Monday, March 9, 2009

Pause for Real Life

I try to avoid "heavy" topics here at Odi et Amo because, well, don't we get enough of that on the news all day long? But ultimately, I feel like the longer I remain mute on the subject of the economic crisis, the more I begin to resemble an ostrich with its head in the sand, unwilling or perhaps even unable to face reality head-on.

On Saturday, one of my favorite blogs Decorno asked its readers to discuss how the current economic crisis has affected them personally (if at all). The comments are fascinating -- and I think a much better barometer for gauging "reality" than the overly-caffeinated CNN and Fox News correspondents. I urge you to head over to Decorno (click here) and check out the discussion for yourself. It just might change your perspective on things a little. As for me, it made me realize how lucky Dave and I are at the moment.

The effects of the economic meltdown have only recently begun to set in here in Houston. Sure, Houstonians lost money in the market along with the rest of the country, but until the price of oil plummeted last fall, we were still sitting pretty (relatively, anyway) in 2008. Moreover, Houston (and Texas generally) never really had a housing bubble that could burst to begin with. Accordingly, the patio home we purchased in 2006 is still worth more than we paid for it.

That's not to say Dave and I have been untouched by the crisis in our day-to-day lives. Dave works for a large oil field services company (we'll call it OFS, for short) that has gone through not one but two major layoffs since last summer. Fortunately for us, Dave has been spared thus far. But even small changes have been noticed around the office. OFS has slashed budgets across the board, bonuses, and even suspended the plant watering services and the office candy jars -- the latter much to Dave's chagrin. Back in the 1980s, OFS even resorted to suspending janitorial services (gross). Given Dave's employment at OFS, we, like much of Houston, are in the rather unique position of wanting oil and natural gas prices to rebound.

As for me, Energy Company continues to struggle (the economic losses we suffered due to Hurricane Ike and some other power industry-related issues were staggering) and the tight credit markets have only exacerbated the situation. Last week, Energy Company announced a sale of half of its business to a competitor, and I will be leaving (along with about 1300 other employees) to go work for this competitor. All in all, the sale was a good thing, not just for Energy Company, but for the transferred employees. We're all keeping our jobs, and in a major equity sale, that's highly unusual. I will say, for the record, that I have been incredibly impressed by Energy Company's treatment of its employees every step of the way. Employees were guaranteed at least 50% of their target 2008 annual bonuses and received nominal salary increases this year while officers and SVPs received their actual earned bonuses and no pay bumps. All these moves may not have made shareholders happy (Energy Company's stock has lost 95% of its value since its high in July 2008), but its kept its employees loyal, something I think is far more important in the long run.

If you feel like sharing, let me know how things have been for you. We're in this together, after all, and the bad times are always easier when the burden is shared (and we allow ourselves at least a little opportunity to bitch).


Brooke said...

Ugh, that Decorno post was quite depressing. I'm still going strong on my sub-poverty line income as a grad student, but it's guaranteed for at least five more years. Hopefully the economy will have turned by then, and since I'm lucky enough to have a strong department supporting me, I'll be okay on the job market then. But right now, the major worry is paying for a wedding when my wedding savings just lost half their worth...

Lauren said...

I hear what you're saying on feeling lucky. Erin is fortunate to have the support of some big guns at her company, so she has survived the rounds of layoffs. The firm was also really modest in its hiring when everyone else was bringing in 20+ associates per year, so I think most of our jobs are pretty safe too. I definitely know people who are getting laid off right now, though, and it totally sucks.

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