Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Coping with a Pay Cut

A poignant article from the Times: Still on the Job, But at Half the Pay.

The dark blue captain’s hat, with its golden oak-leaf clusters, sits atop a bookcase in Bryan Lawlor’s home, out of reach of the children. The uniform their father wears still displays the four stripes of a commercial airline captain, but the hat stays home. The rules forbid that extra display of authority, now that Mr. Lawlor has been downgraded to first officer. He is now in the co-pilot’s seat in the 50-seat commuter jets he flies, not for any failure in skill. He wears his captain’s stripes, he explains, to make that point. But with air travel down, his employer cut costs by downgrading 130 captains, those with the lowest seniority, to first officers, automatically cutting the wage of each by roughly 50 percent — to $34,000 in Mr. Lawlor’s case.
But here's some bits that disturbed me:
“I don’t want to be a 50-year-old pilot earning $40,000 a year,” he said, adding that his wife does not want to be married to a pilot with so little earning power.
That seems a bit harsh, don't you think? From the rest of the article, the wife doesn't really seem to be taking that view-- she's worried about their loss of income but she also gives her husband kudos for helping out more around the house when he's working less. They're stressed out, as anyone would be, but it's not sounding like she's ready to divorce him if he doesn't get a raise.

Another quote that bothered me:

Bryan and Tracy Lawlor, who is also 34, have hidden their straitened circumstances from their four young children, mainly at his insistence. But as their savings dwindle, Christmas, a key indicator in the Lawlor family, will mean fewer presents this year. The Lawlors have made a practice of piling on toys and new clothes for their children at Christmas, buying relatively less the rest of the year. That will make a cutback noticeable this holiday season, and the parents are concerned that their children will begin to realize why.

“You don’t want to see disappointment on their faces; that makes me feel horrible,” Mr. Lawlor said. “You can be the best pilot in the airline and make the best landings, and in their eyes, I am not going to be as important as I was.”

I don't mean to criticize this guy-- he's in a tough spot, one that I can't claim to have been in myself. I do know how much fun it can be to give my niece and nephew presents, and I can imagine how my heart would sink if they seemed disappointed. But it's just sad that he seems to place all his self-esteem in his earning power and ability to shower his children with presents. I hope he doesn't really think his kids and his wife only respect and love him because of his rank and salary.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

It seems that HE does place all of his self-esteem in his rank and salary. Note in paragraph two, HE said that his wife didn't want to married to someone with little earning power.

It's a sad story. I think he should tell his kids what's going on, and that Christmas will be one with less gifts instead of pretending that everything is fine.

-Tasha

Anonymous said...

My own self-worth is not based entirely on my job or income, but it can be really, really hard to take a step back down the ladder. My family moved to a new city just over three years ago, and I was only able to find work as a contract employee (I've been in the same "temp" job for 2+ years). While my previous job wasn't exactly prestigious, it's been extremely difficult to adjust to a lower income, and to having no benefits. Vacation days? Sick days? Ancient history. And if I'm feeling down about anything else, it's easy to also slide into job malaise as well, even with "I'm lucky to even HAVE this job!" to fall back on.

Gord said...

The husband is defining himself by his job success. It's a common trap. When you die, how do want to be remembered? "Oh he was a great pilot, but never got to know his kids and was bit of a jerk" or "Great guy, he was such a good Dad, always at their games etc. I think he was a pilot or something, not sure."

Kids, even young ones, need to be participants in what is essentially a temporary family crisis. The economy will eventually improve and he'll be the pilot again. The kids will buy into it. It's an adventure. At least these parents can spend more time with their kids, isn't that a great gift?

bromoney said...

I agree gord. I tie my own success with how happy I am. Of course that's tied to lots of things and being good at my job is a piece of it, but certainly not everything. There's more to life than work.

Sallie's Niece said...

I feel for the guy but he comes across as having a sense of entitlement that bugs me. He has no problem accepting expensive gifts from family. And oh no, they can't have a fifth child?!

Zyzzyx said...

First... its somewhat deceptive to say 'half the pay'. Yeah, his pay was cut in half, but not what the family has overall. His wife is still making $40k. Still, a 30% cut is quite significant. But overall, sorry, not much sympathy here. Sounds like they fell into the 'buy more, spend more, to live more' trap of the recent past. His pay doubled, and they rather quickly succumbed to some serious lifestyle inflation.

Sicilian said...

It is hard to live on less. . . . . it can be done, but not fun . . . . . Men tend to value themselves by their earnings. . . . . my boss bragged to me 2 days after I met him that he had not made less than 6 figures since 1996. . . . . yet he just cut off his wife from all the credit cards because she has accumulated 35,000 in debt.
It isn't what you make. . . . my father says. . . . it's what you spend that is important.
I think they'll be fine, and he can join the rest of us who earn about the same money. I am glad to have a job. . . .I am glad to have benefits. . . . . I know it could be worse.
Ciao

bugbear said...

Why not include the children in a monthly going over of the family budget so they get a financial education and also have an appreciation for what money their family has available and for the choices that are made? This seems like a much better idea than basically shielding them from material knowledge of their economic circumstances. I know some families do include the kids in the family financial talks to some degree, which sounds like a great idea, and one that was definitely not followed in my family at all. We kids knew *nothing* of family financial matters or the family financial position.

frugal zeitgeist said...

I do think that defining oneself by job success is a common characteristic among men. (I'm not a guy and I'm guilty of it as well.) My SO is likely to get laid off in the next month and he's really suffering with how it's hurting his self-image. All I can do is love the guy and help him keep going.

Financial Samurai said...

Seems like there are many people getting pay RAISES no? Look at the WSJ article today about record high bonuses for 2009.

Anonymous said...

If you look in the editor's choice section of the comments, you'll see that he was misquoted (he wrote a long response)- his wife never said she didn't want to be married to someone making so little.

In fact, judging from his follow up comments, their family sounds pretty healthy despite what has happened to them.

Crystal said...

I understand salary disappointment, but unless he is willing to look for another job right now, I see a tight budget in their future. It sucks to have such a huge pay cut. My salary has simply been frozen for the last two review periods, and I'm frustrated. I can only imagine how angry I'd be at a pay cut since my position is already underpaid by thousands...

Maybe he can make the best of it by dealing with the new lower income now and then putting all the extra income into savings when he gets a pilot's salary again. It also implies he gets to spend more time with his family...that would be a huge benefit for alot of people. :)

Amy K. said...

With an income of $74,000/yr and mortgage payments of $2,000/month, plus taxes an insurance, housing is now more than half their income. I can see why they chose the vasectomy, and are accepting help from family.

I agree that they can't keep hiding the situation from the kids, but I'm not sure how you break it to a 7 and 10 yr old, much less the younger two. I think bringing it up earlier will set realistic expectations for Christmas.

Mr. Findep Man said...

As a single man in Manhattan who has recently had his position eliminated and transferred to another sister company with a nearly 20% pay cut, I can in a way understand their frustrations.

I do, however, think that I am lucky (as is the folks in the article) to still have a job.

My position has seen two review periods that garnered no increase so I am essentially taking more than a total 20% paycut. It is a sign of the times.

I think the worst thing that they are doing is hiding the situation from their children. If would have known as a child, what I know now I probably would have made better financial decisions in my late teens and early twenties. I think that is a huge issue with Americans these days and in the recent past. We shielded our children so much that they became immune to the realities of an economy such as ours with it's ebs and flows.

Robert said...

Paycuts suck, but they're better than layoffs. It's best to look for something else WHILE you're working.

Anonymous said...

kids notice a lot more than adults sometimes like to believe. May as well come clean and tell them the truth, it's better for all involved

In The Money said...

It's sad that he puts so much emphasis on his earning power. It's hard enough to take a pay cut, but when you put so much of your self worth in your salary, it's going to hurt more.

Don said...

I can imagine the airline industry is getting a double whammy these days.

1st.) People are flying less because of the economy...

2nd.) The H1N1 flu has decreased flight too (thanks in part to Joe Biden's comment)

As for the pilot's relationship with his wife, perhaps there are other issues and she (or he) is on the fence on that topic already...

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Madame X and had the same issues while reading that article. He sounds like a challenge to be around to begin with and seems like his self esteem is in question with a statement like "his wife does not want to be married to a pilot with so little earning power". There was no clue in the article that she was planning on leaving him --although I bet if she did -- it wouldn't be because of how much he made but instead how he handles it.

I also think there's no benefit in the long run hiding it from the kids. They know. They feel the pressure -- just be straight with them. What are you teaching them by hiding it??

Ge Miller said...

Poor guy needs a break from his wife and needs to give himself a break. You know what, the kids will get over not getting thousands of dollars worth of gifts this Christmas. They're kids, they don't stress out like we do.

Best Savings Account Rates said...

This is very emotional story. Pay cut is the worst thing to handle. I think they need to be strong to overcome through it and let there kids know about it.

livingwithcommoncents said...

I think it's pretty clear that he does tie it all to his salary and rank, but I think a lot of men feel that way.

I know that my father felt that way when we fell on hard times back when I was growing up. Despite everything being out of his control, as with this pilot, he felt that he was letting us down in some way.

I think he should be honest with his children about the situation -- my parents thought it was best to not say anything, but my siblings and I found out through context anyway.

Mr. Findep Man said...

As Robert advised, I continued to look for another job while I was in my new role. I was fortunate enough to be contacted by a much larger, well known media company to begin working with them.

The wait was short, my efforts persistent and it paid off - with an increase from the position I had been laid-off from. I start on Monday and am looking forward to it!

Keep these interesting and relevant articles coming, Madame X!

Mr. Findep Man
www.financiallyindependentinmanhattan.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

This guy needs to read "Fate is the Hunter" by Ernest K. Gann. Gann was a pilot at American Airlines in the late 30's, was promoted to captain and had to step back to first officer when a bad slump hit the line. That was 80years ago and it is still happening.

Also kids know more than you think, my thinking is to level with them, they will find out anyway.

In addition my eyes kept me from even considering an aviation career, so I am not too sorry for him.