Plenty of people still looking for work in Harford

It might be easy to forget how bad the economy still is, but a glance at the latest unemployment numbers gives a stark reminder.

In May (the most recent month the numbers are available), 9,270 people in Harford County were out of a job. The average for this year is 9,498.

That means a population almost the size of the town of Bel Air is looking for work.

In reality, the unemployment rate could even be several percentage points higher if you were to take into account the people who have stopped looking for work.

Of course, unemployment is always relative, so maybe Harford's 7 percent rate isn't that bad.

It's better than Baltimore City or Cecil County, and the number does seem to be dropping, so perhaps the federal government (i.e., BRAC) or major employers are starting to come through.

But we're really not out of the woods yet at all, and I suspect a lot of people — especially those who have given up on looking for work — might be stocking up on nuts and berries, prepared to stay in the woods for some time.

On an individual level, almost everyone knows someone who has lost their job or been affected by the economy in a major way: had to sacrifice cars or major investments, had to foreclose on a house, give up vacations, deal with the unemployment office, or worse.

As a group, though, I feel like those people are almost invisible.

Across Maryland, about 224,000 people were out of work in June, roughly the size of the entire Harford County.

Hundreds of thousands of others have no doubt been affected by their unemployment.

One thing that has puzzled me is the absence of any real outrage at businesses, banks or anything else that has, for whatever reasons, been the ostensible cause of unemployment.

Not that I expect riots in the streets or anything (maybe just the occasional armed robbery), but the only people who seem to be very vocal about economic problems are Tea Partyers and similar groups, and they're not exactly directing any anger at private companies, either.

I suspect everyone else just feels too depressed and helpless, or feels like the problem is too big and too complicated to even know whom to blame.

I also wonder if a lot of people are too scared to criticize their potential employers — and, as plenty of local companies are owned by national or international corporations, those potential employers could literally be everywhere.

It's interesting to hear, time and time again, people bashing their local or county government for failing to shed jobs to the same extent that businesses have.

The implication is that governments should treat their employees as ruthlessly as the private sector has been treating theirs.

I think that's sad, as if we're trying to level the playing field by making sure every employee is equally miserable — or, perhaps, outsources as much of its work as possible, to someplace where people will work for pennies.

In the meantime, I'm sure I'll see once again, at the next political rally or a local budget meeting, someone who is still out of work or has been looking for a job for more than a year.

That person will be frustrated and hopeless, tired of not knowing where to turn. Their presence at the rally or meeting makes them, and their depression, visible at least for one moment.

And they're only one of 9,000.

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