The curtain is coming down on the electronics industry's 2002, and none too soon. It has been a dark and somber play, with little wit and humor, true for its predecessor in 2001 as well.
But perhaps the end of this unforgiving year is a good time to reflect that beneath the mounds of statistics about thousands laid off at this electronics company and thousands more dismissed at that, beneath the antiseptic, bloodless words like "downsizing" and "headcount," sit many dazed and seriously injured people. Certainly one of the more tragic, and infuriating,
of these stories involves what is happening to many of the industry's retirees, people who loyally devoted 30, 40, or even 50 years of their lives to one company or another and now find themselves in danger of losing vital benefits.
There are, for instance, more than 100,000 Lucent Technologies retirees who fear with good reason that they may lose their retirement medical coverage, and who possess insufficient secondary coverage through Medicare to handle skyrocketing bills. Lucent says it won't forsake these former employees, but bankrutpcy looms at the company and all bets are off.
Of course, it's not just workers in the electronics industry who are under duress. There's plenty of hardship spread throughout the U.S. economy. Another sign of the times: more than 40 million Americans today have no health insurance, and the crisis in health care is moving up the income ladder and affecting even those with full-time jobs. The largest group of the newly uninsured--about 800,000--had annual incomes in excess of $75,000. But they were laid off or couldn't afford the rapidly rising health insurance premiums, or both. And many of these high-wage job losses, of course, are in sectors like computing and telecommunications.
So, what does 2003 hold for the industry? Only uncertainty itself seems certain. EBN's latest Electronics Buyers' Index (EBI) shows further slippage in November, and executives continue to express uneasiness about the U.S. economy, the situation in Europe and Japan, lagging capital equipment purchases, and a possible Mideast war. On the other hand, the EBI Leading Index, which points to market performance in the near future, rose to its highest level since last November, perhaps a harbinger of better times to come.
But it's also worth remembering, as those fortunate enough gather at the holidays to share a glass of egg nog and gifts, that even in so-called "good times" there are plenty of wrecked people washing up on the world's shores, a situation we can either ignore or help work to remedy.
To comment, e-mail Barry Greenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.