The Carrs envision going into the renovation business part-time to supplement their income and hedge against the vagaries of a housing and job market that — while smiling on them now — could turn hostile and leave them jobless again.
“There’s no loyalty anywhere,” said Mr. Carr, adding that while he believes his current job is safe, there are no guarantees. Madsen already laid him off temporarily last year after a project he was working on was completed.
“One of the things we realize after all this — I’m not counting on my employer” any more, said Mrs. Santo. Even though things are going well this year, “who knows what my employer could decide. They could lay me off tomorrow,” she said.
“Jobs will never be secure like they were in the 1950s and 1960s when people were getting their pensions and gold watches” at the end of a life-long career at one company.
Bearing the brunt
Workers like the Carrs in construction, housing finance and real estate sales bore the brunt of the housing collapse and Great Recession, and the reverberations continue to shake their world today. For the millions of workers in those industries, the unemployment rate remains well above the 8.3 percent national average.
Workers in construction, with an unemployment rate of 13 percent, have the highest rate of joblessness of any major U.S. industry today.
While the housing market was the first to plummet into recession in 2007 and 2008, it has been the last sector to eke out a grudging recovery this year. Most workers in the industry long ago exhausted their 99 weeks of jobless benefits and are living on what little work that comes available. While many have chosen to wait out the storm, some have sought jobs in other areas.
Jim Lowman, a tiler who lives in Ocean City, Md., has gone through long spells of unemployment. He’s taken odd jobs that come open in the resort town, but the pickings have been slim. He’s had to accept contract wages far below what he feels he’s worth, and blames the deplorable state of depressed wages on Hispanic workers, willing to do jobs for only a fraction of what Americans get paid.
Migrant laborers from Mexico and central America often took the lowest-paid jobs as day-laborers on construction sites during the boom. While the dearth of jobs since 2007 has prompted many to return to their home countries, others continue to find work, often at wages around the $7.25 minimum wage that Americans like Mr. Lowman and Mr. Carr would refuse.
“I don’t know how anybody can live on that,” Mr. Lowman said.
Without a steady job in sight, Mr. Lowman has considered moving to Hawaii, where opportunities for housing workers are more plentiful. He was in Hawaii during the housing boom and always made a lot of money because of his connection with a developer there. But he’s held back from relocating because his wife has a job waiting tables in Ocean City and wants to stay near her family in Baltimore.
A battered American Dream
The historic 2008 crisis devastated the lives of workers and businesses in the housing field, but its reach was far broader than that. The housing boom had enabled a record 70 percent of U.S. households to purchase and own their homes, fulfilling an important part of the American Dream. When the bust hit, only a minority of Americans were left untouched by the unprecedented drop in home values of more than a third.
Like a spinning vortex, the crisis dragged down the wealth and financial security of hundreds of millions of people in middle-class families who had invested nearly everything in their homes. Nearly a third of households were left with more debt than their homes were worth. These people are stuck in houses to this day that they would have to sell at a loss, making it very difficult for them to move or relocate to take a new job. Many can’t even take advantage of record low 30-year mortgage rates under 4 percent to refinance and lighten their debt loads because they have no equity in their homes to show the bank.View Entire Story
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