Monday, December 6, 2010

Economy: Putting a Very Public Face on It

TORONTO, ONTARIO - At long last, the mainstream media in the United States has started to focus occasionally on the long-term unemployed. I found it especially significant to hear a systems engineer from California as a guest on the NPR talk show On Point when it explored the topic, as that could have easily been me with slightly different life decisions. Yet, it was another radio show that provided an example that may resonate with just about anyone that's lived in northern California in the past generation.

On Brian Copeland's Sunday morning talk show on KGO in San Francisco, he took a call twenty minutes into his third hour from a Mike in Vallejo. The Mike was soon revealed to be Mike Pechner, the well-known meteorologist who worked at rival KCBS in San Francisco for forty years. I even knew Mike Pechner's name before I moved to the area from listening to the station at night from Seattle and while visiting the area--for people that grew up listening to KCBS for news, Pechner was an absolute institution. Probably nobody was more closely identified with morning weather forecasts in the Bay Area than Pechner, certainly not for as many years as Pechner was on the air.

Furthermore, I had met Mike Pechner. Besides being a radio personality, he is a railroad enthusiast, a member of many of the fan groups that I also participated in while in the Bay Area and especially active surrounding any railroad in the north bay where he made his home. He has been an outspoken advocate of the restoration of service in that region, all the while providing expert forecasts to railfans who wanted to check out train action on Donner Pass around snowstorms.

So, needless to say, I perked up when it became clear that it was Mike Pechner calling in. It turns out that since he was laid off by KCBS, he has become a member of the long-term unemployed. He described how he has unsuccessfully tried to pursue alternate careers to broadcasting but that his age--he is now 64--was proving to be a major problem. About the only way he had found to earn a partial living was substitute teaching--but with the rash of teacher layoffs in California, this was becoming less and less frequent.

Anyone that has met Mike Pechner knows that he is a hard worker--and I suspect most people who heard him on the radio don't have much difficulty imagining that. While I haven't seen him since I moved out of the area, I had heard second-hand even before this radio call that he is nearly as vigorous today as I remember him from a decade and a half ago. He is a classic example of an older worker with a lot to offer the world--but in this economy, he's just another member of the long-term unemployed.

If a man that more than a generation grew up listening to as their weatherman can end up without a job for more than two years, just about anyone can. Besides being a quality radio conversation between two pros in Pechner and Copeland, this segment of a radio program provided the most compelling example of just how bad this economy is for so many people. If everyone in northern California had been listening to the Brian Copeland program and heard the call from Mike Pechner, there would be almost nobody there left not supporting the extension of unemployment or some other assistance to the long-term unemployed. I encourage everyone to listen to it before it disappears from the KGO archives next Sunday.

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