Three years ago, employees were being rewarded for their years of loyalty to a particular company with raises, promotions and increasing amounts of paid leave. Today, those workers who are lucky enough to avoid being laid off are rewarded for their years of service with big pay cuts and spikes in the cost of their health care.
"My company didn't eliminate my job, they just eliminated my salary," wrote marketing creative director Mike Cheaure in an email to HuffPost. "I was back at work as a freelancer the next day working at 1/4 the pay and no benefits."
Cheaure, 45, said that after losing his health benefits, he had to borrow $32,000 out of his 401K and drain his savings to pay for his autistic son's therapy.
"For us, the American dream is gone," he said. "Now its just getting by. College? Retirement? House equity? Security? Gone."
Michael Giannini, 52, is in a similar boat. He says he has been working for a regional transit company for almost 23 years and was promoted to transportation supervisor in 2003, a management position with a 4-day, 10-hour-a-day schedule that allowed him to help his wife with her real estate business part-time. But this year, he said, his paid leave was taken away, his salary was frozen for another four years, his health insurance plan became more expensive and he was required to take at least 15 unpaid furlough days this year, which amounts to a $7,500 salary cut.
Adding insult to injury, when the housing market turned, his wife Roseann says she went from making about $35,000 a year as a real estate agent to bringing in only $16,000 in 2009. After nurturing their careers for over 20 years and and purchasing a home together in Rocklin, California, the Gianninis found themselves filing for bankruptcy in a last-ditch attempt to save their house.
"Money was getting tighter and tighter, and I was paying everything on my own and it was getting almost suffocating. We decided to put our pride in our pocket and file bankruptcy." Giannini said. "I know that a lot of people have it much worse, so I shouldn't complain. But I never expected to file bankruptcy in my lifetime. We had good credit, I've been super responsible, I've never been late on a bill payment. It just makes me ashamed and embarrassed to have to go through that."
Giannini said he tried to get a loan modification on his house, but IndyMac Bank (now OneWest) has been less than helpful. He worries that he and his wife will be evicted any day now.
"They wont do anything to keep us in our homes. They'll force us out and sell it to someone for cheaper, when they could have just reduced our payments and allowed us to stay," he said. "We're not the only ones being treated like a stepchild, and the government isn't doing anything to make these lenders work with us. I look at the backyard I worked on for two months and planted all these beautiful trees, and it just makes me sad. We put so much into this, and these bankers look at us like we're scumbags."
Roseann, a self-employed realtor, said she sees other families going through the same thing every day.
"To see families broken apart, seeing them not know where they're going to go is just really disheartening," she said. "The banks treat people's homes as a commodity."
Michael Gianninis say he isn't sure where they will go after they lose their house.
"We'll probably be looking for a place to rent," he said. "It makes my blood boil."
How have you been coping with the recession? Send your stories to Lbassett@huffingtonpost.com.