Amanda Hirsch

Freelance writer Amanda Hirsch, former editorial director of PBS Interactive, blogs about documentaries and the Web in her column, Outside the Frame.

Back in the Great Depression, newspapermen (and I do mean men) were the only ones documenting the economic crisis and its effects — unless you count the private diaries of private citizens. Today, private citizens are going public, sharing their first-person recession experiences online.

Sign outside church: Pray for Vocation

Photo of a West Philadelphia church by Vangers on Flickr

Take, for example, the perspectives on unemployment emerging from the blogosphere. In this entry, a jobless woman from Kansas City hits bottom:

today was by far the lowest day i’ve had yet. i mean low. like crying a lot low. not eating low. wanting to start drinking at noon low…

… i’m so envious of anyone who has a job. and how all day, they get to be working. are you hearing me? they GET to be working. okay, see? this is where i’m at. and then how at night, if there is nothing to do but eat leftovers and watch crappy television, it’s okay, because their mind has been so challenged all day, and because they’ve attended so many meetings and have pleased so many people, they can just become a couch vegetable. and it is satisfying.
Pensive Girl

(I’m pleased to share that since writing this, Pensive Girl has gotten a job.)

Elsewhere online, comedians spin economic hardship into humor, with sites like Stuff Unemployed People Like — a riff on the popular Stuff White People Like site. Apparently, stuff unemployed people like includes:

#122 Receiving New Emails Even if They’re SPAM

#98 Doing Good Deeds for Reward Money

…and, of course:

#82 Blogging About Being Unemployed

Former Current TV staffer Anthony Ferraro found that getting laid off helped him get rid of stress — and debt:

A Funny Thing Happened The Day After I Got Laid Off from Anthony Ferraro on Vimeo.

Ferraro’s not the only one finding unemployment’s silver lining. For my friend Katie Kemple at Love Your Layoff, joblessness revealed the kindness of strangers, from the childcare provider who insisted on taking care of Katie’s daughter for free, to the anonymous friend who sent her a credit card pre-loaded with $500.

For others, the upside of unemployment is simple: daytime drinking.

As you may have noticed, the examples I’m highlighting skew generally to the experiences of middle- and upper-middle-class Americans. As Nickel and Dimed author Barbara Ehrenreich recently wrote on her blog,

The human side of the recession, in the new media genre that’s been called “recession porn,” is the story of an incremental descent from excess to frugality, from ease to austerity. The super-rich give up their personal jets; the upper middle class cut back on private Pilates classes; the merely middle class forgo vacations and evenings at Applebee’s. In some accounts, the recession is even described as the “great leveler,” smudging the dizzying levels of inequality that characterized the last couple of decades and squeezing everyone into a single great class, the Nouveau Poor, in which we will all drive tiny fuel-efficient cars and grow tomatoes on our porches.

But the outlook is not so cozy when we look at the effects of the recession on a group generally omitted from all the vivid narratives of downward mobility — the already poor, the estimated 20 percent to 30 percent of the population who struggle to get by in the best of times. This demographic, the working poor, have already been living in an economic depression of their own. From their point of view “the economy,” as a shared condition, is a fiction.

Or, as independent journalist Joe Bageant wrote on Alternet: “We’re starting to hear a little discussion about the white underclass. Mainly because so many middle class folks are terrified of falling into it.”

The Web has done a lot to democratize media; but we still have a ways to go.

What are your favorite resources depicting the human impact of our strained economy? What stories would you like to see about the recession that you haven’t yet encountered?

In my next post: how journalists (ladies included!) are integrating citizen-generated media into their recession coverage.

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Amanda Hirsch is former editorial director of PBS Interactive.