These People Quit Higher-Paying Jobs for Better Work-Life Balance. Inflation Is Testing Their Mettle.
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These People Quit Higher-Paying Jobs for Better Work-Life Balance. Inflation Is Testing Their Mettle.

Millions of Americans have taken new jobs that earn less than they used to make, either by choice or because of a layoff. Now they are contending with rising prices too.

By KATHERINE BINDLEY
Fri, Nov 4, 2022 8:47amGrey Clock 4 min

Many of the millions of people who switched jobs during the pandemic are feeling the bite of inflation especially hard, and for an often overlooked reason—they opted for pay cuts.

All around, it has been a good time for American workers and their earning power—if not their spending power. Labour shortages have driven up wages, and many in-demand employees have quit jobs for better-paying ones.

Yet a sizeable share of job switchers took pay cuts in the Covid-19 era, according to new research. In a survey of more than 2,300 workers, 32% of those who changed jobs since early 2020 said they made less money as a result.

Many have traded in a higher pay check by choice. While nearly a third of job switchers who now make less money said they had been laid off from their previous jobs, about 25% took a pay cut for better work-life balance, according to Prudential Financial, which commissioned the study. Others said they took a lower-paying job because they wanted to pursue a passion, work remotely or in a new location, or find an employer more aligned with their values.

Rising prices for everything from food and housing to vacations are now testing those decisions, pushing many to tighten budgets already trimmed when they opted for lower-paying jobs. Some job switchers say they are pursuing extra work—even if their original goal was to work less.

Many, including 38-year-old Mae Singerman, say they still have no regrets.

“I sacrificed savings for now to live a more balanced life,” says Ms. Singerman, who left her job as director of operations at a nonprofit last fall for a lower-paying administrator role at another organisation.

She made the decision to find a new job after her appendix burst late one night and she pinged her co-workers from the emergency room to say she was in the hospital but acted as if it were no big deal. “I was obsessed with the job,” she says she realised. “In retrospect, why was I emailing my co-workers at 3 a.m.?”

After her recovery, she took a new job that would let her spend more time with her two young children and help take care of her mother, who has dementia. The catch was it came with a 35% pay cut. Because her husband has a union job with predictable annual raises, Ms. Singerman says the couple didn’t have to make major changes to their lifestyle: She lives in a rent-stabilised apartment, and her youngest is no longer in daycare. But as other expenses have climbed, there have been adjustments, such as no longer contributing to her 401(k). The trade-off has been worth it, she says.

“It’s hard for me to imagine going back to what I had at this point in my life,” she says.

Some who quit jobs for lower-paying positions are now seeking extra work, as are many U.S. workers. In a recent survey of more than 1,000 working adults, 38% said they had looked for a second job and 14% said they planned to.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents said it was harder to pay for living expenses than a year earlier, according to the business-software maker Qualtrics, which conducted the study. Inflation is running near a 40-year high, raising the cost of everyday needs such as car repairs and hair cuts.

Christopher Doran, a 32-year-old in northern New Jersey, makes 20% less than he did as a director of nursing at an assisted-living facility until about a year ago.He says he made the switch to nursing at a hospital after realising that his work affected his relationships with friends and family, and his mental health.

“I was missing events with church, or dinners with friends or family. I had to work holidays, so really, I didn’t have any opportunity to enjoy my life,” he says. “I was burned out.”

Mr. Doran says he is happy with his choice, but he feels the effect on his finances daily. He doesn’t go out as much because of gas prices. “I used to shop healthier,” he adds. “I can’t because it’s so expensive.”

To offset the salary difference and pay off his credit-card debt, Mr. Doran picks up extra shifts at the hospital, which gets him overtime pay. It’s fewer hours and less stress than his old job but still a lot of work, he says.

“I’ve been sacrificing my leisure time to pay the credit cards,” he says. “It’s still kind of taking time I wish I had away.”

For many who have lost jobs, a pay cut was the only option. Kimberly Allen, 38, has changed jobs several times during the pandemic, and her pay has fluctuated with each change. In 2020, she left a nonprofit and took a pay cut for a role in recruiting. A little over a year later, she left that job and almost doubled her salary by taking a contract role with a tech company as a talent sourcer. She was suddenly unemployed when the role ended a few months later.

“I took a leap of faith,” says Ms. Allen, who lives in Schererville, Ind.

Ms. Allen has since found another recruiting job on contract, but it pays 10% less than her last job. Meanwhile, everything from school supplies to sports-team fees and gas spent shuttling everyone back and forth is more expensive than it used to be. Ms. Allen says she and her husband have put a cap on the number of activities their kids can participate in and cut back on entertainment spending.

“We’re working on creative low-budget ways to have fun at home for the entire year and probably next year,” she says.



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Why Prices of the World’s Most Expensive Handbags Keep Rising

Designers are charging more for their most recognisable bags to maintain the appearance of exclusivity as the industry balloons

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The price of a basic Hermès Birkin handbag has jumped $1,000. This first-world problem for fashionistas is a sign that luxury brands are playing harder to get with their most sought-after products.

Hermès recently raised the cost of a basic Birkin 25-centimeter handbag in its U.S. stores by 10% to $11,400 before sales tax, according to data from luxury handbag forum PurseBop. Rarer Birkins made with exotic skins such as crocodile have jumped more than 20%. The Paris brand says it only increases prices to offset higher manufacturing costs, but this year’s increase is its largest in at least a decade.

The brand may feel under pressure to defend its reputation as the maker of the world’s most expensive handbags. The “Birkin premium”—the price difference between the Hermès bag and its closest competitor , the Chanel Classic Flap in medium—shrank from 70% in 2019 to 2% last year, according to PurseBop founder Monika Arora. Privately owned Chanel has jacked up the price of its most popular handbag by 75% since before the pandemic.

Eye-watering price increases on luxury brands’ benchmark products are a wider trend. Prada ’s Galleria bag will set shoppers back a cool $4,600—85% more than in 2019, according to the Wayback Machine internet archive. Christian Dior ’s Lady Dior bag and the Louis Vuitton Neverfull are both 45% more expensive, PurseBop data show.

With the U.S. consumer-price index up a fifth since 2019, luxury brands do need to offset higher wage and materials costs. But the inflation-beating increases are also a way to manage the challenge presented by their own success: how to maintain an aura of exclusivity at the same time as strong sales.

Luxury brands have grown enormously in recent years, helped by the Covid-19 lockdowns, when consumers had fewer outlets for spending. LVMH ’s fashion and leather goods division alone has almost doubled in size since 2019, with €42.2 billion in sales last year, equivalent to $45.8 billion at current exchange rates. Gucci, Chanel and Hermès all make more than $10 billion in sales a year. One way to avoid overexposure is to sell fewer items at much higher prices.

Many aspirational shoppers can no longer afford the handbags, but luxury brands can’t risk alienating them altogether. This may explain why labels such as Hermès and Prada have launched makeup lines and Gucci’s owner Kering is pushing deeper into eyewear. These cheaper categories can be a kind of consolation prize. They can also be sold in the tens of millions without saturating the market.

“Cosmetics are invisible—unless you catch someone applying lipstick and see the logo, you can’t tell the brand,” says Luca Solca, luxury analyst at Bernstein.

Most of the luxury industry’s growth in 2024 will come from price increases. Sales are expected to rise by 7% this year, according to Bernstein estimates, even as brands only sell 1% to 2% more stuff.

Limiting volume growth this way only works if a brand is so popular that shoppers won’t balk at climbing prices and defect to another label. Some companies may have pushed prices beyond what consumers think they are worth. Sales of Prada’s handbags rose a meagre 1% in its last quarter and the group’s cheaper sister label Miu Miu is growing faster.

Ramping up prices can invite unflattering comparisons. At more than $2,000, Burberry ’s small Lola bag is around 40% more expensive today than it was a few years ago. Luxury shoppers may decide that tried and tested styles such as Louis Vuitton’s Neverfull bag, which is now a little cheaper than the Burberry bag, are a better buy—especially as Louis Vuitton bags hold their value better in the resale market.

Aggressive price increases can also drive shoppers to secondhand websites. If a barely used Prada Galleria bag in excellent condition can be picked up for $1,500 on luxury resale website The Real Real, it is less appealing to pay three times that amount for the bag brand new.

The strategy won’t help everyone, but for the best luxury brands, stretching the price spectrum can keep the risks of growth in check.

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