The Wall Street Journal
By: Dennis Nishi
April 24, 2011
After sending out 100 résumés and getting no responses, Joel Lueck, 52, took a part-time job at a Harris Teeter grocery store making $8 an hour. He had earned nearly $100,000 a year as a network engineer at Nortel Networks in Raleigh, N.C., before he was laid off in 2008, a year before the Canadian network-equipment provider declared bankruptcy.
People told me that I would have been better off to just use that time to find a job. But, it was a night shift job. I still got up in the morning and got on the computer and sent [résumés and job applications] out. I stayed busy and [the job] kept my spirits up," says Mr. Lueck, who recently landed a project-management job at Verizon in Raleigh.
The unemployment rate continues to trickle downward, but there are still 6.1 million jobless individuals who have been out of work for 27 or more weeks, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Experts blame part of the trend on how employers view idle workers. People who have been out of work for a year or longer are less likely to be hired, which is why more people are taking low-wage jobs to get by. But downscaling your life to fit a minimum wage takes some serious preparation, says Robert Wilson, a certified public accountant and investment adviser at Wealthcare Capital Management in Richmond, Va.
Assess your finances as soon as possible to determine how far you can go without resorting to credit-card cash advances and bankruptcy. Mark the cutoff points on your budget and be brutally honest about future prospects. Don't burn through your savings waiting for the perfect job.
With an annual minimum wage of $13,920 before taxes (Georgia and Wyoming) to $16,646.40 (Washington state), the key to surviving is dropping your fixed costs. "It sounds obvious, but people get pretty emotional about holding on to their homes, cars and big assets for too long. And they end up losing everything. Selling your house should not be the final decision you make," says Mr. Wilson.
Sonia Graham, 44, and her husband lost their house trying to keep their Vista, Calif., consulting business afloat. "By the time we had realized we were in deep trouble, it was too late. I wish we had set up a reserve that was untouchable," says Ms. Graham, who took an $8-an-hour job selling tickets at the Legoland theme park in nearby Carlsbad.
Try finding low-wage work that can help your career in some way. If you've worked as an interior designer, for example, taking a job as a sales associate at Home Depot can allow you to use your design skills to advise customers. The job may also lead to higher paying and potentially career-worthy work within the company like supervisor, buyer or corporate marketer. Just being inside a new workplace can open new opportunities to advance or change careers and it can be spun positively on résumés.