You'll know the recession is 'really' over when ...
1) When your boss actually replaces an employee who retires or quits instead of adding their workload to yours.
This recession taught corporations that they could just dump more work on remaining staff when they axed people. With employees terrified that they might be let go next, everyone just sucks it up. Paying overtime? An antiquated tradition. Unions? Haven't been heard from lately. The truth is, U.S. corporations have absolutely been big winners in this recession. As Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies has documented, pretax corporate profits increased $388 billion since the second quarter of 2009, but the amount of wages paid to workers increased just $68 billion. Greed, my friends, greed.
2) When your laid-off friends start getting jobs with benefits.
Unemployment statistics lie. They don't tell the full picture. They measure how many people have filed for jobless benefits, that's all. They don't count the under-employed, the people who got tired of sending their resumes into a black hole, those who are getting by with odd jobs and holding garage sales every weekend for grocery money. There is a whole underground workforce who manage with a string of no-benefit part time freelance jobs. Nurses, lawyers, writers -- they cobble together a series of gigs to pay the bills each month. Businesses would rather control their costs this way. They hire who they need, when they need them. If illness or misfortune should somehow befall the poor serf, there is no health coverage, paid time off, or disability insurance to kick in. And the business will just move on to the next serf.
3) When you don't have to live with your parents anymore. According to Dr. Phil -- well, why not? -- there are close to 14 million adult children living at home. He calls them moochers. We think of them as victims of the recession. Where else should your recent college graduate go when he can't find a job? All the Amana boxes under the freeway are taken. Vibrant Nation says that almost 37% of all Boomer women have an adult child or children living under their roof.
4) When it becomes financially feasible to get a divorce again. Divorce rates have plummeted in this recession. No, not because our knights suddenly found their misplaced shining armor. Divorce in this recession is a one-way ticket to financial ruin. You can't sell your house; one spouse can lose health coverage; you can't set up two households for the cost of one; chances are, you can't even really afford LegalZoom to fill out the papers for you. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers says that about 37% of its members have experienced a drop in business, the poor dears. According to W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, divorce rates fell from 17.5 per 1,000 married women in 2007 to 16.9 per 1,000 married women in 2008. Divorce rates peaked in 2005-06 when housing prices and the stock market were at their peak. So what if your spouse lies, cheats, or essentially bores you to death? There are worse things. And eating cat food is just one of them.
5) When a vacation involves airplane travel and you sleep in a hotel bed, not your sister-in-law's house. No matter how much we sing songs of praise for stay-cations, who are we really kidding? The fact is that any time you are cooking your own meals, doing your own laundry and having to make your own bed, it's not a real vacation. A vacation means to go away, to vacate the daily routine, to not compulsively check our Blackberry's in case someone wants to interview us for a job. Tourism has been down throughout the country. Not even Las Vegas, once thought to be recession-proof, has been spared empty hotel rooms.
6) When Starbucks isn't full on a weekday afternoon. Starbucks, and other places like it with free WiFi, have become the official office for the unemployed and under-employed. It's a splurge that's relatively affordable that gets you out of the house for a few hours. We send out resumes from here, blog posts from here, chat up the regulars. And hey, who wouldn't get excited about a pumpkin spice latte? Plus if you suck up enough to the manager, maybe you can get hired. Starbucks has a great benefits package for part-timers.
7) When you no longer have a relationship with coupons. Imagine a time when if you forgot your grocery coupons that you didn't turn around and go back home to get them? Or going out to dinner to a restaurant without a coupon? It seems like a long time ago, doesn't it? Our need for a deal has spurred the growth of sites like Groupon and DealNews.com. Heck, it's probably why you became a fan of WalletPop.
8) When you can list your house for sale and reasonably expect it to sell within three months at a price higher than what you paid for it. Interest rates are at all-time lows and still nobody is buying. Home prices in some places have been cut in half and yet inventory grows. Federal tax incentives gave a short shot of adrenaline to the home sales market but once they expired, so did the patient. Many experts believe that the housing market is the key to the rest of the economy. If that's the case, maybe the banks ought to try giving out an occasional loan without requiring your first born as collateral.
9) When trying to get a bargain becomes a sport instead of a necessity. When you go to happy hours because you feel like being social instead of going for the free food. When you smuggle popcorn into the movies because it feels so naughty, not because you can't afford to buy it there. Actually, make that when movie night means leaving the house.
10) When you can afford a new car, your 401k has been restored, you've reset your emergency fund with 6 months of living expenses and the term "99ers" is erased from your memory. Amen.
Contributions from WalletPop writers Aaron Crowe, Julie Tilsner, Sarah Gilbert, Josh Smith, Tony Davenport, Ira Teinowitz and others.