Those who were working adults or retirees in 2007 and 2008 may remember how the start of the Great Recession snuck up on lots of people.
The fact that housing prices were slipping, and growing numbers of people were defaulting on mortgages, may not have seemed threatening to anyone who either didn't own real estate or had no trouble paying their mortgage.
Soon enough, we learned how wide and deep the economic turmoil would be, as financial pain, furloughs and layoffs touched every corner of the economy.
Today, as South Carolina and other states seek to reopen for business, one might rightly wonder if the financial punishment exacted by the coronavirus pandemic is easing, or if that's still a distant hope. More than 30 million U.S. jobs have been lost, and unemployment rates are approaching levels last seen during the Great Depression.
Sure, the federal government has pumped trillions of borrowed dollars into the economy to keep the gears turning. But businesses, institutions and state and local governments are bracing for huge and long-lasting financial pain.
And the pain they feel tends to ripple out far and wide. After all, falling prices in overheated real estate markets and shoddy banking practices back in 2007 eventually led to janitors being furloughed at South Carolina universities, as financial losses migrated from homeowners to investment banks to state budgets.
I truly hope this warning proves unfounded, but we could be in for a long hard walk before we emerge financially from this pandemic.
Depending on the study, as many as half of U.S. households have taken a financial hit in the past two months, from lost jobs or reduced hours and pay. Among the rest — those who have not lost jobs or pay — some are better off financially, temporarily, due to lower expenses and those $1,200 federal checks from the CARES Act.
Among both groups, few were prepared financially when the damage from the coronavirus crisis became clear. Right now, lots of people are getting a second chance, if they think there is more badness to come.
For investors and retirement savers, consider that the U.S. stock market lost about a third of its value from late February to late March, but after a strong rebound the S&P 500 closed Thursday down less than 10 percent for the year.
That's an opportunity for people to rethink how their money is invested going forward.
Young retirement savers may see an opportunity to invest for the long term at discounted prices. Retirees who were too heavy in stocks and saw in March what that could do to their nest eggs may see a second chance to lighten up in case the recent recovery proves temporary.
Others who worry that there's more financial pain to come can use this time to prepare as much as they are able. What form that takes will largely depend on whether they are in the group that's lost jobs and pay, or the group that has not.
For some, it's about building up savings and cutting discretionary expenses. Remember, the Great Recession officially ended in mid-2009 but the hangover lingered on for years after that.
For others, it's about clinging to financial life rafts — seeking forbearance or other relief from mortgage and auto loans, or collecting federally enhanced unemployment benefits, for example — and trying to keep heads above water financially.
For parents of minor children who don't already have a life insurance policy, it's time to get one. For those who don't have a will, and a health care directive, it's time to prepare one.
As with hurricane preparations, we can all hope such protective measures will prove unnecessary. Preparing for the worst, however, is not only necessary but provides some peace of mind.