Yard sales, long a fixture along our roadsides on Labor Day Weekend, increased dramatically this year. For too many families, a yard sale is now more than just a chance to get rid of junk. It becomes a matter of survival.

Family heirlooms now join the knickknacks on the tables. For some, the net proceeds may mean another month paid on the mortgage or much-needed groceries.

Yes, things are that bad.

A local news anchor made the comment this morning that she was just happy "to be working" as Labor Day 2009 approached.

Happy indeed.. I’ve fielded too many emails and phone calls from friends who have lost their journalism jobs this past year. Of course, the world of journalism isn’t the only segment of the working class that’s out of work. Unemployment hit 9.7 percent in August — a 26-year high.

Some 14.9 million Americans are out of work. Even higher are the nation’s "underemployed" — those working less than full time. That rate is 16.8 percent.

A year ago, the bad news concerned "sub prime" mortgages and those who bought houses they couldn’t afford with too easy credit. Now those with good credit and prime loans are in trouble. The Wall Street Journal says the so-called "good credit" mortgages are headed south as well.

Why? Reports the web site 24/7 Wall Street:

There are probably several reasons for prime mortgages hitting a troubled patch. Unemployment has not spared the middle and upper classes. It is probably harder for someone who has lost a $100,000 job to find one quickly than it is for someone making $25,000. The universe of jobs gets smaller as people move up the compensation ladder. Added to that is the fact that prime borrowers had fairly valuable homes, at least at one point. That may have allowed them to borrow relatively significant amounts of money though home equity loans. Many of those loans are underwater, further pressuring owners.

The holders of prime mortgages have probably  joined the exodus of people who believe that their homes will never be worth as much as the banks loans that financed their purchases. That causes a certain amount of economic hopelessness which is likely to give an perverse incentive for more people to simple hand in their keys and walk away.

The rumors that the housing market is recovering are just rumors. The hard data shows that the mortgage problem is getting worse and as long as that is happening home inventories will go up and home prices will come down.

Locally, we see more and more foreclosed properties on the auction block. At this point, no area of the country seems immune.

So be thankful on this Labor Day if you’re working. Too many people aren’t.