Trading Places

Inside views on the jobs market

Who’s got it worse — bankers, autoworkers, or techies?

December 9, 2008

It looks like a falling tide sinks all boats.

Out-of-work Wall Street workers have been on the front pages for months. Auto workers at the Big Three have been struggling for years, and with GM and Chrysler on the verge of a possible bankruptcy and/or bailout their situation is also dire.

Now the so-called knowledge workers are feeling the pinch. Sony is cutting 16,000 workers, and Silicon Valley companies that initially resisted the swooning of the economy are looking to cut costs and shed entry-level positions. As Reuters reported on Tuesday, people in their 20s are finding a college degree is no longer their golden ticket to a dream job in high tech.

Any bright spots? It depends on how you look at it. Of the 30 companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the only ones with stock prices higher than a year ago are Wal-Mart and McDonald’s.

So who is going to face the most job insecurity in 2009: Bankers, autoworkers, or techies?

Post your answer in the comments section, along with any first-hand stories of trouble in your industry.


Construction so far is the hardest hit. The construction industry has been trending almost a year ahead of what the media and the US Government perceives as the “recession”. I started my construction company in the spring of 2007. Immediately I noticed a downward trend in planning, design and construction of new projects. By the fall of 2007 I was out of business and working for a small firm in January of 2008. In the first 3 months of 2008 we watched approximately a third of the companys’ project volume cancel with another third cancelled by August 2008 due to lack of financing. In October I was laid off and have sent resumes out to more than 30 companies and have 3 executive recruiters looking for placement. I have had one interview in 6 weeks and though I was promised the job, the project on which I was to be placed was put on hold and my position dissolved. Construction has been hardest hit when you consider the skilled tradesmen, managers, suppliers, transportation and manufacturers that are affected.

Posted by Will | Report as abusive

I think that Will is right. The construction industry is hardest hit and longest hit. These guys have been on the ropes for a long time,……and there is a trickle down effect for sure. Many other industries are tied to construction to some degree. The fact that everything else is tanking now speaks volumes.
Batten Down The Hatches!

Posted by olddog | Report as abusive

I agree that consruction maybe the hardest hit so far but traditionally gov’ts will spend their way out of this by investing in infrastructure. you are correct construction trends about a year ahead of the rest so look there to see when things are picking up.

Posted by gm guy | Report as abusive

Living in our society has become unsustainable. Education is impossibly expensive, homes, cars, even food, is prohibitively costly, while wages are low. I would love to retrain and become a pharmacist. But at hundreds of thousands of dollars and 5-7 years of school, few can do it. And thus the pharmacist shortage. Why not more levels of apprenticeship in all industries, so people can get paid while they learn and are trained to make our economy more sustainable?

Posted by KuntaKente | Report as abusive

I have to agree, construction is hardest hit, the bulk of construction workers have no pension, no holiday pay and no vacation pay.
so when the work stops, all money comes to an end.
the college students can at least ride it out for a year at home with help from family, but it will be tough, for college students who are on their own with no family support.

Posted by perry | Report as abusive

While I agree that construction will be the hardest hit in the short term it is likely that the financial industry will have the worst scars when all is said and done.

Construction will always ebb and flow with the economy, but will inevitably be what it once was. Financial jobs on the other hand, fueled by poor regulation, will never be the same as changes in those regulations will merely ridicule any potential plasticity.

Posted by Chris | Report as abusive

People in finance generally got the highest compensation. But that doesn’t translate into having the most in savings to tide them over a rough patch. People in this field tend to live high-on-the-hog and live with a sense of entitlement to the “good life”.

Autoworkers have seen their industry collapse around their feet. They have been through a few “restructurings” and wage concessions. Many of these folks are living on a tight budget –in spite of the right wing myth of the $70.00/hr auto worker. ($15.00/hr is closer to the truth.) Generally speaking, these folks know how to deal with tough times, but that doesn’t translate into putting money into savings either.

Techies have also seen their working world downsized and outsourced. They have been learning to live with diminished expectations too. They may not live as high-on-the-hog as the financial sector, but they generally do earn more than an autoworker. Many live at the edge of their incomes with mortgages, car payments, and student loans and have probably not given savings much thought.

The financial services jobs are probably gone for good. Autoworkers will find work eventually, even if it is for a foreign car company building cars in America — but at a reduced number. Techies will have to deal with declining incomes and more jobs going off-shore.

Give me the blue collar man. He is going to persevere and survive.

Posted by Blueneck | Report as abusive

Meyer Amschel Bauer Burg (founder of the Rothschild’s Banking family), owns the Bank of England, is the major shareholder of the Federal Reserve Bank, The Bank for International Settlements, the IMF, HSBC and so on.
They own all the banks except for Libya, Sudan, N. Korea & Iran.
In the meantime, they are acquiring stakes in Steaks (food stamps are issued from the Rothschilds), we are on our way back to a modern day version of serfdom, where there is only the few very wealthy, and 99%of the world (new World Order) very very poor.
All the presidents that tried to keep a central bank from forming were assassinated.
Freedom is contingent with awareness, WAKE UP, Ron Paul knows that if he were elected, he would put the USA back on the Gold standard and dissolve the Federal Reserve Bank. Bottom line, were are all screwed, unless we wake up!! By the way, The Rothschilds own Reuters since the 1800′s

Posted by bee dee | Report as abusive

I am an semiconductor develop engineer here we are suffering low loading 30% also as normal.

Posted by Stone Shi | Report as abusive

I think autoworkers will face the most difficulties. Creative types I think (and this is just my prejudice, as I work in this industry) are pretty fleet. Many of us are used to multiple industries and can translate skills with relative ease. I’m not sure if this is generally the case for autoworkers who may have less education and are used to working in roles where efficiently doing the same repetitive tasks is required rather than problem-solving on the fly or moving from role to role. (And I don’t mean to be rude, so please correct me if I’m wrong, autoworkers and construction people.) Financial types are, I’ll bet, used to bringing in the big bucks and corporate persk, and may have trouble adjusting to their new, more modest circumstances and compensation packages.

So yeah: for the most part, my peer group (at least those of Generation Xers) are used to lame Starbucks-type gigs, sale clerk gigs, temping, saving money by buying at Salvation Army (stylishly!) and eating well on less dough (we’re a very vegetarian-friendly, cooking savvy bunch you know). We’re used to moving from feast to famine and back again.

But good luck to us all, in very industry–God knows we’re going to need it.

Posted by Yuki | Report as abusive

I agree with Cris countryboy will survive.


Quite honestly if your field of expertise is or will not be effected by this wonderful Wall St. Fiasco then your either very lucky or cheating.

As far as it goes real die-hard techies like myself are like cockroaches, we live in the dark closets, rarely venture into the daylight and most of the time are about as diverse as it comes.

So when my fortune 500 company decides to can me, I already have a backup plan, and another after that. While it may not be the most lucrative business transaction one has to pay off the mortgage and keep food on the table like the rest of the world.

Diversity: Even in this ‘slow down’ technology is being interwoven into even more and more common day items, take for instance your house… you have a computer, soon enough its going to be commonplace to see a house that’s not sci-fi junk, but automated via central computer systems. Your car is already run by a computer, well now its getting a user interface so you can play your mp3’s. So you the construction worker, and auto man, I the techie look foreword to working with you in the future.

Cheers to all, and good luck. We all are going to need it.

Posted by Techie | Report as abusive

Blue collar workers in general are in great risk, and
construction workers have already been hit really hard.

Retail is going to be the next area hit. After holiday sales numbers come out and stores begin to line their shelves with merchandise paid for after the credit crunch started building momentum, their will be many reductions in hours scheduled, outright layoffs, store closings and bankruptcies.

I fear that we may be experiencing the beginnings of a shift in our standard of living.

Posted by Mick | Report as abusive

No question but that most workers are going to be hurt by this recession. There is, however, an unintended constructive consequence to recessions for workers who do the work to take advantage of them. The 1980s recession made us free agents–no jobs for life–and taught us that much managing was passe.’ The career ladder was more nonsense than reality. Organizations got flattened–providing plenty of opportunities for cross-functional employee fertilization and stretchwork. The 1990s taught us that mid-level employees can handle responsibility–though not as much as many wanted. I suspect that with the current financial and auto debacles, this recession is teaching us that all intelligence does not reside at the top of the hierarchy. Workers will, by default–a great default–insist upon decision input. Senior people will have to get used to being scrutinized, and not just by their employees. Joe the employee or middle manager isn’t going to let the senior people destroy the future for him/her and their children.

So, rather than scare tactics, a deep recession is also a great time for creating opportunities for yourself. I’m quite aware that the loss of a job can also be a great opportunity. Not so Pollyannaish. So, for the next eighteen months, work smart WHILE you’re working hard.


How cares about the little people, I am more concerned about wall street execs not being paid 100s millions of dollars for awhile..they may have to go down to 10s of millions.

Posted by Stan O | Report as abusive

I get a real kick out of the Senate, who have voted to give themselves many raises, and approved that $700 billion bailout so executives could have their bonuses, knocking the auto industry. Detroit made cars that people wanted, and its not like you can switch an entire line in 30 days to sell something different.

I am also tired of hearing about the factory workers who make a fortune. That’s a joke. Those that are making big sums of money are doing so because of overtime. When your department had four employees, but through layoffs its down to one, you get overtime for doing their jobs too. Why is that such a shock? These senators, with their pockets stuffed full of money from non-union companies, are railing at the unions. Well guess what, the unions are the only thing standing between decent wages and minimum wage jobs for auto workers. Who the heck can survive on $8.00 an hour? I am sick to my stomach this morning. Those irresponsible jerks have just brought down an industry that directly employs 3.4 million people. I hope they rot in Hell.

Posted by Ann | Report as abusive

Its fascinating how, as more people become used to technology in every single aspect of their daily lives (computers to run/start/moderate their contractor-edition F-350, sleek laptops to run the stock market on, advanced design and assembly tools) they completely forget about the professional demographic that makes it all happen. Technology is the cup of coffee that starts the economy’s day like it or not. Resign it to “downsizing and outsourcing” and you are resigning the same fate to each industry that relies on it. And no, the average Tech worker does not make a “higher” salary. There arent any 800lb Gorilla Unions for them to alleviate dealing with a deluge of inferiority complexes and the unpaid overtime is often insane and getting worse. *But* they will weather the best because everyone from the blue collar man to the auto worker & wall street suit (as well as this blog) is now dead in the water without them.

Posted by chad | Report as abusive

What’s this about “Auto workers at the Big Three have been struggling for years”. Wages of $50,000 or more with incredible benefits relative to most of us is hardly struggling, especially when it is predominantly unskilled work. Of course they will have problems finding comparable work. Most people with that skill level don’t get half of what auto workers get.

Posted by olc | Report as abusive

There is a lot of common sense here. The problem with our economy is he government is controlled by Bankers intent on a wage slavery economy. Low wage workers are pitted against high wage workers to reduce wages. Globalization is just a search for low wages.

The fix for this economy is end globalization! No foreign entanglements including NAFTA, WTO, etc. George Washington proposed this in his Farewell Address. Every Worker and American should read this.  /milestones/farewell/text.html

Here is a excerpt on trade.

42 Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing, with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them, conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view, that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

common sense is key to success.


I figure I’m a month or two from losing my apt and have to move into my Nissan P/U truck, can’t find a job. I went through this in my early 20′s but it was because I had substance abuse problems, now I got 15 years of sobriety and here I am looking at the same options again. I don’t want to have to live in my truck again. The rents are too high here in California, when housing was doing well they were brutal with rent increases, now that it has fallen 35 % do you think my rent would go down even one wooden nickel? Heck no, I still pay top dollar, that is greed and zero compasion from the people that own and manage my apts. Move? I don’t have the money. Anyway, maybe I will get lucky and just die in my sleep. I just feel the situation is hopeless and getting worse. I get $1100/mo unemployment benefits my rent is $945, when I moved in in 2001 rent was $655. My rent increased 33% in that short span. How can anyone make it with these pigs driving all the rents so high? So now I probably get to become a stinky homeless person, hair all messed up. America the beautiful, fat cats only.

Posted by Dan Douville | Report as abusive

I could afford the XX-th century, I am not quite sure I can afford the XXI-st.

Posted by Lenny | Report as abusive

This is your online punch in the head…I have to say that principles of sustainable living are starting to look pretty good right now…but here are a few thoughts that no one is addressing.

#1 I think we should say adios to all the companies that couldn’t make it on their own. If we took the money that we used to bail out banks and business’ and invested it into NEW enterprise and innovation our economy would be UNBELIEVABLY healthy right now. Pouring money into established business’ that can’t be sustained is utterly ridiculous, profitless and pointless. All financial assistance should be toward NEW innovative producers and manufacturing.

#2 Your lifestyles are not sustainable. Right now, depending on your income you are served by anywhere between 100-200 ‘energy slaves’ (natural resources frittered and burned away to support your computer, technology, food resources and manufacturing).

If you have ever been to a science center they have a energy awareness experiment that uses a bicycle to operate a light bulb…no matter how fast you pedal you can’t get sustained illumination (unless you are Lance Armstrong) this is only just the beginning of the ‘energy slaves’ you never appreciate but that work for you every day. Unless we move away from this model of energy dependence, we wont have any resources left…even if we don’t move away from this model there will never be a middle class like there has been in the past. It is not a sustainable model…even if some new technology we could come up with a way to keep all your ‘energy slaves’ operating at the level you have become accustomed too.

#3 So that leaves manufacturing OUT in the cold because the energy consumption for each manufactured object has always been a subsided by your ‘energy slaves’. The actual complete cost of manufacturing is NEVER addressed in the US. The actual cost is the cost of depleting the energy resource, smelting the steel, making the plastic, forming the wires, etc. This process has always been subsidized in the US. We have NEVER had to pay the actual value for anything we have ever manufactured.

#4 Not as much energy = not as much technology…when the ‘energy slaves’ are gone because we have used up the natural resources what and who is going to power and purchase your vast technical miracles? Nobody.

I mean, I could go on and on, but PEOPLE, you better wake up to the new reality and it doesn’t include your middle class lifestyle anymore…this is a system crash of our economy, manufacturing and way a life…they might be able to prop it up for another 5 years, but I doubt it. We have known about this for 30 years and done nothing because our current political and economic system prevents us from doing what is the right thing for the most people. Good luck to you all…I hope you start preparing for the things to come.

Posted by Kiki | Report as abusive

There’s a lot of mindless panic going on that has certainly affected all business. Massive federal action
hasn’t been able to stem the problems precisely because of
fear and uncertainty. Yes, construction is a primary hit.
And hanging over all is the high foreclosure rate in housing around the country. The FDIC Chairperson wants the government to tackle these foreclosures and try to keep people in their homes as a primary base for the economy. So far, without success. But I thinks she is on the right track.


What about the other knowledge workers? I’m a college senior studying ecology and Natural Resource Management. Does anyone have any idea what kind of opportunities a guy like me can expect?

Posted by Ryan | Report as abusive

I am fortunate to work overseas in Africa in oil and gas despite oil falling 2/3′s in value from it’s high. In Africa the people have been without employment as we know it for their entire lives. They survive and they are unbelievably happy. They do want a better material life but the difference between us and them is stunning. They smile continuously, we rarely can generate a real one. The advertising noise in our country is staggering (you should go away for a year or more to a less material place and then come back and you will be overwhelmed at how much you are sold to–it’s persistent and endless and deafening). We want the next best thing never being satisfied for long with what we just got–it’s always the better house, the better car, the better job while we as a nation become excessively obese while they always feel hunger. And they (most of the rest of the world) envy us. Why? I envy the guy selling dvds/phone cards/books/colas all day and night in the traffic in Africa and when I am sitting in my car and don’t buy he looks me in the eye and smiles and touches my soul.

Posted by Ricochet | Report as abusive

This whole union thing really disturbs me. The unions were the ones who got together and made a 40,37.5 or 35 hour week(depending on what country), they fought for paid sick, maternity, special or vacation leave. If you knock the unions out of the equation, expect lower wages, no benefits and a serf like conditions.

I lost my job 5 months ago.. luckily I worked for a German who had wonderful industrial relation skills. Even then, I didn’t get health care (and still don’t have it), really didn’t get much of a layoff bonus .. not even a weeks worth. But he did pay me extra to buy health care (which I spent on the kids dental), let me rollover my vacation to the next year, treated me with respect and gave me ample warning of a layoff (at least 6 months).

This allowed me to save like crazy, cut back on spending from Jan 08, and position me to weather out the storm approaching.

I am not going to work for $7.50 ph (like the bell ringers for the Salvation Army are getting – hang on – aren’t they meant to be looking out for the poor???) What the hell is going on here? People can’t survive on $7.50 ph… they can’t afford food or housing.

Hungry people become angry people. Greece and Thailand are the recent ones. This is a time that will see hungry, desperate people become very, very angry. As they should be. We live in very interesting times.

Posted by sceptic anne | Report as abusive

If everybody individually started to think positively, then collectively we can solve this problem even though it is so enormous. A virus has literally hit that is monstrous in its scope and everybody got their heads played with. From the littlest guy to the biggest honcho. And some real bad stuff has gone down too. I mean, the latest Wall Street trader scandal leaves you wondering how many more there are, and how much it directly or indirectly contributed to the crisis.

But the way I see it, the only way out of this is positive thinking, and really adopting a “yes we can” attitude and make that America’s mantra for 2009. (Let 2010 take care of itself for now.) If everybody got that into their heads, one by one, state by state, industry by industry, then as a country, then as a world, we build up a collectivity that is stronger economically than we were before. We can fix this thing.

But everybody has to do their part. The mind is a powerful thing. Collective minds, working in unison, I believe, can drop a mountain into the sea.

Marion TD Lewis, Esq. New York


Where did this all start? It started last December, but why wasn’t there any media coverage about how much middle-class families were struggling with the cost of gas prices? Now that big business is also struggling, we are hearing about it all over.

What everyone needs to realize is that our economy was dependent on lower and middle income workers. The Bush administration and oil companies thought they could keep increasing prices. This is all their fault. When Bush took office, he introduced legislation to allow oil companies off-store drilling rights, drilling in Alaska, etc. Americans were clearly against it. So gas prices rise to unthinkable heights, and suddenly it’s introduced again as a rescue effort; a valiant move by the administration to lower prices. In retrospect, it was probably an orchestrated move. What they didn’t realize was that you can only squeeze the little man so much. When we hurt, everyone else does too.

The economic problems our country is facing are a direct result of the hardships of the lower and middle classes. When we don’t spend money, when we can’t afford to pay our mortgages, when we are suffering, the rest of the nation is affected by it. Surely our lawmakers are intelligent enough to realize that, and focus on us in their plan to fix the broken economy.

Posted by Sally Wilson | Report as abusive

I disagree that we will not be able to live like we do, we just need a new energy source, that is the real challenge, getting big oil out of the way.

Posted by rmicone1 | Report as abusive

I think banker filed will be cut more people in next year.

Posted by peggy zhong | Report as abusive

rmicone1, what’s wrong with you? Gas is cheap and the economy is still nowhere near recovery. Stop blaming “big oil” for all of the economy’s woes. What’s really wrong are corrupt union machines (NOT necessarily the union workers, just the overbloated machines that blackmail businesses and suck them dry to supply union bosses with obscene largesse), greedy managers and executives, and everyone laboring under the false premise that they can “have it all” without working long, hard hours, saving and investing judiciously for the long term, lavishing children with love, not thousands of dollars in toys they use for three months, and “living within one’s means.” THAT is what this country needs but it’s far easier to blame some nameless entity for one’s problems than yourself.

If…no…WHEN I lose my job in the next year (one has to be realistic), I’ll be living off of savings until I find work again, because I didn’t buy the McMansion (though certainly able to do so), didn’t buy the BMW (though again, well within my means), don’t have the 50″ TV and will not be wailing that I may not get the same money as before. That’s called PLANNING AHEAD and BEING A RESPONSIBLE AND REALISTIC ADULT. Yes there are cases where people are hit from left field by illness or other catastrophe, but that is NOT the norm. And anyone who is sitting up to their ears in debt with a houseful of expensive toys and electronics whining about how the economy screwed them over does NOT get my sympathy.

Posted by Mystic | Report as abusive

we gave up. high prices dont control you. banks simply dont have a brain. how many times a bus flip over that it got to be that heavy


Construction is hardest hit but the others will follow. I hope, when this crisis has ended, they will all be on the same level as were farmers have never left, they know how to survive. Maybe they will be appreciated a little more then.

Posted by pete | Report as abusive

Things change and we have to change too.
Brian Marchant-Calsyn


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