I'll never forget the first time my husband lost his job. I was eating a tuna sandwich at a diner near our home -- taking a break from what was at the time my professional occupation, writing freelance stories on my home computer. We knew that his company was downsizing -- we later learned management was preparing it for a sale. We didn't think it would be him. He had steadily increased his department's performance and had the numbers to show for it. Then he showed up at the diner in the middle of the day, and the look on his face said it all.
Our kids were preschoolers, and we were completely unprepared for what would turn out to be 20 months of job search that ended in moving from a neighborhood we loved to a new state.
The fourth time Dan lost his job, we knew what we were doing and went into what I've come to think of as layoff mode. We pulled back on contributions to our retirement and college savings. We took our girls out of expensive gymnastics lessons and signed them up for cost-effective softball. We calculated how long the severance would last (10 months, maybe more if we're careful).
We are in layoff mode as I write this. Job loss can be humiliating, and you might wonder why I would put any of this on the Internet for people to read about my family. My husband and I discussed this project at length before I began. We think that it's important for other layoff families to know that they are not alone. Silence surrounds job loss because people feel ashamed, but I think it might be time we got over that. Corporate America certainly has.
Here's a good story in today's New York Times Style section about how people are afraid to tell their neighbors they've lost their job.
Another reason I'm writing this is because I want to document what seems like a tectonic shift in my lifetime. I remember when companies worried about laying people off because they feared they would not be able to attract new employees. No longer. Any dishonor associated with firing people has all but vanished.
At first, employers displayed regret about the necessary cuts -- probably around the time the term "right-sizing" was coined -- early 1990s? Companies acted as though there was an achievable end to the layoffs, a right size they would arrive at. Now, companies seem to have few qualms about regularly cleaning house.
Finally, I see very little understanding among the uninitiated about what it means to have job loss enter your home. Maybe I haven't looked in the right places. But almost no one is making the connection between job loss and societal problems. I came across an extreme, stupid example from a blogger at a business publication, who ridiculed the idea that a layoff ruined his subject's marriage. (I'll put up the link when I find it.)
Five bucks says this guy is single.