Saturday, May 30, 2009

Grateful but guilty

Driving to work this week, I noticed a billboard perched on the side of the highway.

It was covered in notebook paper and it said, "Interesting fact about recessions: They end." 

As much as I appreciated the message -- it was from CBS News of all places; a page from Katie Couric's "notebook," I assume -- it certainly doesn't feel that way in Michigan, and Metro Detroit in particular.

Michigan is mired in what seems more like a depression than a recession. We have the highest unemployment rate in the nation, 12.9 percent. Our biggest employer, General Motors, is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and will likely file on Monday. Foreclosures are through the roof. We know couples who have lost two jobs and are surviving on two unemployment checks.

I know we're not alone in our pain. I read about the job losses and foreclosures across the country. But while the entire nation is hurting, Michigan is really hurting. We need a tourniquet.

So seeing that billboard this week really struck a chord with me. Joel and I have been very fortunate that we've been able to ride through this recession relatively unscathed so far. Yes, our house has lost thousands of dollars in value (a realtor told us earlier this year that we could sell it for $70,000 less than we bought it for) but the most important thing is we have Hope, our jobs and our health and that's all that really matters.

But a couple weeks ago, our newspaper announced that they need to make "budget reductions," meaning layoffs. Joel and I, who met at the paper working on a story together, weren't entirely surprised. If the car industry is doing badly, the newspaper industry is doing even worse. As ad sales nosedive and more and more readers get their news online, newspapers everywhere are slashing staff, downsizing, and in some cases even closing.

In early April, our paper, The Detroit News, along with the Detroit Free Press, made the radical decision that we would stop home delivery four days a week and only deliver the paper on Thursdays and Fridays. The move cut production costs but still allows us to put out a paper six days a week (we don't have a Sunday paper). It was a bold move but one we realized the paper likely needed to take if it wanted to survive.

Anyhow,  with the impending layoffs, I knew I would likely lose my job. I work two days a week and according to our union contract, part-timers go first in the event of layoffs. So since mid-May, Joel and I have been nervously getting ready to live on one income: calculating how much unemployment I could collect, scrutinizing our budget to look for other areas to save, thinking about jobs I could do on the side for a little income. I was sad but resigned to the fact that my 10-year career as a journalist would basically come to an end. 

But I got a surprising call Friday: I would not be losing my job. Management decided not to cut at all from the reporting staff and instead they were able to reduce costs from the business side of the operation -- dozens were laid off -- and three managers, one of whom Joel and I know well, lost their jobs. Several people who were also planning on leaving the paper anyway also volunteered to get laid off.

I'm so thankful I still have my job -- for now -- but I also feel guilty. While I get to keep working -- part-time at that -- other people, some who I know personally, will have to figure out what's next in an industry where there are no jobs in a state whose economic structure is collapsing. As a colleague put it yesterday, it's almost like survivor's guilt.

So we'll keep hanging on here in Michigan. If recessions do end -- and I know they do -- I just wonder when this one will. I hope soon.  


The Watczaks said...

I saw your status on FB, congrats on getting to keep your job. I totally know what you mean, though. We, too, are surviving so far relatively unscathed and I'm not really sure if I should be waiting for the other shoe to drop or not, so to speak.

But it'll be stories to tell future generations, right?

Lisa said...

Yeah, it's so hard with this economy, but particularly with journalism. The good news is if something happens to your job, you're well-equipped to freelance and likely make as much as you made before - particularly once you start to look at the other (non-daily newspaper) places you could write. We've been lucky that Brian's gotten a lot of different stories published - despite the fact that there are probably more out of work journalists now than ever before.

Rachelle said...

Congrats on getting to keep your job! I understand your guilt though with the other people losing their jobs. My sister worked in one of the big plants where we live in the engineering department. They did a bunch of lay offs - her being one of them - but gave them the option of working on the "loading docks" to keep a job and hopefully get back in sooner for staying with the company. She hates it! She went from working an 8-5 office job to a 5am - 3pm shift working outside loading trucks. I give her props for sticking with it - it also means she brings my nephew to my house about 4:30am because her husband works a night shift. So I get to get up way early too! Anyway, sorry to be so longwinded! Hang in there - I hope things get better for everyone soon!

heidi @ ggip said...

I'm glad you didn't lose your job, I know that your area is really suffering badly. In our area it hasn't been as horrible but DH's work just had layoffs and it is really sad to see longtime coworkers and friends have to leave.

But you are right to focus on the positive - you have Hope and all your basic needs are being met.

Raph said...

I saw the same billboard (in Oakland) and was curious about it so did a Google search on it. Your blog came up on the first page. My heart is with you. I hope you and your family not only survive but prosper, and feel so strongly for all the familes that are not right now.