I’m preparing to tell you something very personal and intensely painful. It’s the story of how the Alaska recession of 1986 destroyed my family. It was a recession similar in scope to the recession Gov. Mike Dunleavy is intentionally engineering in order to pay a full Permanent Fund dividend.
In 1985, my wife and my two children moved to Alaska with me. We followed a Schumberger oil well logging truck up the Alaska Highway.
We loved Alaska -- instead of buying a bed, our first purchase was a Coleman canoe. We made the most of everything Alaska had to offer and, for the first year, life was absolutely wonderful!
Then oil prices began dropping like a rock. I was working for Schlumberger at the time and my colleagues were getting laid off right and left. I remember a two-day period on the North Slope when the clerk got on the intercom and called employees’ names at 45-minute intervals. We all knew that each of these people were being called up to the office to get laid off, and we prayed that our names wouldn’t be called next. I survived that round of layoffs, and a fellow electronics tech took a one-month unpaid leave of absence that helped me stay on for another three months. I used every bit of my free time to look for other work in Alaska, but despite my best efforts, I came up empty-handed. This was probably the saddest, most stressful period of my life, and my young wife really had a hard time dealing with the stress.
A sympathetic manager who really liked my work arranged for me to get a job with Fairchild Semiconductor as a line supervisor in a testing facility for chips being made for NASA and the military. So my wife and the kids and I loaded up a U-Haul truck and headed off to Silicon Valley. The day we drove out of Alaska was one of the most upsetting days of my life. I felt such a profound sense of loss.
Once we arrived in Mountain View, California, I started working the swing shift and my wife started attending community college. The only time we really spent together was on the weekends. Slowly, we started drifting apart and our marriage ended. I wound up being the sole custodian of two toddlers while working 55 hours a week. I made some bad choices after that which created a very unhealthy environment for my children and one of my two children was especially harmed. As a result, to this day, that child won’t speak to me.
Families are fragile things. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to tear one apart.
I don’t get any satisfaction from telling you this story. My aim in sharing this with you is to help you understand that many of the 17,000 people who will lose their jobs represent families — families whose lives will be upended when their parents lose their jobs. Divorces will result. Children will experience trauma. Credit will be ruined. Life savings will be depleted. Hard-won equity in homes will vanish. Drug and alcohol abuse will occur. It will probably cost lives.
Is the ability to pay a full Permanent Fund dividend worth all of this carnage? Only a heartless fool would agree that it is, especially when there are fiscally responsible alternatives.
Eric Treider is a former oilfield worker and social worker. In 2014, he was a candidate for State Senate, District O. He lives in Soldotna.
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