Fifty-something & Unemployed
Copyright © 2009 by Paul Ford
Quitting a secure job
For various reasons, I quit a secure job at the University of California a few months before the end of the millennium. I was at mid-life, and the prospect of working at the same job for the rest of my career had freaked me out. This was at the height of the dot-com boom, and by the University's own numbers, it was paying us about fifteen to twenty percent less than equivalent jobs in the real world. (My own research showed this range to be, if anything, a bit conservative.)
You might say I could have quit at a better time. Looking back, I failed to take fully into account such factors as job security, the pleasant and convenient campus environment, and the University's generous defined-benefit retirement plan. It was a classic case of the-grass-is-greener. Never mind, however, my goals at the time were more money, greater job satisfaction, and better career opportunities. That is, moving a few rungs up the ladder, before it was too late.
I went freelance and signed with a technical agency. My first assignment was in San Francisco at Signatures Network, a celebrity merchandising company formerly known as Sony Signatures. They were handling such accounts as Britney Spears, Bruce Springsteen, and Barbra Streisand. For the first time in years, I felt that I was being paid what I was worth. After having rented a room with a shared bath and kitchen in Berkeley, I now had my own studio apartment in nearby El Cerrito. I was paying down the principal on my student loan at a rate of $1,000 per quarter. I was maxing both my 401(k) and my Roth IRA, trying to make up for decades of neglect in saving for my retirement. Even so, at the end of each month, I still had a couple of hundred dollars left over, most of which went for computer accessories.
My next job with the agency was at Macworld Magazine. My last day there was the day the Supreme Court appointed George W Bush as president. It seemed that the corporate people were taking steps to consolidate their power in Washington, DC, with predictable results in the rest of the country.
I was unemployed, but I had just had what is still my biggest year ever, about $40,000 for just nine months of work.
The social contract
Over my lifetime, there has been a shift in the social contract. We're told that there is no such contract — there are only impersonal market forces. As in the Soviet Union, we are all economic actors, cogs in a machine that's run, not by people with quirky, complex, and mixed motivations, but by the inexorable forces of nature or history. So-called market capitalism has more in common with dialectical materialism than most people are willing to admit.
When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, it was assumed that if you were upper-middle class, you'd go to college and become a professional or work as a manager in the corporate world. If you were lower-middle class, you'd get your high school diploma and become a factory worker at one of these same corporations.
In either case, we were told, if you worked hard and kept your nose clean, you and your family would earn the American Dream with all the trimmings. Home ownership, college for the children, vacation trips, and many toys and goodies, the best the world had to offer. Medical coverage and pensions were non-issues; they had long since been taken care of by government action or corporate fiat.
We patted ourselves on the back for being not only the most prosperous, but also the most generous and democratic, nation on earth. The nation that had spread the greatest amount of wealth to the greatest number of people, and the nation that boasted the world's largest, wealthiest, and most politically powerful middle class.
Then something happened. Growth slowed in the 1970s, and merger mania and globalization struck North American businesses hard in the 1980s and 1990s.
The contract has changed. It used to be that if you were an entrepreneur, a capitalist, an investor, you reaped the profits and you took the losses. That was the deal. We've now moved ever closer to a classical crony-capitalist, I-got-mine, winner-take-all, no-bid-contract, corporate-welfare state similar to Mussolini's Italy, except without the nationwide public transportation system, punctual or otherwise. The risks have shifted from ownership to labor, from those who have to those who don't. People now bet other peoples' money instead of their own, and place others' jobs at risk instead of their own.
They didn't tell us in school that our future employers would increasingly see us as a disposable, just-in-time commodity, much like timber or iron ore. We are all contingency workers — here today, gone, for any reason, tomorrow.
Businesses of one
The message of today's workplace gurus is that we all need to become well-oiled self-promotion machines, stand-alone consultancy businesses of one. There's little room for personality types who don't fit that particular mold. Nor is there much room for the rich, informal, nonhierarchical socialization that can only take place in the workplace. What's missing is a workplace where each worker contributes his or her particular skill set to a whole that's larger than any one individual.
I wonder if there are any studies on businesses of one. I suspect that in the end they do less well than the corporations they're contracting with, environments where the risks are spread around. That is, after all, why corporations exist. The idea is that people with different but complementary skills getting together around a common purpose can do better than any one of them could do alone.
If atomizing every worker, if turning him or her into a self-interested company-of-one is the best solution, then we should get rid of corporations as we know them. Each company should farm out its sales, accounting, manufacturing, and maintenance to individual entrepreneurs. It should also outsource its executive jobs to for-hire management experts.
What's missing in this picture? There's no heart, no soul, no synergy, no center, no company character, no coherent, consistent narrative or mission other than the me-oriented narratives of the individual contractors. Such contractor/employees have little invested in the company, which will inevitably suffer as a result.
While contracting out some of the work may have its place, you can only do so much of it. The core work, which is everything from the high-level thinking, the vision, planning, and strategizing, down to the critically important point-of-contact with the customer, ultimately needs to be done by people who share the company ethic or vision and who are willing to take the leap of faith that's required any time you become dependent on others.
As a frequent critic of capitalism, I never thought I'd be singing the praises of old-fashioned, mid-Twentieth Century Fortune 500 companies.
Collective approaches to creating new wealth and concentrating existing wealth will survive the current fads.
We're all becoming the equivalent of Mary Kay salespeople. Everyone is betting that they can sell more to their neighbor than their neighbor will sell to them, thereby creating a positive individual balance of trade. What we have here is a classic Ponzi scheme, with the losers always greatly outnumbering the winners.
Unlike capital, labor cannot move at will across national borders. If I can work smarter or cheaper than someone in Ireland or Saudi Arabia or Sri Lanka, then why shouldn't I get the job? Or vice versa. Except by special arrangement, I can only sell my labor in the country of my birth, a choice I didn't make. This leaves labor stuck in a Nineteenth-Century economic model, when overseas trade was rare and every region sewed its own clothes, grew its own food, and built its own furniture. Returning to a local economy may have its points, but in the current global marketplace, labor is at a structural disadvantage to property.
We've reached the point where toasters have more freedom of movement than humans.
Cutbacks at home
Having been laid off, I needed to do away with many of my more frivolous expenses. For example, my cell phone, web site, purchases of new books and CD's, safe deposit box, apartment insurance, new eyeglasses every year or two, a new computer every few years, daily newspaper delivery, continuing education courses, desserts, living in a relatively safe, quiet building and neighborhood, and giving small amounts of money to charitable organizations. I also had to cut back sharply on my visits to the doctor, dentist, and therapist.
My only discretionary expense became DSL.
I ceased giving quarters to the homeless. Instead, I became my own charity of first importance.
How many people like me went from kindhearted supporter of charities to desperate client of the same organizations? What did that do to the business model that the charities are working under? My inability to buy my own commercial mailbox and guitar strings, and to go to the hairdresser instead of the barber, made me wonder who's designing this system. If I and others like me couldn't go to the movies, or subscribe to a magazine, or attend a trade show, then what does that do to the economy as a whole?
My first job
I started years ago as a mail clerk in an advertising agency. My wage was slightly above the legal minimum. I needed to share a loft with a coworker, but I was able to live in Manhattan. I wasn't rich, but I didn't feel poor, either. I went to concerts and movies whenever I felt like it. My bachelor diet consisted mainly of delicatessen and Chinese takeout food.
Let's look at some numbers. In 1970 the minimum wage in New York City was about $2.10. This is the equivalent in buying power of $11.69 in 2009, according to the Consumer Price Index. In 2009 the minimum wage in California, my current home, stands at $8.00, about 69% the buying power of the 1970 New York wages.
The numbers are about the same for federal minimum wage workers. The 1970 figure is $1.85, which is equivalent to $10.28 in 2009. Meanwhile, the federal minimum has risen only to $7.25, or 71% of 1970 wages.
The displaced worker
Still struggling with the fallout of the 1960s and 1970s, some in my generation continue to have a troubled relationship with the workplace. Many of us have spent the better part of our lives in a heroic, but ultimately doomed, struggle to pass ourselves off as young men and women on their way up.
One may look to cultural stereotypes and myths as a window into what's going on. For examples, the Vietnam vet who goes crazy and shoots up the neighborhood, or the Post Office lifer who goes nuts. Notice that most of these stereotypes have something to do with the workplace, which, for many, is nearly their whole life. To say that our relationship to the world of work is one of both love and hate doesn't do it full justice. More than love, we too often have an unhealthy degree of dependency on the workplace. And, as these persistent myths remind us, deep alienation and deadly violence lurk ominously just beneath the surface.
Trying to become more competitive in the marketplace, I went back to school and earned a bachelor's degree in math with the equivalent of a minor in computer science. Equally importantly, I got my start in the information technology business while in college by providing technical support for educational and scientific research projects.
After twelve years of full- and part-time work in IT, I never fully adjusted to being unemployed. I told myself to stay the course, to resist the temptation to get discouraged, and, above all, to keep plugging. Relentless, dogged persistence would pay off in the end.
I was wrong.
As time went on, I became less employable, my résumé became more dated, and my contacts more stale. Toward the end of my unemployment, I would give up on my job search about three or four times a day.
I once attended a job fair at PacBell (now AT&T) Park. At each of the thirty or forty booths, I asked what position or positions they were having the hardest time filling. I was trying to take a step back and learn more about what employers were looking for. The most frequent answer was sales. Whether it was working the floor at Home Depot or selling mutual funds for Fidelity, they wanted salespeople. (I imagine that most of these jobs were on commission — minimum risk for them, maximum risk for you.) Registered nurse was a strong second. In the post-9/11 world, military, police, and security organizations were well represented.
We live in the cybernetic age, the information age, which was supposed to set our creative talents free. We were going to shine as individuals as we created a less hierarchical, more democratic world, while earning a healthy income and buying ever more expensive homes in and around technology centers like Boston, San Francisco, and the Research Triangle.
We end up selling matchstick furniture at IKEA and living like worms in a can.
Homeful in Berkeley
I have yet to be homeless, but I now understand better what being in such a situation must feel like.
The first things I noticed about the Bay Area when I arrived in the mid-1990s were the exorbitant rents and the large number of homeless people. The third thing I noticed was that, amazingly, most of the homeful people I talked to saw little or no connection between the first two.
The homeless were on the street because they were lazy, or because they were crazy, or because they were drug addicts. The housing was expensive because that's the price you pay for living in such a desirable and socially enlightened (not to mention socially perceptive) environment.
Most people who were trying to stay alive by flipping burgers at $7 an hour couldn't come up with the $2,500 or so (first and last month's rent, plus security deposit) it cost then to move into their own apartment. Let alone buy a house.
You hear things like, "they" have mental health issues, "they" have drug problems, and so on. When you hear the word, "they," you know there's a problem. I now know that, by themselves, constant unemployment and homelessness can cause serious mental and physical illnesses, not just the other way around.
Most, but not all, of my relationships were strong enough to weather the storm. When you can't afford to call long distance, let alone travel, when you can't even afford to go out for coffee, it cuts back on your social and professional lives. And this is happening just when you most need your contacts and support system. A person "in transition" quickly uses up his savings and investments just trying to stay afloat.
But, you say, most people are of good will and will happily extend themselves in your direction when you're in need. Perhaps, but one must also consider that the terms of your relationships have shifted. Those who work with families know that changes in terms can cause problems in certain cases.
Denial is another problem. Most of my friends thought I was slacking or "holding out" for a better job offer when I would have welcomed any offer, no matter how humble. It's simply too frightening to contemplate the possibility that someone whose background is similar to yours could be facing long-term, grinding unemployment.
A chronically unemployed or underemployed person becomes radioactive. No one wants to be around him or touch him.
In this way, the job-search networking effort parallels the job interview process. In both ventures, failure leads to failure just as surely as success leads to success. Employers want to know why you've been unemployed, and can smell desperation a mile away.
Detroit in the Seventies
In the 1970s, factory layoffs hit the Rust Belt hard. Those of us who were then on the college track watched with detachment from the sidelines as the negative social indicators soared in the afflicted communities. Bankruptcy, foreclosure, spousal and child abuse, divorce, broken families, alcohol and drug abuse, teen pregnancy, homicide, suicide — the list goes on.
The good news for the younger, laid-off autoworkers was that there was a new industry coming along — computers — that promised to generate well-paying jobs as it revolutionized our work and play. In the early 1980s, computers were introduced into the workplace, and the buzz was that people my age needed to become comfortable with them, or risk becoming obsolete.
Looking back, the computer industry was oversold as a solution to America's job woes. We now know that those jobs can be off-shored just as quickly — perhaps even more quickly — as manufacturing jobs.
America in the Eighties & Nineties
By the mid-1980s, layoffs had begun to hit the professional classes. I remember reading a story in a Sunday newsmagazine about a middle-aged, college-educated man who had worked his way up to manager of a big department store. When the chain was bought, however, he suddenly found himself without a job. Not to worry. He was determined to treat his job search as if it were a full-time job in its own right. He rented an office and showed up there, dressed for work, every day. He signed up with placement agencies and did extensive research on the retail market and the companies in it. He sent out numerous résumés and individualized letters of introduction. Meanwhile, he continued as before with his volunteer and community activities.
Two years later, in a twist of fate, he took a job as a night watchman at the same store he had once run. It's funny how the mind plays tricks. He told himself that his new job was a good one, as he would finally be able to indulge his favorite hobby, reading.
We were told that the best career strategy was to become an "information worker." (I remember thinking, isn't this just a fancy way of saying "desk job"?) Manual labor had become commodified, sold overseas to the lowest bidder. The intellectual work that is needed to move the world economy from the Industrial Age to the Information Age, however, would always remain the domain of the intelligent, educated class.
Fiscal free fall
By the time W got his new job and I lost mine, I had the equivalent of six months of living expenses in a savings account and no credit card debt. With the exception of the occasional extended period of unemployment, I pay off my credit card balance in full each month. I don't go to the shopping mall.
I burned through my savings, then my 403(b) from UC. I was finally forced to put my rent and living expenses on my credit cards.
W's $300 tax rebate helped a little, but of course, it hurts us all in the end by adding to the already staggering national debt. We and our children will have to pay it all back eventually, with interest.
For the first time ever, I qualified for unemployment insurance. (There are many firsts in this story.) I received about $900 a month for six months, which almost covered the rent for my studio in El Cerrito. The insurance money helped, but what I needed was a job, any job.
My application for food stamps was denied because of a small 401(k) account from my temp agency, even though the rules state that pensions are not to be counted as household assets. The food stamps agency nevertheless blundered and I ended up receiving a $200 debit card for my first month's expenses. I quickly spent it without guilt.
I made it a rule never to sit at home awaiting a return call from a prospective employer. Over time, however, I became convinced that the best way to get a return call was to not be there to take it. I often broke the rule, but the phone never rang.
I was offered and took jobs that lasted a few weeks or months, but for four years I had no offers of full-time, open-ended work in my profession — that is, what used to be called a job. I knew I needed a new career. I believed, however, that my ability to change gears and start anew in a different field had been compromised. They said that biotech was the wave of the future. God save us from waves of the future. All I wanted was a j-o-b.
The calculations for a twenty-five-year-old are different from those of a fifty-five-year-old. Then you could justify the time and money needed to get an additional degree. Now you can't; the numbers simply aren't there.
I moved to a cheap rooming house in Berkeley with mostly undergraduate and graduate students. None of them were unemployed. Outside of the inner city or the poorest Native American reservations, perhaps, there was little in this country in the way of long-term unemployment among twenty-one-year-olds.
The job search
The job situation in the Bay Area in the early 2000s was poor. I read somewhere that out of a total of 400,000 jobs that were lost area-wide after the dot-com bust, upwards of 100,000 of them were in IT. The market was saturated with techies. One of my prospective employers told me that he had gotten 750 applications in the first few hours after posting a position on Craig's List. I was thrilled to be among the twenty-five or so who were selected to interview in person. That may have been the closest I came to getting a job.
I applied without luck for about ten jobs at UC Berkeley, my former employer, from computer jobs at my former grade level to custodian at People's Park. I also applied for about fifteen technical jobs at UC San Francisco, the medical research campus, which seemed to be doing more hiring than UCB.
I applied for a job at SLAC, the high-energy physics laboratory at Stanford University in Palo Alto. It's about two-and-a-half to three hours by public transportation from my house in Berkeley. I want it to be known that I'm always on time for appointments, especially interviews. Except this one time. I arrived forty-five minutes late and said something to the interviewer about how hard it had been to get a cab from the train station. He asked, "Don't you have a car?" and went on to say that having one was a requirement of the job. The interview lasted about one minute, and I started on my way back to Berkeley.
In all, I sent out about 330 applications, and interviewed about sixty times, thirty of them in person and thirty over the phone. My interview rate (two callbacks for every eleven applications) was in the ballpark for a tough job market. It was my job offer rate (zero) that was off the charts.
Anything you can do on a computer, which today is just about everything, can be off-shored. This is due in part to the efforts of those of us who worked in IT over the past decades. We're left with low-paying servant jobs that can't be off-shored: waiter, cab driver, security guard.
During your fifties, you're supposed to be at the peak of your earning power. You've finished your education and training, you've completed the entry-level work and junior apprenticeships. You've moved into a responsible position, and you're finally making some real money.
After much fruitless job-searching on my part, a worker at the state employment agency found me an internship at the City of Richmond Department of Engineering. It was a six-month position at eighteen dollars an hour without benefits, or a little less than two-thirds of what I had been making as a computer technician. For the first few months, my co-intern, another former computer technician, and I read and manually cataloged the legacy, paper engineering maps for the city's wastewater system. We rarely touched a computer.
Eventually we found ourselves on the streets of the city confirming the location and specifications of the underground water and sewer pipes that the engineers were unsure of. It was a dangerous, messy job. I hated working in city traffic and being up to my wrists in poo-poo every day without health insurance. I'm ashamed to admit that I ended up throwing a tantrum in front of my boss's boss over the health insurance issue. He fired me on the spot. My first-ever firing for cause.
As I said, there many firsts in this story.
I was back on unemployment, but this time at only $500 a month. The local employment center did, however, find me some money for a couple of Linux classes.
The multiple-career career
Career counseling centers emphasize the point that in the future people will have five or six different careers. No more gold watch after forty years with the company. If you or a loved one has a serious medical or legal problem, do you call someone who was in a different business last year? Do you want your taxes done by someone who was a 911 operator last year? Do you want your best suit or dress altered by someone who was installing air conditioning equipment last year?
Who benefits when workers are required to train and retrain for multiple careers? It doesn't seem to be the worker.
Who benefits when the workers themselves are required to pay for their own continuing education for each career change? Again, it doesn't seem to be the worker.
Another trouble with changing careers every few years is that you end up with few, if any, benefits. Medical and dental care, vacation and sick time, and pensions aren't frills. If your employer isn't paying for them, then you have to pay out of your own pocket. It wasn't just that I couldn't afford to buy my own health insurance while I was unemployed, all of the insurance companies licensed to operate in the state refused to sell it to me at any price.
It seems that the only way for an older person to survive the Charles Darwin health care system is to be in a risk-sharing insurance pool with younger, healthier people.
When you start a new job with most companies, you have to wait about a year or so for vacation and sick time to kick in, two or three years for company pension payments to start, and five years or more to become fully vested.
I learned that no matter how many career-enhancement meetings you attend, no matter how much networking you do, no matter how many New-Age motivational seminars you attend, you're all alone in the end with your misery and your shame.
For example, I had trouble telling my family that, due to a lack of funds, I couldn't attend a much-anticipated reunion on the East Coast.
Year after year the press reported that the economy and the job market were going to turn around within the next six months. It was as if there were two Americas. The America of the haves, the one that's presented in the media as, if not our own lives, then at least the life we all aspire to live. The other America is the one we experience daily as we hit the streets in a vain attempt to find work. To be fair, one or two journalists did have the guts to go against the editorial grain and point out the obvious fact that the gap between rich and poor, between the employed and the unemployed or underemployed, is growing all the time. The rest, however, did not.
People versus statistics
I'm no scientist and even less of an economist, but I did take a little math in school. I've struggled hard with the issue of the single data point. It's at once all-important in science and statistics, and yet not important at all. Most of the time, a researcher can safely ignore any single data point. After all, it might be anomalous. Yet, at the same time, all meaningful analysis depends in the end on individual data points like yours and mine.
Take the so-called official unemployment rate, which in better times is usually around five percent. If you read the fine print, however, you discover that this figure only measures those who are actively looking for work. The figure for all those who are without work is about double that — ten percent.
There's a reason that for every active job seeker there's another who has stopped looking. There are times when looking for work is a waste of time, energy, and resources. Especially when there's little or nothing out there, even for qualified people, in the way of good jobs that pay a living wage.
Keep in mind that those of us who are unemployed or underemployed are performing an important but unremunerated function in this economy. By not working, but by remaining on the sidelines, willing at a moment's notice to step in and underbid other workers, we help to keep labor costs down and company profits up. The current economy couldn't function without us.
The so-called market economy assumes mathematical fluidity and frictionlessness. It fails to take into account that, for most workers, there's a greater difference between having no job at all and working at a sub-living wage, than there is between working at a sub-living wage and working at a living wage. The curve is discontinuous (more precisely, undifferentiable) at the point of being able to meet one's most basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't help getting emotionally involved in my job search. The search process, consisting as it does of custom-tailored résumés, company research, and personal statements, requires you to put yourself mentally, and to a certain extent emotionally, into the position you're applying for.
I simply got tired of beating myself up. I thought I had given my search a reasonable amount of time, energy, and resources of both the financial and the emotional kind.
If you don't think people get emotionally involved in their work, just ask any trucker about the fine points of driving, or where to find the best slice of pie on I-5. They can go on for hours. The reasons are complex, and they go well beyond the scope of any purely economic analysis.
Truckers correctly believe that they are the bloodstream of the economy.
It's too simplistic to say that people work only for the money. On the contrary, they have a deep need to feel that they're contributing something to the whole.
The transition industry
The educational, training, counseling, therapeutic, self-help, and transitionary industries focus most, if not all, of their attention on trying to get you to fit into the existing, calamity-prone system of enforced inequities. They spend almost no time trying to remake our workplaces to better fulfill our needs. Such as, for example, meaningful work in a safe workplace, with a living compensation package. Top-down approaches to concentrating wealth in private hands (such as corporations) are all the rage, while democratic efforts (such as private-sector unions) to improve the lives of ordinary people are ridiculed as passé and driven to near-extinction.
Living & dying in the USA
The living wage in San Francisco is about twelve to thirteen dollars per hour with benefits or fourteen to fifteen dollars without. (In contrast, the official minimum wage in the city is $8.86, no benefits required.) My definition of a living wage is a simple one: it's the line that divides those who tend to accumulate wealth over their lifetimes, and those who do not. People who work every day of their lives, and yet die with little more than a few personal effects in the midst of the greatest wealth ever assembled in one place, are the modern equivalent of slaves.
Working for a Fortune 500 company
After four years of fruitless effort, I gave up on the professional networking game and applied on-line for a menial job at Macy's. Within a few days and without the help of any contacts inside or outside the company, I finally reached my level of incompetence, a greeter at their flagship Union Square store.
Shortly after starting to work there, I learned that a stockroom employee with forty years of service had tragically been beaten to death in a nearby flea hotel in the Tenderloin. Other than theft, how can one explain how a person who has done that much work could die with nothing?
Someone at my union calculated that the executive bonuses at Macy's that year could pay for dental care for something like 40,000 workers. This is the reduction to the absurd of the current system.
When you raise the question of high executive salaries, the answer you get back is "competition." They say that to get the "best people," they have to pay at least what their competition is paying. That is, the laws of economics require that executive salaries be greater than or equal to those of the competition. If they don't pay the executives the higher salary, then the competition will outbid the company for their services.
The multipurpose terms "competition" and "supply and demand" are the same answers given when one asks why our wages are so low. We're told that the laws of economics require that they be less than or equal to the wages of our competitors. As if no one wants a great job with great perquisites; the demand is only for starvation-wage jobs with few benefits. If they don't pay the worker a lower wage, then the competition will gain an economic advantage.
From the supply side, we were supposed to believe that the economy was creating relatively many high-level executive jobs, thus driving salaries higher as companies competed for an ever-shrinking pool of candidates. (Ha!) At the other end of the compensation spectrum, the economy was supposedly creating relatively few minimum-wage jobs, thus depressing wages as legions of eager workers bid the price down. (Ha!)
Anyone who has recently done a serious job search knows that the bulk of the job creation is at the bottom of the scale, yet the bulk of the compensation is at the top.
A highly compensated executive belongs to a class of assets that includes, not entirely inappropriately, fine art, classic cars, vintage wines, and the equity shares of his or her own company — assets whose perceived value goes up as the price goes up. Meanwhile, the perceived value of low-paid workers in such mission-critical professions as teachers or daycare workers continues to fall as their real compensation falls.
Retirement by the numbers
The mutual fund company where I have my 401(k) account offers an on-line retirement calculator. Had I not been laid off at Macy's, I would have been able to retire in my late seventies with eighty percent of my income while working, including Social Security. Had I stayed at UCB, however, I could have retired by now at roughly twice the income I was earning while working full-time at Macy's.