Looking for Work? Expect a Lower Salary

Growth in nominal wages, not adjusted for inflation, have slowed dramatically.

ByABC News
September 21, 2010, 5:55 PM

Oct. 11, 2010— -- Working on Wall Street always meant great pay, fabulous perks and year-end bonuses that would make you feel as if you'd won the lottery. But that was before the Great Recession. Now, unemployed traders and bankers are finding out that high-paying jobs are nearly impossible to come by, as layoffs and slow economic growth continue in the finance sector.

Karen, a New York-based fixed income trader, knows this firsthand. She recently spent six months searching for a job in the finance sector and ended up accepting a position that pays 40 percent less than what she was making.

"You don't have the upper hand anymore," she says. As a vice president at her former firm, she says she was accustomed to base salaries ranging from $110,000 to $150,000.

Heidi Shierholz, labor economist with the Economic Policy Institute, says after holding up pretty well in the first year of the recession, there's a very clear trend that growth in nominal wages -- those wages that are not adjusted for inflation -- has slowed dramatically in the last few years.

"That's the scary part. Employers don't need have to pay a wage premium to get and keep the workers that they need, when there's dozens of workers waiting to get jobs," she says.

In Karen's case, the layoff meant lifestyle changes. After upgrading to a one-bedroom apartment, she was forced to downsize to a studio and has cut back significantly on expenditures like going out to dinner and traveling. But it was the lack of job prospects that was particularly jarring. "I did have a lot of sleepless nights, especially on Sunday, knowing that it was another week," she says.

And the ranks of the sector's unemployed are expected to grow. Meredith Whitney, chief executive officer of Meredith Whitney Advisory Group, recently told Bloomberg Radio that her firm sees 80,000 layoffs coming in the sector over the next 18 months.

The Labor Department reported Friday that U.S. jobless claims rose by 95,000, with the unemployment rate holding steady at 9.6 percent. Most of the losses were in government, but that's little comfort to people elsewhere: A mere 64,000 private sector jobs were created.