Laid Off Now What?
Meet your neighbors along Westchester’s growing unemployment line.
Photography by John O’Donnell
Unfortunately, we don’t need to play the six degrees of separation game to know someone experiencing “separation” from his or her job— roughly thirty-four thousand of our neighbors, friends, and family are out of work today.
Here, we offer some anecdotal insights on how your laid-off neighbor is keeping a roof over his head, feeding his family, or paying for his medication (or not), as we attempt to put a local face on our national crisis.
Name: Barry Kleiman, 52, of Bedford
How long had you worked at Needham? I was there four years when there was a ten-percent staff reduction across all departments. These were the first layoffs in the twenty-three-year history of the company.
How were you told of your layoff? They fired everyone on a Monday when I happened to be on a golf outing. The human-resources head and my boss, the head of trading, called me into the conference room. I’d heard about the previous day’s happenings and knew it wasn’t going to be good news.
Were you surprised? The timing surprised me as, traditionally, financial firms prune in the third quarter and amputate in the fourth. This was only the second quarter. But 2008 was the most difficult year I’ve seen. I’ve been laid off before, from Bear Stearns in 2005, and got the Needham position right away. This time around, it’s more difficult. With all the mergers plus more automation in how stocks are traded, the number of seats has shrunk significantly.
How are you making ends meet? I received four months’ severance including health, so I was good through September. Since October, I’ve lived off savings.
What’s it like waking up in the morning with nowhere to go? It is a very unsettling feeling to know that you don’t have a job to go to.
Whom do you blame for the situation we’re in? I think much of the blame can fall on the financial banks being greedy and the mortgage crisis.
Got medical insurance? Since September, I’ve been on COBRA, which is exorbitant—one-thousand six-hundred dollars a month. My oldest child—I have three, ages fifteen, eleven, and eight—is special-needs, so it’s necessary.
Now what? Since networking to find a new job wasn’t working, my wife suggested a career counselor and, in July 2008, I began working with one. She refocused my resumé and coached me on different ways of networking. Labor Day came and still no job, so the counselor suggested I consider a career change. A series of tests—MBIT, career vector—determined that medical-device sales, actuarial, and owning a small business were possible matches. I’m currently considering a franchise—American Prosperity Group and Expense Reduction Analysts among them.
How has your layoff affected you the most? We’re eating out less, buying lower-quality items at Wal-Mart. And getting less sleep, for sure.
Name: Ellen Girone, 49, of White Plains
Was Until July 2008 (after 11 ½ years): Senior Human Resources Generalist
Earned: High five figures depending on bonus
Were you surprised to lose your job? Since AbitibiBowater is the leading producer in the paper-production industry, I was. But the company merged, and our office closed and relocated to Greenville, South Carolina. I was offered a position, but relocation was not an option for me. Still, considering paper consumption has been going down—it peaked in the U.S. in 1999 and has been going down about a half a percentage point each year since, mainly due to more e-mail usage—I probably shouldn’t have been surprised.
How are you making ends meet? Through December 2008, I was getting seven- thousand dollars a month in salary continuance, plus, in August, I took twenty-five thousand dollars as a retention bonus. Starting in January, I took the balance of my severance, forty-four thousand dollars. Unemployment at four-hundred-five dollars a week also helps.
What is your biggest expense? My husband and I have a big mortgage on our twenty-three-hundred-square-foot, four-bedroom house we purchased in 2002. But he’s employed at a solar energy company in Rockland County doing installation site evaluations.
Have you picked up any bad habits since the layoff? Sleeping late! But I’m also catching up with friends, so that’s a good thing.
What work are you looking for? I’m willing to take a non-industry-specific job. However, because there are so many human resources people out there looking, companies are being industry-specific with hiring. I’ve tried recruitment agencies in White Plains, Stamford, and Manhattan. I’ve also been networking and using outplacement services—résumé and interviewing skills—at DBM in Stamford. There are a bunch of Internet job boards I joined as well, and I’ve received calls from recruiters. No interviews yet.
What’s it like looking for work? Totally depressing. And because much of the searching is done over the Internet, there’s not a lot of speaking; electronic rejections are the worst.
Does it help to know that so many others are losing their jobs, too? It does a little. But I feel sorry for friends who are on the verge of losing their jobs.
What is your biggest worry? The economy. All you hear is more layoffs.
Name: William N. Drysdale, 45, of Yorktown Heights
Was Until May 2, 2008: Corporate Vice President & General Manager, Fujifilm USA, Inc., in Valhalla
Earned: $200,000+ per year
Why were you laid off? Like all companies in the photo-imaging business, technology changes led to challenging times, forcing fundamental strategic and structural changes at Fuji. As such, several senior executive positions were eliminated, and mine was one of the last to go.
Were you surprised? I had seen other folks in similar positions laid off, so it didn’t come as a complete shock. On the other hand, we were doing well in my division and you always hope it’s not going to be you.
What was it like the first morning without an office to go to? I wondered, ‘Okay, what do I do now?’ and ‘Do I really understand what just happened?’
What do you miss most about your job? The people and interacting with folks I’d known for twenty years—or just six months.
What are you glad you don’t have to do anymore? Make decisions which eliminate positions and impact people’s livelihoods, even though they have nothing to do with their performance.
What are you doing now? I’m looking for a similar position in a small, medium, or large corporation. But I am also doing consulting for companies that have downsized.
Are you living differently now than when you were employed? Absolutely. We’re being much more careful with our spending. We’re certainly not going out to eat as often and we’re looking for less expensive forms of entertainment. Instead of spending fifty or sixty dollars for our family of four to go to a movie, we’re renting one and popping our own popcorn at home.
What has the layoff done to your psyche? Even though I know my layoff wasn’t personal, it has shaken a little my long-term comfort level.
Any bright spots to being laid off? Aside from more time with my daughters, ages nine and eleven, I’ve gotten back in touch with people I hadn’t spoken to in twenty years. And reconnecting and sharing some laughs together has been good for my spirit.
Name: Maxine J. Mina, 54, of Cortlandt Manor
Was Until September 15, 2008: Telecom/Wireless Specialist (for cellphones and Blackberries) for XL Capital, Stamford, CT
Earned: Base of $66,480, plus annual bonuses of up to 10 percent of salary ($4,000 bonus the year of termination)
Why were you laid off? The company was downsizing and, at the time, they let go of sixty-plus people globally. They recently let an additional three-hundred people go, globally. They let employees go whose skills were considered ‘transitional’—those who could ‘transition’ their duties to other employees.
Did your layoff come as a surprise? I knew that, sooner or later, my responsibilities could be outsourced to a third party. But it was still a blow; I had been there twenty years.
What’s your money situation? I’m on unemployment. My company was very generous with a good severance package, and between my husband’s work—he’s an entrepreneur in the lighting business—the severance, and unemployment, we’ve been able to manage.
Do you have healthcare? Monster.com was an excellent tool. I was able to find insurance that included medical, dental, and other services.
What work do you want to do now? I am hoping to stay in telecom, if at all possible, in customer service or as an administrator. I was able to get a grant, so I am also going to the College of Westchester to take office-skills courses, which will give me twelve additional credits and an office-skills administration certificate.
What are your days like? My days are filled to the brim, searching for job opportunities and networking with former colleagues, friends, and acquaintances through phone calls, e-mails, LinkedIn, Facebook, and happy hours.
Does it help to know others are out of work too? Yes. Managers who are hiring can no longer say, ‘Wow, you’ve been out of work for six months; why so long?’
What is your biggest fear? Trying to land a job when so many people are out there now who have every skill in the book and also taking a lower salary.
What is the best employment resource you’ve found? Westchester One Stop Employment Center offers great workshops, courses, and resources to help with résumés, interview skills, job opportunities, and it’s all free.
Name: Danielle Jones, 23, of Harrison
Was Until January 30, 2009: Human Resources Coordinator for Camuto Group, Greenwich, CT
Earned: $45,000 per year, with $5,000 sign-on bonus
Why were you laid off? My first job after graduating college was working as a recruiter for office services at Alden Staffing in White Plains. My division there was eliminated from the company due to lack of business in July, 2008. I then started working for Camuto Group last August. In January, they told me that their needs now were different and that they were forced to do some restructuring. It was completely unexpected, and I was upset. Being in HR, I assisted in the paperwork for the various other terminations, so when I was brought in, it was a complete shock.
Who drew up your termination papers? The vice president of HR.
What’s your financial situation? Unemployment is going to be giving me enough to be able to just pay my bills. So I am still living in Harrison with my roommates, but if it ever got to the point where I needed help, I could always turn to my parents.
Got medical insurance? I don’t. COBRA is too much. I looked into it, and it would cost over five-hundred dollars.
Now what? I am registered with a number of recruiters, searching for work on job boards—Monster, Career Builder, SHRM, and HRI. I will tell whomever about my situation, because you never know who can help. I am open to getting my foot in the door for any position, but I would like to stick in HR.
What keeps you up at night? I’m not worried that I will not find a job. I’m worried that I’ll be forced to settle for a job that I am not truly passionate about.
Name: Frank Camacho, 35, of White Plains
Was Until October 31, 2008 (“What a great Halloween treat”): Executive Driver for Kohl Partners in Teaneck, NJ
Earned: $62,000 per year
Why were you laid off? The company, which does real-estate development and management, had just lost a couple of management accounts, which meant they lost over two-million dollars in revenue, and their development unit wasn’t selling any condos because no banks are lending to buyers. I recently found out Madoff’s checks were funding the payroll for the company, so when all of that hit the fan…
How were you told? I was told on a Tuesday that Friday would be my last day, so they gave me the courtesy of an early warning.
Your initial reaction? I was frustrated, scared—the holidays were coming up. I went from being told I was a true asset to the company and given an eight-thousand-dollar raise to being called a ‘luxury.’ At the time, my wife was also unemployed. She now works sporadically as a substitute teacher and I’m collecting unemployment.
How did your family and friends react? When I called to tell them, they actually thought I was kidding, because they saw how much my job needed me; I was never home. I worked so many hours during the week, I’d spend the weekends in bed to catch up on my sleep.
What are you doing about health insurance? COBRA is insane—they want fifteen hundred a month; that would leave me with just five hundred a month to live on. We’d have to move to Puerto Rico or upstate. So we’re using Medicaid. But doctors don’t like Medicaid, so whenever you call to make an appointment, you can never get one.
Now what? I’ve been interviewing. I was up for a job as a driver for Bank of New York, but I was rejected because I have a low credit score. So basically, I can’t get a job because I don’t have a job to pay my bills.
What do you miss most about your job? Free dinners. My boss would give me his credit card to go eat wherever I wanted.
Got advice for those facing a layoff? Negotiate with your creditors. I did with my car loan companies, and got two car payments deferred on one car, and one on the other car.
Name: Juls Casella, 26, of Putnam Valley, N
Y Was Until January 30, 2009: Account Manager for TF Andrew Carpet One Floor & Home in Tarrytown
Earned: $42,000 per year
Were you surprised to lose your job? I guess I saw it coming.
How were you told? I was literally walking out the door at five o’clock on a Friday. My manager said, ‘Juls, don’t leave yet,’ and I immediately knew. They basically said, ‘We can’t pay you.’
How are you making ends meet? I’m on unemployment. I can’t take a part-time job because that would make my unemployment checks stop and I wouldn’t be making as much. The only part-time jobs available now pay something like ten dollars an hour, and that would be two-hundred dollars per month, and I get four-hundred dollars per month from unemployment. I’ve tried babysitting, but no one has the money to pay a babysitter right now. The only responses I’ve gotten were from employers an hour away from me, and I’d spend all the money I’d make on gas driving to and from the job.
What’s your housing situation? I live with my boyfriend, Mike, and we just bought a house together. He still has an income. But the money is eventually going to run out, and I don’t know what we’re going to do.
Now what? The day after I got laid off, I went on the job sites and applied for more than a hundred jobs. I didn’t hear back from a single one.
How has your layoff affected you? It gets really boring sitting around doing nothing. I’ve lost five pounds because I can spend more time at the gym. I’ve been running a lot of errands for my parents because I have nothing to do.
Is there an upside to being unemployed? I can do small improvements around the house. I always have a home-cooked meal prepared. I also work on my art. I do commission artwork, but no one is paying me to do that now.
What is your biggest fear? Losing the house. We wouldn’t even attempt to sell it, because we wouldn’t get back what we paid for it even though we just bought it in August. It would take more than a year to sell it, too. It seems like there are ten houses available for every person who wants to buy.
Name: Jeremy Young, 24, of Croton
Was Until January 12, 2009: Stockperson at Chambers Street Wines, Manhattan
Earned: $12 per hour, plus tips on weekends. (“We’d do local deliveries. It was a wealthy area, so people couldn’t be bothered to come out to shop.”)
Why were you let go? I got hired in September, after the wine shop decided to expand. They moved to a bigger location down the block and hired four new employees, including me. They were making a lot of money at first, then things started getting bad in the fall. They rallied again during the holidays, but, starting January 2, there were no more walk-ins. It became apparent that they expanded at a really horrible time, so they laid off the four of us.
How have friends and family responded? They felt very bad for me. I tried to milk people’s sympathies so someone would maybe offer me a job.
How are you supporting yourself? Right now, I’m living off the tax refund dollars I got, but I’m going to have to go on unemployment. It’s such a disappointment. I have a college degree from a respectable university, McGill, and a lot of experience for someone my age. I honestly consider myself easily employable, with a lot of talent and a lot to offer; it’s so ridiculous. I also had to move in with my parents.
What are you doing for health insurance? I have no medical or dental insurance now. I’m kind of living on the edge. And I’m getting worried because my tax-refund money is going to run out soon.
What surprises you most about not working? This is worse than I thought it would be. I feel trapped, because what I want to be doing with my time—making art and music—is the last thing that people want to be spending money on. So I feel I am following an impossibly fast cheetah, who is gripping my dreams with its jaws.
Now what? I’ve signed up with a few temp agencies but haven’t heard a word from them. I have been interning with a non-profit in Manhattan; it’s unpaid. My plan is to go into journalism. I want to go to grad school.
Any lesson learned? Food tastes better when you’re poor.
Name: Lisa Tibbitts, 37, of Mount Vernon
Was Until August 22, 2008: Vice President of Corporate Communications for Edelman Public Relations, the largest independent PR agency in the world (“I was lured away by them from my previous employer, so I had just joined them in March”).
Earned: $150,000 per year
What was your initial reaction to losing your job? I was not surprised, considering the state of the economy. People often see PR as expendable, which is unfortunate because it’s really a low-cost effort to promote yourself, especially compared with advertising.
What has been the response from family and friends? My family is worried for me, and friends have been incredibly understanding and helpful. I know so many other people out of work, and it’s been very heartwarming to see how supportive everyone is being of each other.
How are you making ends meet? I’ve been using my savings. Unfortunately, what’s left in my brokerage account now is not enough to buy dinner at 42 or BLT. It’s been a double whammy to be laid off and then have the market tank.
What’s your biggest expense? I own my co-op and I live alone, with no children. But I have two very hungry cats. I tried to switch them to cheaper foods, but they boycotted. I put my co-op up for sale as soon as I was laid off. My real estate broker called me the other day and said, ‘I don’t know what else to do.’
Now what? I have an MBA and spent ten years at top-name companies. I truly believed I’d have another job by October or November. I just started freelancing as a stop-gap measure, but I really need a full-time job.
How has your layoff affected you? Two really good things have come out of this. I’ve had the time to go to the gym regularly, and so I’ve lost forty pounds. And I’ve had the time to renew my contacts and improve my professional skills.
What is your biggest fear? Losing my co-op. And beyond that, just the perception that, because I’ve been out of work since August, I’m not employable.