By Martin Wolk Executive business editor
updated 3/10/2009 7:17:02 AM ET 2009-03-10T11:17:02

America is mired in the worst economic crisis in at least a quarter-century and quite possibly since the Great Depression.

The economy has lost more than 3 million jobs in just the past six months, lenders are starting a new foreclosure every 15 seconds and investors have seen more than $10 trillion go up in smoke on the stock market.

The many causes of the financial meltdown are debatable, and nobody has come up with a strategy to pull us out of this mess. But for the millions of Americans caught up in the crisis, it is time to move forward.

For many it means reinventing themselves by going back to school and becoming trained in a new profession like nursing or teaching. For others it means moving and starting over, perhaps in a lower-cost city. For retired people, it could mean going back to work or cutting expenses drastically to adjust to the new reality.

And it’s not just laid-off workers: It is hardly an exaggeration to say that to recover from this disaster we will have to reinvent America.

Certainly the financial industry needs to reinvent itself after failing miserably to judge the risk of free-wheeling lending that propelled a disastrous housing boom. The investment banking industry has been virtually destroyed, and the commercial banking sector is largely being propped up by the federal government.

The auto industry is in the throes of a painful reinvention. Dozens of cities have lost key employers, and city planners are hard at work on plans for reinvention. Retirement accounts? Health care? Talks about reinvention are under way.

We recently put out a call for users to tell us how they are reinventing themselves and received more than 2,000 e-mails in response.

A Seattle man in his 30s has been laid off three times in the past 10 years and is back in school, thinking of switching his field of study from aviation to the “green revolution,” since that “seems to be where the future really is going.”

A 47-year-old former salesman is about to enter an MBA program, confident than he can “run circles around the younger crowd.”

But almost needless to say, we heard tales of heartbreak, especially from readers in their 50s, 60s and older suddenly scrambling to find a new career, because they were either laid off or have seen their retirement accounts eviscerated.

With our new series of stories on “Reinventing America,” we intend to shine a spotlight on many of these victims of the downturn who are being forced to find a new path in life. This week, we focus on how the crisis is being felt across two generations, from busted baby boomers to Gen Xers who are suffering the collapse of the second asset bubble in a decade.

In future stories we will cover the story of how workers are retraining and changing gears to meet new challenges and find jobs in more promising fields.

Join the conversation. Post your thoughts on our Newsvine message board or send us your feedback and story ideas to

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