A day’s labor now bringing in a lot less - East Valley Tribune: News

A day’s labor now bringing in a lot less

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Posted: Saturday, September 5, 2009 3:21 pm | Updated: 12:41 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

With nearly 15 million Americans jobless on Labor Day 2009, the occasion isn’t quite turning out to be a day of celebration. And as the nation’s unemployment rate hits a more than quarter-century high of 9.7 percent, a top Arizona labor union leader expressed concern that the recession hasn’t bottomed out quite yet in the state.

With nearly 15 million Americans jobless on Labor Day 2009, the occasion isn’t quite turning out to be a day of celebration.

And as the nation’s unemployment rate hits a more than quarter-century high of 9.7 percent, a top Arizona labor union leader expressed concern that the recession hasn’t bottomed out quite yet in the state.

“It’s rough out there and it’s across the board,” said Rebekah Friend, executive director of Arizona AFL-CIO. “We hear of people whose wages are already low and then for them to be forced to take one day a month off or a week off unpaid puts them in a downward spiral.”

With Arizona’s jobless rate at 9.2 percent, it seems like everyone knows someone who’s been laid off, has had hours cut, or benefits slashed.

“We’re hopeful, but I don’t believe Arizona has hit bottom yet,” Friend said.

Arizona State University economics professor Dennis Hoffman at the W.P. Carey School of Business is slightly more upbeat.

He said despite being one of the most challenging labor market environments ever for Arizona, there’s reason to be optimistic for things to improve by Labor Day 2010.

“I would have been hard-pressed to say so last year because we were on the edge of the cliff back then, but most economists believe we’re on the road to recovery,” Hoffman said.

Nationally, employers shed fewer jobs in August, at 216,000, than has been the rate all year. Locally, according to an ASU study, Valley housing prices are declining at a slower rate.

Hoffman said for those who are savvy and adding to their skill-sets, they’ll be able to find success.

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CAPTION

John Millikin, clinical professor of management, also at the W.P. Carey School, said in a declining market, the things that workers look for are signs that their job will continue in the future. Millikin, who has extensive industry experience in human resources, said companies need to be transparent about their situation without being unduly optimistic or giving their employees false expectations.

“Most people would rather know the truth in advance than have it fall on their face out of the blue,” Millikin said.

Workers, for their part, he said, should not go “into a hole of fear, but put in their best effort and be upbeat and show their supervisor they’re valuable,” he suggested.

The Tribune talked to East Valley residents last week about their experiences in the job market:

FULL OF CONCERN

Mesa resident Jeni Dominguez, 32, works as a housekeeper at a local Days Inn. She said room rentals have steadily increased in the last two months, a good sign, she hopes. But this past year’s been full of concerns, especially since she is raising five children.

Dominguez was spared in the last round of layoffs several months ago. But the minimum wage she makes right now still hurts, compared with her earnings installing cabinets.

“I used to make $15 an hour doing that,” she said, a smirk visible on her face. She’s considering investing in gold right now.

“I hear it’s the safest investment these days, why not,” she said.

It’s been a double-whammy for the family, as Dominguez’s husband also had to sell his home-remodeling business, truck, trailer and several thousand dollars’ worth of tools included, since the economy tanked. He’s now turned to landscaping to put food on the table, earning “far less,” she said.

Life for this family has gone from one of self-sufficiency to taking help from the government.

“It hurts,” Dominguez said. “The difference for us since last year is between easily paying bills and affording clothes for my kids to now putting them on AHCCCS (Arizona’s Medicaid program).”

“BETWEEN JOBS”

Marty Heschke describes himself as “between jobs.” The 36-year-old aviation mechanic moved to Mesa from California last year after losing his job for the second time at United Airlines. The first time was right after 9/11. The second happened more than six months ago.

CAPTION

Before landing a three-month contract position at an aviation company in Mesa, Heschke was a cable TV installer.

“That sucked,” he said, rolling his eyes. The 14-hour days didn’t fetch any overtime. It also didn’t compensate nearly as well as the nearly $30 an hour he was used to making.

Heschke, speaking in a soft tone, said he’s not too hopeful about his prospects or the economy’s in the coming months.

He’s not sure what will happen once the short contract is up.

“Besides, it’s not the same as a full-time job, being without benefits,” he said, as his 8-year-old son, Ethan, who’s autistic, played nearby outside Southeast Regional Library in Gilbert.

He and his wife, a stay-at-home mom, came here also because he has family. And while the support system has been of some help, the job-hunting experience thus far has been depressing.

He’s applied for at least 50 jobs, with few responses.

“You can only apply online for most jobs and they don’t even bother to send you an acknowledgement,” said Heschke, frustration writ all over his brow-creased forehead.

For Heschke, the only solace is knowing he’s not alone.

LIVING WITHIN MEANS

Queen Creek resident Charles Montano, 36, was sitting inside a McDonald’s as he waited for his wife and daughter to return from an after-school class. Montano works for a financial services firm as a customer service supervisor. He’s one of those careful ones for whom the economy hasn’t changed much.

“Overall, everything is hopeful,” he said.

But he added it’s also because he doesn’t allow himself to get carried away when it comes to spending.

“I’ve always led a careful lifestyle, living within my means and saving,” said Montano, who moved to Queen Creek from Chandler a year ago after buying a house.

“I bought at the bottom,” he said, in a calm, measured tone almost reflecting his fiscally conservative personality. He decided on Queen Creek because of affordable housing there, even though his office is in Scottsdale, a 50-mile commute one way.

“You always have to be mindful of your spending and not go crazy,” said Montano matter-of-factly.

The economy, Montano said, has hurt many unexpectedly and undeservedly, by taking away their jobs, but he said everyone just has to work hard and “do what they can to stay afloat.”

Montano said he believes people will come out of this recession a bit wiser.

“To read the fine print, to do their due diligence and homework. People have to take responsibility, and not just blame someone else for their financial problems,” he said.

MODERN-DAY ROBIN HOOD

Queen Creek’s Shon Reed jokes that the economy could turn him into a modern-day Robin Hood. Reed, who was recently splicing fiber optic cable at a construction site near Chandler City Hall, said his pay cut since the beginning of the year means he’s making 20 percent less per hour. The timing couldn’t have been worse for him, as he’d just bought a house in November.

“I’m barely making it right now, but if I don’t, I’m Robin Hood,” he said, laughing, as he referred to the folklore character who was known for stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

Reed said he’s had to change his lifestyle. He’s no longer able to just walk into a store and “pick up anything without checking the price tag.” He’s eating out less, and not spending as much on clothes.

He has a 14-year-old son he has to help take care of along with his ex-wife, and now he also has the added pressure of his sister, who had to move in with him because she lost her job.

He’s not sure if his health care plan has changed along with his pay cut, but he just hopes, being 36, he won’t need to use it anytime soon.

Reed said instead of getting depressed or stressed out, he just tries not to think about things too far out into the future.

“I just hope things get better now,” he said. “I expect the worst and hope for the best.”

His co-worker, 40-year-old Ray Martinez, mutters an “amen.”

FAMILY STRESS

One family member’s stress can take its toll on the entire family.

Chandler resident Pam Saletri said she’s grateful her husband still is holding on to his job in a health care company’s information technology support division. But his company continues to lay off workers.

“It’s constantly stressful,” said Saletri, who was with her daughter at the Chandler public library downtown one recent morning. She said it’s hard to see her husband come home all stressed out every day.

“These days, when he comes home, he just needs to decompress,” Saletri said. It’s not just about his own work. Saletri said her husband is a silent witness to the toll that losing a job can take on others, as he has to clean up the work stations left behind when someone is laid off and has to dispense of their personal belongings.

“Photos of kids, mementos, personal stuff, he sees it all left behind. It’s hard not to take it personally,” she said.

Saletri has her own frustration. The 40-year-old disabled mom is keenly aware that her own disability makes it “near impossible” for her to go back to teaching, or any other job.

After 14 years of teaching in Chandler, she had to finally give up in 2005, when she could no longer physically continue. She’d lost her legs to meningitis years ago.

“That’s an added stress, knowing we don’t have that option,” Saletri said. She gets disability support, “but that’s hardly anything to support a family.”

GETTING CREATIVE

At a time when people are avoiding even refilling essential prescriptions, Chandler businesswoman Laurie Fagen understands why her downtown Chandler art gallery, complete with a studio and room for art classes, would not do as well as she’d hoped.

But she’s not sitting back and whining about it. Fagen has been mixing things up by adding improv comedy shows at the gallery and puppet shows, to draw more families in.

“Oh, it’s been tough, definitely,” she said.

Class enrollments have been down, she’s not selling as much artwork, but she’s one of those who’s hoping things will turn around soon. And there’s some proof.

“In the last couple of weeks, the phone’s been ringing a bit more,” she said.

When things go south economy-wise, she said people often turn to their creative side, to try and supplement their income by using their talent. She said that’s one reason why she’s getting more rental bookings of late for her art studio spaces.

But that doesn’t mean things haven’t had to be adjusted. She and her husband have changed their health care deductible to bring down their monthly payments. She’s also singing professionally to supplement her income. Her businesses partner wasn’t as lucky and had to go back to working full time because of the economy.

Fagen said she hasn’t paid herself yet from the business. The only income she makes is from selling her own art and teaching classes, and the singing. She’d given herself time when she started the gallery three years ago to make it profitable, “but that timeline has just been pushed back a bit.”

“MY INCOME IS IT”

Gilbert resident Cindy Butler, a second-grade teacher at Learning Foundation Performing Arts School, also still has a job. But amid the stream of eager students calling for “Ms. Butler’s” attention, she talks about how not getting a pay raise also hurts the budget. For one, it prompted Butler to ask parents to help with school supplies.

“I shop as much as possible on sale, but I didn’t buy as much as I nearly would otherwise,” Butler said. She knows it’s hard for even parents to come up with the supplies, but she said little things help.

“Two reams of copy paper, even.”

The charter school’s planning a fundraiser to be able to afford field trips.

Since August, she’s also taken on after-school science classes to make some extra money. She’s cut back on cable and got rid of one cell phone. Butler consolidates her trips to save on gas.

Her husband’s disabled and looking for a job.

“My income is it,” she said, her otherwise cheery smile petering out. Her 21-year-old daughter, an ASU student, lives at home with her because she can’t afford to live on her own, as does Butler’s mother.

“We eat cheap, we don’t eat out, or eat at Taco Bell,” Butler, 43, said.

Forget summer vacations, simple pleasures like going to the movies are now almost a fantasy.

“I’d love to go to the theater like we used to, once a month,” she said.

UNDEREMPLOYED

The future in Luiz Zepeda’s eyes looks pretty grim. The 44-year-old Gilbert resident, a merchandise stocker at Target, used to work 50 to 60 hours, but is now down to 32 hours a week.

“People are not spending like they used to or only buy things on clearance,” Zepeda said, as he stood by his 12-year-old son outside Higley High School at an after-school sports practice.

He’s making about $300 less a month these days. On top of that, his wife, a hairstylist, also is making about that much less.

He, too, now shops mostly at Goodwill or buys things from the Target store on clearance.

He’s trying to modify his home loan right now, to lower the mortgage. He hasn’t made a house payment in two months.

Zepeda was one of those whose adjustable rate mortgage loans more than doubled when the economy dipped, going from $866 to $1,966.

He said he’d invested the money he saved because of the lower initial payments. But to take that out right now would mean being forced to pay about $2,000 in fees, which is just not worth it.

He’s considering taking on another part-time job.

“We’ve used up our savings,” he said. “I’m hoping the loan modification works, but if it doesn’t, you gotta do what you gotta do.”

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