Meet John Eller. Five years ago, he was a Sprint executive earning $150,000 for managing 7,000 employees at 13 call centers. Today, he’s a grocery store baker making $10 an hour. The Times tells us he’s not the only former executive now working for minimum wage.
Interviews with more than two dozen laid-off professionals across the country, including architects, former sales managers and executives who have taken on lower-paying, stop-gap jobs to help make ends meet, found that they were working for places like U.P.S., a Verizon Wireless call center and a liquor store. For many of the workers, the psychological adjustment was just as difficult as the financial one, with their sense of identity and self-worth upended.
“It has been like peeling back the layers of a bad onion,” said Ame Arlt, 53, who recently accepted a position as a customer-service representative at an online insurance-leads referral service in Franklin, Tenn., after 20 years of working in executive jobs. “With every layer you peel back, you discover something else about yourself. You have to make an adjustment.”
Some people had exhausted their jobless benefits, or were ineligible; others said it was impossible for them to live on their unemployment checks alone, or said it was a matter of pride, or sanity, that drove them to find a job, any job.
In just one illustration of the demand for low-wage work, a spokesman for U.P.S. said the company saw the number of applicants this last holiday season for jobs sorting and delivering packages almost triple to 1.4 million from the 500,000 it normally receives.
It’s nothing new, but it shows just how far anyone can fall. Something to keep in mind next time you’re talking to a customer service representative.
“It has been the hardest thing in my life,” said Arlt. “It has been harder than my divorce from my husband. It has really been even worse than the death of my mother.”