Money and Main Street

Cut my pay ... please!

As the number of layoffs mount, more workers are ready and willing to take significant pay cuts to find employment.

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By Jessica Dickler, CNNMoney.com staff writer

rebecca_eason.03.jpg
Rebecca Eason settled for making 40% less, but says it will not suffice in the long term.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Finding work in this recession takes determination, perseverance and, most of all, sacrifice.

With unemployment as high as 9.4% and job prospects scarce, job seekers are willing to accept as little as half of what they were making before, if it means finding a job.

In a recent survey, 65% of out-of-work respondents reported willingness to accept wages up to 30% lower than their previous compensation. And, 3% and 4%, respectively, said they would accept up to 40% and 50% of prior wages, according to the 2009 Annual Career Fair Survey released by Next Steps Career Solutions.

"In the old days people would expect to get at least a 10%-15% bump when they were making a transition from this job to the next," said Paul Bernard, an executive coach and career management adviser who runs his own firm. Now, "being asked to take cuts in the 20%+ range is pretty standard."

That was true for Rebecca Eason, who used to make a comfortable $33,000-a-year living in Tennessee. After losing her job as an office manager for a steel company, Eason, 29, says she has settled for a temporary position making $9.25 an hour until something better comes along.

Her current position is a 40% paycut from what she was making previously and also comes without benefits like health insurance. Her husband, Chris, also lost his job this summer and found a temporary position for 50% of his previous salary.

Although Eason says she is thankful they are both employed, living on less has not been easy.

"Every penny covers our mortgage, life insurance, groceries, gas -- just the basic necessities," she said.

"My hope is that as companies start to feel more confident about the economy, then I will be able to find something better."

Eason's situation has become all too common since the recession began.

"I see it every day," said Jay Meschke, president of EFL Associates, a division of professional services company CBIZ. "People are out there accepting positions as much as 50% below what they were making before."

"If it is a choice of putting food on the table, paying for a kid's school expenses, or attempting to get on a healthcare plan -- many people are flat out accepting jobs well beneath their former market values," he said.

But those who do accept lower salaries in order to ride out the recession might find that they've permanently damaged their value in the workplace.

Getting back in the game

Experts are divided on whether job seekers will be able to command what they formerly earned once the economy improves.

Some say taking a substantial paycut will have implications on a job seeker's future compensation demands.

"Job seekers that take severe pay cuts in order to secure a job today may find it extremely difficult to recoup forfeited wages once the economy recovers," said Patrina Campbell, a spokeswoman for Next Steps Career Solutions.

"Your future salary will be based on what you were making at your last employer," Bernard explained. In addition, pay cuts are often coupled with lesser titles or demotions, making it harder for employees to jump back to their original level, he added.

The length of stay at an interim job is also an important factor, noted Todd Uterstaedt, president and CEO of Baker & Daboll, an executive coaching firm in Cincinnati. If an employee stays in a lesser paying position for two or more years, it's hard to make a case that they can return to the compensation level they held previously, he said.

"There's a new perception of that person in the marketplace, the longer they stay in that role."

On the other hand, candidates can use interim positions to their advantage. If the job involves developing some skill sets and competencies that make them more marketable, then they have a better case of asking for a higher level of compensation the next time around, Uterstaedt said.

In a recovery there will be increased demand for labor and employees will have greater options, argued Meschke. Therefore, "employers will have to pay the going rate" to keep top talent from going elsewhere, and that means offering a highly competitive salary.

But that will also likely vary by industry, he added. Some sectors, such as financial and automotive, could see permanent price point reductions when it comes to compensation.

Have you recently been laid off? Lost most of your retirement or college savings in the stock market? Dealt with the loss of the family breadwinner with no life insurance? If you've been confronted with some challenge during this recession and would like to have an expert review your situation, send us an email and you could be profiled in an upcoming segment on CNN.  To top of page

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