Tale of Two Layoffs: GM v. Lehman Bros.

Unemployed auto workers have it better than most.

Dec. 4, 2008 — -- Doreen Baird and Roger Olson seem to have little in common -- she's a single mother living in Long Island, N.Y., and he's a married father of two in Janesville, Wis. But today they share something unfortunate: unemployment.

Their two stories are a reminder of the circumstances facing thousands of Americans. The government is expected to announce Friday that at least 250,000 jobs were lost last month, the worst job-loss numbers in seven years.

The employment numbers don't look like they'll rebound any time soon. Telecommunications giant AT&T announced today plans to cut 12,000 jobs, or about 4 percent of its workforce.

Auto Worker's Layoff Story

Olson worked on the assembly line at General Motors for eight years before he was laid off in June.

"The day I came home to tell my wife I was laid off was the hardest day of my life," he said. "It hurt very much. I never filed for unemployment in my life."

In addition to government unemployment, Olson also receives $400 a week from GM, as well as health benefits and insurance.

Employee benefits cost GM around $6.9 billion a year. Detroit's big three automakers -- GM, Chrysler and Ford -- are in Washington, asking Congress for $34 billion, in part to pay for those union benefits.

The big three and the United Auto Workers Union argue that one in 10 jobs in the country are related to the auto industry, so the consequences of not loaning the companies the money would be dire.

"If you don't help out the American auto workers right now, there is going to be whole bunch of businesses that are going to be hurting," Olson said.

But not everyone believes taxpayers should have to foot the bill for unemployment benefits for laid-off autoworkers.

"Is there justice in giving a big benefit package to people who lose their jobs in Detroit in the big three but not who worked at Lehman or Circuit City or small businesses that are facing tough times too?" Steve Moore, a Wall Street Journal writer and author of "The End of Prosperity," said.

Lehman Brothers Layoff Story

Baird worked as an administrative assistant at Lehman Brothers in New York. When the company went bankrupt, she remembers her boss breaking the news.

"He just said, 'I am really sorry we are going to have to let you go.' He apologized a lot," she said.

"It's hard to explain to your daughter, 'Mommy doesn't have a job.' Every day she comes home from school, 'Mommy did you get a job yet?' It's like, 'No, sorry.' I don't know what to tell her," Baird said.

With no salary, retirement money or benefits, Baird relies entirely on a government unemployment check of $355 a week, and she expects nothing more.

"I don't think the government owes me," she said. "I don't think there should be any more bailouts."

Both Baird and Olson are getting help but from different places.

Olson and other autoworkers are getting job training from GM.

"Job services have been trying to help us find different means of schooling," he said.

Baird relies on her parents for extra help. "I am very fortunate my mom and dad have been very supportive financially… to keep things going," she said. "And they are also helping me out with Christmas, presents and everything."