bailed out.
Meanwhile, the little guy got nothing but the bill. We all got trickled on.
And after pouring all that taxpayer money into Wall Street financial institutions and banks, did it ease the credit crunch? No. They've been sitting on the money, afraid to lend it. It is obvious that in making decisions about what is good for America and what is good for themselves, the rich choose themselves.
Despite all the money being thrown around to everybody who is already rich, but nobody on Main Street who really needs it, the economy is not expected to turn around for at least another year.
Which means the average Joe on the street is going to continue to worry about being able to pay his bills. He'll continue to worry about his job security. He sees nothing but stress ahead for 2009.
I think everyone is hoping the new administration will pull a rabbit out of the hat and fix things right away. But the problems are so deep, so complicated, and so difficult to fix, you have to wonder why either Obama or McCain wanted the job in the first place.
So we enter 2009 with little hope but a lot of prayer. The average American will be asked to tighten their belts once again, but those belts have very few notches left in them.