Do you realize that now there's double-digit unemployment in this area to go along with the longtime poverty rate in double figures?
I ask only because it isn't obvious when you're out and about that we're in a depression and hundreds of local residents have lost their jobs and are struggling.
Numbers don't usually lie, so we can take it as fact that numerous area firms have laid people off, ordered furloughs, wage freezes or pay cuts, depending on company needs.
So, when you drive by the mall on Southside on a Saturday afternoon, you wouldn't expect to experience a traffic jam and stuffed parking lot.
Downtown, which has had its ups and downs for years, doesn't seem to be suffering through a major recession _ just a cyclical downturn, perhaps.
Maybe we're too accustomed to seeing photographs and films of the Great Depression, with its staggering soup lines and homeless camps.
But we know most people don't have as much money to spend on things _ especially the big-ticket items _ or the economy wouldn't be in such a slowdown. Car dealers and automakers are hurting; manufacturing plants have idled or downshifted because there isn't the demand for goods or parts from consumers and business customers.
It's clear, however, that many people already have a lot of things, which is why their lives can go on relatively unscathed in the middle of an economic crisis. Our economic system is based on the constant production, importing and buying of newer styles and versions of all those things, even though people already have a lot them.
We shouldn't ignore the people who are vitally affected by the depression, because the increased demand at area food banks and meal sites has been documented for a couple of years now. It began long before the word "recession" was uttered and postdated in Washington.
And if more people feel the need to seek out food at pantries and kitchens, and used clothing out of necessity, you know many more are staying home and not eating _ or feeling _ as they should. The have-nots are there, despite the busy malls and shopping centers.
We may not have found a way to provide people with affordable health care, but we can fill their homes with the products of our advanced civilization.
Studies show there are 10,500 people _ including 1,500 young people _ in Otsego County without health insurance, according to a recent report from the New York State Community Action Association. People are going to forgo doctor checkups and specialist visits because they'd rather eat and pay rent.
Should we be shocked (or at least surprised) to learn of a trailer at a local mobile-home park being stuffed with electronics and other possessions, or is it quite normal? After all, we know that just about everybody has bought into the world of consumer products to the detriment of who knows what.
The trailer came to light because it was victimized by a break-in; stolen were a PlayStation console and games, a .22 caliber rifle, televisions, stereo equipment and jewelry, among other items.
And we're in the worst depression since the great one.
But what do we expect? Look how we've learned to measure our standard of living, and also how to judge our quality of life. We're not alone, of course. The whole world has been watching us since the 1960s. And it has been following us, too.
Despite the symptoms of a downturn such as this area has experienced, the region still seems to evade the economic extremes of depression and prosperity.
Perhaps it is the return of consumer confidence with the spring season in recent weeks that has people lured back to their shopping habits. We can only hope that rather than renewing or adding to their personal debt, window shopping is the order of the day.
For it was not the accumulation of products that brought us to this brink; it was spending money we didn't have. Immediate gratification. Who saves up for a car?
If we don't learn from the factors that led to the economic crisis, we'll be destined to repeat history. That's why it's so troubling to hear the optimists gush at the sign of recovery, hyped up that we might soon get back to normal.
The latest Siena College study that reported the renewed consumer confidence also remarked that ``consumers newly programmed to practice caution are hardly ready to storm the mall or the car lot."
Though such caution may slow the recovery, our long-term economic health demands such caution as a new way of living.
Cary Brunswick is managing editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at (607) 432-1000, ext. 217, or firstname.lastname@example.org.