Jason and I got married just months before the 9/11 attacks. I had barely graduated from college and Jason was still working on his degree and interning fulltime. I got my first “real” job, making wages that I would now laugh at, mere weeks before September 11th changed everything. Then that fateful day came and the world seemed to turn upside down. Overnight America’s financial future became bleak. All of a sudden we were stock piling plastic sheeting and duct tape to cover our windows and doors in case of another terrorist attack; we were declaring war. In an instant, our future became surprisingly uncertain and filled with fear.
It was in this turbulent economic environment that Jason and I tried to keep ourselves financially afloat. As is typical of newlyweds, we had very little money to spare, and job security was basically nonexistent for us. There was an ever present threat of layoffs at Jason’s work, every few months they seemed to go through another round of them. My employer was having severe financial distress as well, and layoffs occurred on a regular basis. Once, both our companies had layoffs scheduled within a week of each other; we knew that it was quite possible that we could both lose our jobs and our entire income. But somehow, we managed to stay employed, until 2003, when my company, just months from declaring bankruptcy, let nearly my entire department go. This event was more traumatic than I could ever have guessed. Saying goodbye to the good friends I spent 40 hours with every week, along with the stress of having a temporary career hiatus, left me in tears. But within six months I had a new job with much better pay, the economy was slowly starting to perk up, and everything seemed a little brighter.
Now, five years later, the future again seems unsure. With high gas prices, low home values, and subprime mortgage issues, everyone seems to be feeling the financial squeeze. And for me and Jason, history has repeated itself. Once again, both our employers decided to do layoffs at the same time, actually on the very same day. Miraculously, we both made it through the cuts, but many of our coworkers, and friends, did not.
It is impossible to explain to someone that has not experienced a layoff firsthand the stress, sadness, and shock involved. As HR calls people, one at a time, into a room, you wonder if you are going to be next. Thoughts of “what if” race through your head. And even if you are fortunate enough to still have your job at the end of the day, you have to say goodbye to coworkers that lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
You and the other remaining employees feel like the survivors of some horrible natural disaster. With every face you see in the hall you feel a sense of relief, relief that one more member of your work family made it through.
Even after the recent events at my company, and even with the constant onslaught of bad news about the American economy, I am still optimistic. As they have in the past, things will work themselves out eventually. I look back on those first couple years of my marriage, the years it seemed that everyone in America was holding their breath waiting for the worse, and our current economic situation doesn’t seem so bad. We’ll pull through; a little patience and some optimism go a long way. I, for one, refuse to let fear and panic dictate my financial decisions.