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March 24, 2010

Joining the ranks of American families hit by a job reduction

Came across this story on SFGate that hit nerve: 

Headlined "More middle-class jobless need government aid," the story is about a Pacifica woman who was laid off last summer from her job as an attorney. In that job, she earned $100,000 a year. Now, she and her husband, 43, a stay-at-home dad to their two kids, are relying on $450-a-week in government assistance to stay in their apartment and pay for food and other basic necessities.

The article from the San Francisco Chronicle says that this family has joined "an uncounted number of Californians who find themselves in desperate circumstances caused by long bouts of joblessness."

It quotes Stephen Levy, with the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto, as saying "the duration of long-term unemployment, which is over six months, is unlike anything we've seen since the Depression, and even though we are extending the safety net, it is not enough for some folks."

"The situation is awful," Levy continues, "way beyond the 12.5 percent figure" of unemployment."

This story hit a nerve for me because on Monday we learned that my husband's contract for his job won't continue. He's in an industry that is finally feeling the affects of the Great Recession,; his company is cutting back. After next week, he won't have a job. Done. Over.

As a contract employee, he won't get any severance, and we won't be able to rely on government assistance--in the form of unemployment insurance--to soften the blow.

Fortunately, I'm still employed. We have a roof over our head, some money saved (that was to go for a home renovation project), and we have great family support. It sounds like we're in a more secure place than the protagonist of this San Francisco Chronicle story--and other people out there.

Still, it's been  a strange couple days. One reason is that--strange as this sounds--it feels like many of us are living in this new reality, where you find that certain ideas of about security have no meaning. You think you have the chance for obtaining long-term financial security, then--whoosh--that chance drops out from under you.

Sorry, don't want to sound maudlin or self-pitying, because in another strange way I don't feel that pessimistic. Sure, I have had moments of sadness, disappointment, and fear, and it hurts to see my husband feeling bad or worried. We're living with the great uncertainty about his employment. How long will this go on?

On the other hand, the job he lost was wearing very thin on him and involved tons more stress than it was worth.  So, it's good he's out of that situation.

Either I'm in shock or denial, but I'm mostly seeing the silver lining and the cup half full. I'm reminded of what the Mother Superior told Maria in The Sound of Music. To paraphrase: "When God shuts a door, he opens a window."

I think my husband might have a chance to find a way out through that window, and it might lead to a professional, personal, and familly situation that will suit him better.

29 comments:

Masterlock said...

I'm sorry SM, I've been in that situation, but never in times like these, and it is extremely stressful. I hope he finds something quickly and takes a little time to smell the roses as well, as you said there's opportunity in these challenges if you look hard enough.

Beau Hunk said...

A San Francisco lawyer was fired from her job? That's a wonderful trend. Let's see more of the same.

Anonymous said...

@ Beau Hunk

It's the San Francisco politicians we need to go after next. That rattling sound you all hear are the two marbles in Pelosi's head as she tries to figure out how to save her job...

Anonymous said...

Dear SM - It's the uncertainty of the situation that is scary. You have the right attitude though. Sending you good thoughts and hoping your husband finds an even better, more suitable job soon.

AKA Soccer Mom said...

Thanks Masterlock, other readers...
Talking to the hubby this morning. He was feeling sad, but then we talked about the path of our lives, and how me getting laid off in 2003 led to the current job I'm in, and how much I've learned and how much it prepared me for a next chapter. The situation he was in was more toxic than I knew, and I think this enforced time off will give him a chance to regroup. He learned tons in his new job, and has very marketable skills for this wacky new economy we're in--if I say so myself. So, in between sending out resumes, he'll have time to get back into exercising, write, meditate...
And Beau Hunk: A reader on SF Chronicle said the same thing about a lawyer getting laid off...

Anonymous said...

Again the nastiness of some of the postings here continues to amaze me:

The underlying article simply said that the lawyer was "laid off" from her job. Beau Hunk reads this as "fired" from her job.

Laid off might very well be a sign of the continued high rates of unemployment in our community but Beau Hunk finds this to be wonderful trend and calls for more of the same?

But that's not enough the very next poster, quite obviously a Tea Party'er feels compelled to applaud the previous comment and to pile on.

What is wrong with you people? Where is your compassion for the less fortunate?

Anonymous said...

My brother-in-law was laid off over a year ago, cannot find a new job. He has a degree tons of experience and is handsome to boot. My 2 other brother in laws have found jobs after a year at a much smaller scale. My sister was also laid off and then rehired part-time. I have never seen it this bad.

MisterWriter said...

Sorry that you're going through that. It's not much better on the self employed front either. I do agree that it is a new way of thinking- we cannot take anything for granted. People living on the edge, no savings and now an ever lower property value soon realize that there is no security, only the ability to change and adapt. Best wishes to your husband in his job search.

DumbAsBricks said...

While he has been laid off, he has been given back a very valuable resource...time.

I am also a contractor and love the time off between gigs to have lunch with my kids, my wife, and my other unemployed (or self-employed) friends. Job hunting is a full time endeavor, but you get more flexibility in your schedule to slide in a luxury here and there.

Enjoy it!

Anonymous said...

What kind of values does a person have to take joy in a child losing his home? Family values? People like Beau and his follower must live very sad and twisted lives indeed to grab one small element out of the story (the nature of the parent's job) and gloat on that alone.

Anonymous said...

My sympathies SM. We went through this last year. It can feel overwhelming. What helped me was, oddly enough, to focus on the worse case scenario, which for me was losing the house. By taking charge of that, figuring out what I needed to do to get the best price, researching agents, etc. I was able to retain a sense of control over my destiny. I think this helped prevent a kind of paralysis and despair that's pretty easy to fall into.

~YYZ said...

$100K a year and they're already broke?

It is unfortunate that the firm had to downsize but EVERYONE should be fiancially prepared to be unemployed for 8 to 12 months - even when the economy is humming along.

Whatever happened to financial planning and being prepared for a rainy day?

Anonymous said...

Hang in there, SM. Have you given any thought to getting a little money in return for your hard work on this blog? You could advertise local businesses that you approve of. And some bloggers have a "donate' button if any readers want to send you the occasional $10 or so via PayPal. I may get beaten up by other readers but I see no reason for you not to get paid a little for what you do for the community.

Anonymous said...

~YYZ - I had 2+ years worth of savings put aside in what every expert said were reasonably safe investments. They lost well over half their value when the markets tanked. Last August my car died. Last September a routine tree inspection revealed major disease in three large, old trees on our property. My father was hospitalized back east and I needed to fly out and then pay for post recovery home care.

Guess how much savings I had left by Christmas?

What is it with the nastiness and blame going around lately?

Anonymous said...

XYZ -- I don't know any of the details, but 100K is a very low income for an attorney. So it is not unreasonable to assume that the person described in the article might have been a rather recent graduate from a law school (and probably not from a top tier law school). She might have still had loans from law school and very little time to financially prepare for 8-12 months of unemployment.

Anonymous said...

SM-

What type of work does your huband do? If he is in IT and looking for contract work, we might need to talk...

-Local IT Recruiter

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:04,

You asked "What is it with the nastiness and blame going around lately?"

I think the 50% of the folks picking up the tab for everyone else are starting to get a little stressed.

Just an observation.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:51 -- if you think it is 50% of the folks picking up the tab for the other 50% you are well of base. Here are some income numbers from 2004

Median — $25,076
Top 10% — $87,334
Top 5% — $120,212
Top 1% — $277,983
Top 0.5% — $397,949
Top 0.1% — $1,134,849
Top 0.01% — $5,349,795

It is probably more accurate to say that 10% or less of the folks pick up the tab for 90% or more.

But why are you so stressed about this? I don't know where you fit in, but I can say for me I rather enjoy my blessings than envy the less fortunates.

Anonymous said...

I didn't say I was stressed about it. I said it was an observation.

Tensions are rising in this country. People are feeling the stress of state and local governments falling apart, more and more demands/pleas for more donations to help out the schools, etc..., taxes that are rising or surely will rise, the possibility of job loss for many people with poor propects of finding another at the same income level.

I'm just observing what is happening.

Anonymous said...

People making these nasty comments have no idea the damage they are creating. But that goes along with irresponsible people, they don't care.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry for what you're going through soccer mom. I hope and pray that lots of light comes through that open window.

wonton said...

Anon 3:39,
I'm a laid off IT contractor looking for work. wonton@gmail.com

DaveinWC said...

I have not only heard many of these stories, but it happened to me in January. Company having budget problems and cut many positions. After 27 years, this was not what I planned to do, but have learned everything happens for a reason -- I'm just not sure what it is yet.
I am lucky as i received a severance package and have kept a rainy day fund just in case something like this happened. Good thing. Plus, I am looking at a couple of other opportunities that I would not have if I were not pushed to do so. (Door closes; Window opens.)
As for the negative comments: I wish some posters would not do so. Whether she was a lawyer, an accountant or a garbage collector, it is still a tough time. And sometimes lawyers get a bad rap - but we all use one eventually.
And as for politicians, specifically Pelosi, she has done some very good things for all people over her tenure in Congress, particularly the underserved populations. And I don't think she needs to save her job...she would be fine without it.
Good luck to all of us "in between assignments."

AKA Soccer Mom said...

Thanks again for your good wishes. My husband said he had a good talk with his boss, who expressed appreciation for his hard, good work, and left open the possibility that they send work their way if they have it. My husband felt good about leaving on positive terms, rather than feeling hurt or angry.

Also thanks for tips or suggestions. No, my husband doesn't work in IT. He's a writer/editor like myself. I agree that could actually be an opportunity to reassess the kind of work he'd like to do. And, he'll get to be a bit of house husband. He's better at that stuff than I am!

Hey wonton, hope you get something soon, too. You take photos, too, don't you? Saw some good ones on Claycord.

Finally, here's one resource I'm aware of. It's called Job Connections. It's a job networking resource, based out of the Community Presbyterian Church in Danville. It's members include laid off executives, high-tech workers, writers, other professionals.

Two people who went through the program had enjoyed high-flying, high-paying high-tech careers before they were laid off. They ended up making career changes, re-discovering qualities and talents that had taken a back seat, and now they are working successfully in those professions.

Try jobconnections.org.

Anonymous said...

Berkeley Lab has two writer/editor positions:

http://jobs.lbl.gov/home.asp

AKA Soccer Mom said...

Wow!
Went to Walnut Creek Intermediate's sixth grade skate night, and heard some interesting and sad stories... related to our current Great Recession.

A friend's nonprofit just shut its doors, and she has some work to keep going for a little while. She says her husband was laid off from a company that was going under in November; fortunately he managed to quickly rebound and get another job.

Another neighbor's husband works for the state and has been dealing with furlough days.

Met another acquaintance. She teaches at one of our local high schools, and her classes are going to be cut unless the parcel tax passes.

I'm full of good news tonight.

Oh, and apparently a boy fell and hurt his wrists. Paramedics were called.

AKA Soccer Mom said...

Sorry, I mean the boy hurt his wrist. Singular. Maybe a break... Hope not.

Hope he's doing okay.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about your husband being laid off! That's everyone's worst fear these days. No such thing as job security anymore (if there ever was; I think Americans were deluding themselves on that score for a long time).

Has your husband also used LinkedIn or other such sites to post his resume, disseminate his credentials? I know of people who had headhunters calling them about jobs recently from their resume postings on LinkedIn (the people were Web developers, not editors, however). It's a hard situation for writers and editors these days; print publications bleeding money, having been slow to figure out a Web strategy. Many cutting staff.

If you have a mortgage, I'm sure you know there are mortgage modification opportunities now, but I don't know how good they are.

Also, does everyone know about FREECYCLE? It's a free Yahoo group, segmented by region. People post things they want to get rid of. Things go fast, but all kinds of things get posted there, ranging from clothes to furniture to food to knickknacks to cosmetics to electronics. (about the only things they don't allow are plants, alcohol and weapons)

Also, some groups in SF and the East Bay have a Web site for free fruit and veggies and for tips on foraging in parks. Not that most readers of this blog need to go that far, but I figure I'll toss out some money-saving tips I've heard about or tried. (Used Freecycle before and liked it. Best if you have a car to pick up stuff, however, so that prevents me from responding to most offers. It's also a great FREE way to dispose of things you don't want, without incurring a hauling fee from a contractor. Freecyclers tend to take things that even Salvation Army may not want.)

Elizabeth said...

The two times my husband has been laid off, something better was always waiting. At times it may feel like it will never end, but it will.
Best of luck.