Well, here it is — 2013. Having made it through the supposed worst of the beast, I now find myself laid off. Suddenly, all of the heartbreaking stories I’ve read about over the past six years seem more personal. I’ve been here before, though.
My company was acquired in 2011 by a private equity firm. If you don’t know what one of these is by now, count yourself among the lucky. Basically, they are firms that will acquire an established company with little money down and leverage it highly. Most of the targets are profitable, but can be purchased reasonably because their business model or particular industry doesn’t project high growth rates. Next, costs will be cut to the bone to dress it up. Finally, in five to seven years, the goal is to sell it to someone else, usually another PE firm or competitor. Cutting a lot of positions, eliminating pensions, and outsourcing are the standard playbook. Almost always there is an “exit” strategy. Long-term investments in growth usually are frowned upon, since the goal is sell the company in a few years. In our company, almost everyone over 50 was given a separation package and released. Those who stayed were miserable and most aren’t there now. These companies are usually not knowledgeable at all about the business you’re in — they are created on Wall Street and run by financial managers. I digress.
So there I was, the primary breadwinner in our house, out of work. That was 2011. However, I was lucky enough to find a good position in another state. After moving my family across the country, we are now told that due to a reorganization, this position is being moved somewhere else. It’s a lot to bear in a short time. Still, we’re keeping our heads above water and are more fortunate than many. My wife also has a job, although our family income just dropped by 70 percent. It’s very difficult to negotiate when you are out of work.
Just curious if this is the new normal they keep talking about? I can say this. Of the three employers I’ve worked for over the past eight years, all used to offer defined pensions, and now none do. My salary in my last position was just under my 2007 salary when considering additional taxes and reduced benefits. And I’m not adjusting for inflation. Meanwhile take $100 into your grocery store and see if you come out with the same amount you did in 2007. Not likely.
Times are good though, right? Construction is picking up, house sales are gaining. The restaurants here are full. While things may be getting better, below the surface many of us are still losing ground.
Thankfully we’ve been quite frugal through it all. In spite of everything, I remain optimistic about my skills and prospects. Tomorrow’s a new day, so I’ll get out there and give it my all. Just like always. I just have less confidence in the traditional system to get me there.