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These are the first months of Kai Manning’s life, these high-strung times when newscasters grimly announce new economic depths reached almost every day. Kai, though, watches the bright, animated shows on the Noggin channel from his blue miniature chair in the living room of his family’s Mission Valley condo, chubby knees protruding from brown board shorts.
So if Kai, nearly seven months old, senses anything of the import of this period in history, it’s because his daytime companion has changed from his mom, who was next to him all day every day for the first few months of his life, to his dad, Dino Manning, who’s taken over that post as of late.
Dino Manning never planned to be a stay-at-home dad, never even considered it. A career finance industry worker, Manning was, until a few months ago, an operations manager at HSBC. Early this year, the bank’s senior management said Manning’s division, auto loan origination in the United States, was no longer a part of the strategic future of the company. By October, Manning and several hundred of his colleagues clutched pink slips and packed boxes of belongings to leave their jobs.
Every morning, as he has for years, Manning wakes up around 5 or 6 a.m. There, the similarities end between his old life and this new one.
On a typical day in his old life, Manning arrived at his office by 8, bought breakfast and coffee in the company café and headed to his office three floors up. He’d greet his employees and coworkers, intercepting a couple of questions on his way to his desk. By 8:30, he’d be responding to e-mails and voicemails, and he’d join a conference call at 9. At 10 a.m., Manning would call a team meeting to touch base. He’d work on monthly audits after that until about noon, and then he’d work out before eating a quick lunch at his desk before his next meeting. The afternoon consisted of meetings, checking in with his employees, responding to more e-mails and voicemails, and planning for the next day.
Manning’s schedule could hardly be more different now. On a recent morning, Manning pads around his condo, bare feet on the warm reddish hardwood floor of the living room. Wearing an orange t-shirt and army green shorts, Manning picks Kai up and perches him in the crook of his arm. On a typical morning now, father and son go for a walk, or a run with Kai in the baby jogging stroller, or to the gym where he can play in the daycare.
“The last thing I’m going to do is sit here and sulk,” he says.
They might go pick up coffee at a café down the street, where Manning expected to be the only one at a mid-morning breakfast until he started overhearing other patrons discussing their own pink slips. At 11, Kai eats and then takes a nap. Manning eats lunch himself, and checks his e-mail again. At noon, father and son go for a drive to run errands, or to do repairs on Manning’s boat — he’s an outrigger paddler — or to the park. Back at home, they play and then Manning’s wife gets home from work by 3 or 4 p.m. If Manning has an interview scheduled, he changes and drives to an office.
While some of Manning’s coworkers expected the layoff to devastate the new dad, he has taken a different approach. He’s slowed down the frantic pace with which he first attacked the job search, shifting from firing off a resume a day, to one or two a week, acknowledging that companies’ hiring has also slowed down for the holidays. He has accustomed himself to Kai’s rhythms: he’s changed his schedule to fit his seven-month-old’s, and has adopted a remarkably pervasive positivity about life in hard times.
“It’s never cool to not have a job,” Manning says. “But when am I ever going to have this kind of time to spend with my son again?”
Manning’s wife had the ability to go back to work as a special education teacher, and her specialty means she’s always needed, a safety net Manning acknowledges a lot of families don’t have. They lived carefully during boom times: Manning was the auto loan manager who drove a paid-off 1995 Honda Civic into office garages next to BMWs and Mercedes until earlier this year, when they bought a bigger car for the baby.
Just the fact that the Mannings had been able to save and plan in order to live on just one income for Kai’s first year of life already places them in a level of relative financial comfort compared to many families in the county. But their struggle is not rare, nor is it any less newsworthy because of their income level. With job losses feathering out into all sectors, all areas, Manning’s job search places him in good company with thousands of other San Diegans thinking of their next steps, imagining their skills applied in different kinds of work than they’ve been doing, going back to school to train.
Manning’s layoff thrust him into a marketplace already flush with out-of-work job seekers, one where the unemployment rate has risen from 3.7 percent in mid-2006 to 6.8 percent this October. Economists have concluded the San Diego economy is in recession. There’s not an income or education level or collar color untouched by this slump, and Manning’s sector has been especially impacted.
He is one of 9,600 workers in the county’s financial sector to have lost his job since the peak for the industry in mid-2006, about the same time the housing market’s historic ascent began to reverse course. Today, San Diegans aren’t spending money like they were a few years ago. They can’t withdraw as much cash in home equity loans to buy as much as they once did.
Laid-off workers in Manning’s trade — the people whose job it is to make the loans for a new house or a new car or a business — face a new reality. It wasn’t just one struggling company that shed jobs, but an entire sector. It’s not as simple as going down the road to the next bank and finding a similar job again, at least for the foreseeable future.
That shows up in Manning’s job search, which has slowed way down since his first few weeks of unemployment. He skipped a finance industry job fair, thinking that switching over to another company doing the same thing could possibly leave him with another pink slip for his collection down the road.
“I didn’t think the grass was greener” at another finance company, he says. “I thought that might just be delaying the inevitable.”
Still, he often clicks automatically on the finance category on job boards, after spending five years at HSBC, three years at Capital One in auto finance, and five years at Wells Fargo. But then he clicks past the finance jobs and has started typing in his buzzwords: “people management, operations, strategy, process improvement” to search for jobs in any sector that could use his skills. Some of the interviews he has gone to have nothing to do with finance or auto finance, he said.
His friends are trying to pull him in a few directions. One friend trains dolphins and thinks Manning should, too. Another is a trainer for Ultimate Fighting Championship and could use Manning’s business sense. Another wants him to come home to Saipan, where Manning and his wife both still have roots.
He realizes that the job market is tough enough that he may have to take a pay cut, or that he may be waiting for months. After firing off at least about 75 applications and resumes, he’s had four companies that seemed like good prospects. One of them got to the point of negotiating salary with him.
“I was already thinking, ‘OK, when do I show up?’ kind of thing,” he says.
But that company came back to him and said they’d decided to hold off on filling the position until maybe early next year.
“I can’t blame them,” he says. “That seems to be the theme: the companies are holding on to their money right now the same way we’re holding on to our money.”
That doesn’t mean the situation wasn’t frustrating, though.
“That’s when I’m like, I’m gonna go train dolphins,” he says.
It also yielded a glimpse at an interconnected economy. When talks grew serious about that job, Manning and his wife decided they’d hire a nanny for Kai. They interviewed a few, and told one woman they liked her and wanted to hire her.
Then Manning’s job fell through. He had to call the nanny and tell her he couldn’t hire her.
“It’s interesting how this affects everybody,” he says.
Manning is no Pollyanna. He knows of a couple that is divorcing due to the stress placed on their relationship by a layoff, knows of others whose days have been consumed by gloom that the job search is futile. There’s a ton of people out there in this situation, he says, and many are down in the dumps. But when he was leaving HSBC, he offered some advice to his team: the situation is temporary, so make the best of it.
“I think that’s life in general,” he says. “There’s certain things you can’t avoid but why add more stress to your life?”