Doyle’s wife, Dianne, had become the one with the bigger paycheck after he had left his job as an auto dealership sales manager about seven years earlier, and the bank that employed her had always been the source of insurance benefits for the Windham, Conn., family.
Then, in October 2012, just two months after Mark was laid off, Dianne was one of about 160 people around the Northeast who was laid off from her banking job. Dianne, who is 58, had worked at the bank for 20 years, and had worked her way up from teller to area manager.
“That was … God … that was really hard,” Dianne Doyle recalled. “I was in shock. Mark was a little bit in shock, too.”
Six months later, the Doyles are both still hunting for work, despite a brightening employment outlook. April’s job report showed unemployment fell to 7.5 percent, only a few percentage points above a relatively healthy unemployment rate of 5 percent.
While more than 10 percent of U.S. families in 2012 had one unemployed family member, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, married couples who were simultaneously unemployed were far less common. During 2012, an average of 216,000 married couples, nationally, were both unemployed at any given point.
That’s down a third from 2010, but nearly three times as high as it was in 2007, when the recession began.
Rutgers University’s Carl Van Horn, a professor of public policy who wrote “Working Scared (Or Not at All),” said that most people who are out of work for more than six months get by with help from a spouse and unemployment insurance.
Van Horn said when women started entering the labor market in larger numbers in the 1970s and 1980s, “it provided a cushion against the volatility of the labor market.”
“Obviously when both people lose a job … it’s a double problem,” Van Horn said.
Although the most recent jobs report shows that the gradual recovery is continuing to grind on _ the nation’s employers added 165,000 jobs in April _ the Doyles are still looking.
“The financial part didn’t even sink in right away,” Dianne Doyle said, recalling the day she was downsized. “I really thought it would be fairly easy to find a job.”
Dianne Doyle receives $547 weekly in unemployment compensation. Insurance for the pair costs $1,000 per month, and their medications are another $600. Her husband doesn’t collect unemployment compensation, because he was considered an independent contractor.
Mark Doyle spent six months trying to get out of sales and return to his first career, in nonprofit management. He was the director of a YMCA before he became a car salesman, and he has spent most of his adult life serving the community, on the school board, on the Windham town council and in other volunteer leadership roles.
Even though he had some interviews, he had to accept going back into sales and has had a few job interviews there as well. He and his wife are determined to return to work and both expect to work until 70 to make up for this setback. Dianne Doyle will have a pension that covers her working years, but Mark Doyle dipped into his 401(k) savings, and they estimate it’s down to $30,000.
Van Horn said researchers at Rutgers’ Heldrich Center for Workforce Development did a national survey of the long-term unemployed in this recession. He said about half of them gave up, and took Social Security at 62, which lowers monthly payments by a third. The rest said they expected to work longer once they do return to work.
“This is going to put a significant dent in whatever their retirement future was,” Van Horn said of both groups. “The prime savings period for most people is the 10 years before 65.” That’s when they’re done raising their children, and often, pay off the mortgage, and so can put the money toward retirement, he said.
Up in Enfield, Conn., Carol and John Censki haven’t even been getting nibbles as they’ve applied for jobs since 2011. John, 63, is among those who decided to take Social Security benefits early and stopped actively looking for a job this year.
“There’s a point where I got discouraged and depressed and had no motivation,” John Censki said.
They never did.
“It’s just a sad situation, and it’s very difficult for those folks to manage,” said Van Horn, of Rutgers. “Most of our social safety net policies weren’t designed for a labor market recession that lasted this long. Of all the age groups, the folks who have the greatest difficulty getting re-employed are over the age of 55.”
The Doyles and the Censkis were both near the midpoint of income of Connecticut families before the recession. The Censkis have substantially more income than the Doyles now, but are struggling more.
Their modest Enfield house’s mortgage and utilities, along with prescriptions and a car loan, were higher than their income even the first two years after the buyout, when Carol worked 20 to 25 hours a week at $25 an hour for the state. She retired when they were carrying some credit card debt, and in the past three years, ran up more than $20,000 in balances. Now that debt is making things worse. “All my credit cards got maxed out to keep up with things,” Carol said. “It was a really dumb move.”
John sold possessions to try to keep their heads above water. “I sold all my quality tools, my cameras, my fishing equipment, my guns, a coin collection. I had comic books. I had sports cards. Anything of value I had, I sold. I even sold my lawn mower. I push now instead of drive.”
“I have cut back on some medications that I can’t afford the co-pay,” he said. He stopped taking a pill for indigestion, for depression and for his thyroid. “All of them are expensive.”
Carol, whose health care premium costs are just $64 a month to cover her husband, looked at him in surprise and concern. “I didn’t know this,” she said.
Their Chevrolet Malibu was recently repossessed, and Carol’s unemployment checks stopped March 19. Carol said they need $400 more a week than the pension and Social Security provide.
“We’ve lived large, and now we’re paying the price,” she said.