Life after a layoff

David Jones’ 11-year-old daughter needs a new winter coat.

Late winter is a good time to find a deal on one, but it’s not a necessity. It could wait until next year.

Whether to buy a coat seems like a trivial issue, but Jones and his wife think carefully about such things these days. The 51-year-old Linden Hills resident and father lost his job as a project architect at a small Minneapolis firm. Unsure when he’ll find new work, Jones said his family is tracking every penny and saving as much as possible.   

"We never go out to eat, we won’t be going on any vacations, our monthly expenses always have to pass the ‘is this necessary test,’" Jones said. "And sometimes it becomes a conversation about what’s the right thing to do."  

Jones has joined the ranks of thousands of laid-off Minneapolis workers searching for jobs in a dwindling market. The city posted an unemployment rate of 6 percent in December, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Southwest Journal recently spoke with Jones and another member of his growing group — former Mainstreet Bank President Brian Hols — to help personalize the unemployment epidemic, which is affecting more people every day.  

‘Bit by bit, it just started slowing down’

The work horizon was great last summer, Jones said.

His firm, a small team of seven that developed nonprofit housing throughout the upper Midwest, had
projects lined up for years.

But the housing market was already in decline and by fall, many development plans started to unravel.

"Bit by bit it just started slowing down, and I think the projects will all happen eventually, but they’ve been pushed further into the future," Jones said. "My own personal opinion is that it all comes back to financing. If owners cannot get financing, they’re not going to build buildings. If they’re not going to build buildings, they don’t need people to design buildings."

Jones started working shorter hours in December and that’s when he began preparing for the inevitable. He worked his last day Jan. 30.

"Let’s just say I was not surprised," he said. "So much of what was affecting our situation was out of our control. After the first of the year, I could read the tea leaves."

Jones has more than two decades of architecture experience at different firms, but he had only been at his most recent company for a couple years. He left with two weeks of severance pay and soon filed for unemployment benefits. He hasn’t received anything yet.

Jones now spends his days hunting for jobs, attending job-support workshops and networking. He found some prospects for temporary work, but nothing permanent. He said he’s been between jobs before and he’s weathered economic downturns, but nothing like this.

"This cycle feels really different," he said. "It just seems much less hopeful than the early ’90s or the early ’80s. And I’m that much older than I was in early ’90s and early ’80s.

"Maybe I’m a little worn down, so I’m a little less hopeful. And that’s part of the challenge of being in this situation. You have to be optimistic enough to go out and talk to potential employers."

Jones is the father of a grown son who no longer lives at home, a grown daughter who does live at home and an 11-year-old daughter who was adopted from China. He and his wife were in the process of adopting another child from China, but that’s on hold now.   

His wife works part time and his older daughter, who is helping out financially, works full time.

"They’re supportive and optimistic that we’ll make it and we’ll get through this," Jones said.

In the meantime, the family will continue to prioritize its spending — keeping up on mortgage payments is at the top. Savings include halting contributions to the retirement or future college funds and cutting extracurricular activities such as Chinese language lessons and volleyball. The family won’t be renewing its dental insurance, either.

Long-range planning is difficult, Jones said, because the economic outlook is so uncertain.

"When do we go on the bread and water diet? Today? Or after a month? It’s not predictable," he said.  

Jones is hoping his work experience will land him a job somewhere soon, even if it’s not in architecture. And eventually his daughter will get that new coat.

"As a family, we’ll survive," he said.

‘The bank was making tough decisions’

Brian Hols was Mainstreet Bank’s chief marketing officer for several years before pitching the idea for a new location at 2120 Hennepin Ave.

He oversaw the new bank’s construction and when it opened in 2006, he was chosen to run it. Hols grew the branch from nothing to more than $20 million in assets in two years. Then some issues related to construction and development loans caused the bank chain to make some cost-saving cuts. The position of office president — Hols’ position — was cut at every locaton.

He was laid off in September.

"The bank was making tough decisions," Hols said. "I don’t begrudge them at all. They were doing the things they had to, to stay afloat. And they’ve got more tough decisions ahead of them, quite frankly."

Hols, 42, took his layoff well — he was in a financial position that allowed him to do so. Unlike many unemployed people, the Lowry Hill resident, father and husband isn’t aggressively looking for a job.

He left Mainstreet with a good severance package and his wife works full time, so their family isn’t experiencing any financial hardship.

"I realize that it’s tough times for people and that many people who are laid off are shocked and going through great emotional duress and having to worry about the next week, much less anything else," Hols said. "Fortunately for me I’m not in that situation."

Hols said he had been looking for a career change and the layoff has given him time to clear his head, volunteer at local nonprofit organizations, repair his 100-year-old home and keep his daughter home from daycare once a week.

He’s a volunteer for the Neighborhood Involvement Program, which is a community clinic that provides healthcare to people who can’t afford it. He has also spent time volunteering for an organization that provides mentors for teens leaving foster care.

Hols said there was a downside to losing his job. He was not only president of a bank, but of the South Hennepin Business Association. He misses the daily interaction with customers and the community.

"It was an adjustment," he said. "The fact that I was such a highly visible member of the community, being president of a business association and president of the bank and out and involved in the community every day. And that just went away."

Hols said he’s still deciding what he wants to do during the next phase of his life. Nonprofits, consultation services, development projects — they’re all possibilities, he said. He has no intention of going back to a bank.

"I’ve had a chance to clear my head and I’m fairly certain that nine to five is not for me. Working for the man is not for me," Hols said. "I want to be the man."