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

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.


Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

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A new trading year kicked off just weeks ago. Already it bears little resemblance to the carnage of 2022.

After languishing throughout last year, growth stocks have zoomed higher. Tesla Inc. and Nvidia Corp., for example, have jumped more than 30%. The outlook for bonds is brightening after a historic rout. Even bitcoin has rallied, despite ongoing effects from the collapse of the crypto exchange FTX.

The rebound has been driven by renewed optimism about the global economic outlook. Investors have embraced signs that inflation has peaked in the U.S. and abroad. Many are hoping that next week the Federal Reserve will slow its pace of interest-rate increases yet again. China’s lifting of Covid-19 restrictions pleasantly surprised many traders who have welcomed the move as a sign that more growth is ahead.

Still, risks loom large. Many investors aren’t convinced that the rebound is sustainable. Some are worried about stretched stock valuations, or whether corporate earnings will face more pain down the road. Others are fretting that markets aren’t fully pricing in the possibility of a recession, or what might happen if the Fed continues to fight inflation longer than currently anticipated.

We asked five investors to share how they are positioning for that uncertainty and where they think markets could be headed next. Here is what they said:

‘Animal spirits’ could return

Cliff Asness, founder of AQR Capital Management, acknowledges that he wasn’t expecting the run in speculative stocks and digital currencies that has swept markets to kick off 2023.

Bitcoin prices have jumped around 40%. Some of the stocks that are the most heavily bet against on Wall Street are sitting on double-digit gains. Carvana Co. has soared nearly 64%, while MicroStrategy Inc. has surged more than 80%. Cathie Wood‘s ARK Innovation ETF has gained about 29%.

If the past few years have taught Mr. Asness anything, it is to be prepared for such run-ups to last much longer than expected. His lesson from the euphoria regarding risky trades in 2020 and 2021? Don’t count out the chance that the frenzy will return again, he said.

“It could be that there are still these crazy animal spirits out there,” Mr. Asness said.

Still, he said that hasn’t changed his conviction that cheaper stocks in the market, known as value stocks, are bound to keep soaring past their peers. There might be short spurts of outperformance for more-expensive slices of the market, as seen in January. But over the long term, he is sticking to his bet that value stocks will beat growth stocks. He is expecting a volatile, but profitable, stretch for the trade.

“I love the value trade,” Mr. Asness said. “We sing about it to our clients.”

—Gunjan Banerji

Keeping dollar’s moves in focus

For Richard Benson, co-chief investment officer of Millennium Global Investments Ltd., no single trade was more important last year than the blistering rise of the U.S. dollar.

Once a relatively placid area of markets following the 2008 financial crisis, currencies have found renewed focus from Wall Street and Main Street. Last year the dollar’s unrelenting rise dented multinational companies’ profits, exacerbated inflation for countries that import American goods and repeatedly surprised some traders who believed the greenback couldn’t keep rallying so fast.

The factors that spurred the dollar’s rise are now contributing to its fall. Ebbing inflation and expectations of slower interest-rate increases from the Fed have sent the dollar down 1.7% this year, as measured by the WSJ Dollar Index.

Mr. Benson is betting more pain for the dollar is ahead and sees the greenback weakening between 3% and 5% over the next three to six months.

“When the biggest central bank in the world is on the move, look at everything through their lens and don’t get distracted,” said Mr. Benson of the London-based currency fund manager, regarding the Fed.

This year Mr. Benson expects the dollar’s fall to ripple similarly far and wide across global economies and markets.

“I don’t see many people complaining about a weaker dollar” over the next few months, he said. “If the dollar is falling, that economic setup should also mean that tech stocks should do quite well.”

Mr. Benson said he expects the dollar’s fall to brighten the outlook for some emerging- market assets, and he is betting on China’s offshore yuan as the country’s economy reopens. He sees the euro strengthening versus the dollar if the eurozone’s economy continues to fare better than expected.

—Caitlin McCabe

Stocks still appear overvalued

Even after the S&P 500 fell 15% from its record high reached in January 2022, U.S. stocks still look expensive, said Rupal Bhansali, chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, who oversees $6.7 billion in assets.

Of course, the market doesn’t appear as frothy as it did for much of 2020 and 2021, but she said she expects a steeper correction in prices ahead.

The broad stock-market gauge recently traded at 17.9 times its projected earnings over the next 12 months, according to FactSet. That is below the high of around 24 hit in late 2020, but above the historical average over the past 20 years of 15.7, FactSet data show.

“The old habit was buy the dip,” Ms. Bhansali said. “The new habit should be sell the rip.”

One reason Ms. Bhansali said the selloff might not be over yet? The market is still underestimating the Fed.

Investors repeatedly mispriced how fast the Fed would move in 2022, wrongly expecting the central bank to ease up on its rate increases. They were caught off guard by Fed Chair Jerome Powell‘s aggressive messages on interest rates. It stoked steep selloffs in the stock market, leading to the most turbulent year since the 2008 financial crisis. Now investors are making the same mistake again, Ms. Bhansali said.

Current stock valuations don’t reflect the big shift coming in central-bank policy, which she thinks will have to be more aggressive than many expect. Though broader measures of inflation have been falling, some slices, such as services inflation, have proved stickier. Ms. Bhansali is positioning for such areas as healthcare, which she thinks would be more insulated from a recession than the rest of the market, to outperform.

“The Fed is determined to win the war since they lost the battle,” Ms. Bhansali said.

—Gunjan Banerji

A better year for bonds seen

Gone are the days when tumbling bond yields left investors with few alternatives to stocks. Finally, bonds are back, according to Niall O’Sullivan of Neuberger Berman, an investment manager overseeing about $427 billion in client assets at the end of 2022.

After a turbulent year for the fixed-income market in 2022, bonds have kicked off the new year on a more promising note. The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index—composed largely of U.S. Treasurys, highly rated corporate bonds and mortgage-backed securities—climbed 3% so far this year on a total return basis through Thursday’s close. That is the index’s best start to a year since it began in 1989, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Mr. O’Sullivan, the chief investment officer of multi asset strategies for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Neuberger Berman, said the single biggest conversation he is currently having with clients is how to increase fixed-income exposure.

“Strategically, the facts have changed. When you look at fixed income as an asset class…they’re now all providing yield, and possibly even more importantly, actual cash coupons of a meaningful size,” he said. “That is a very different world to the one we’ve been in for quite a long time.”

Mr. O’Sullivan said it is important to reconsider how much of an advantage stocks now hold over bonds, given what he believes are looming risks for the stock market. He predicts that inflation will be harder to wrangle than investors currently anticipate and that the Fed will hold its peak interest rate steady for longer than is currently expected. Even more worrying, he said, it will be harder for companies to continue passing on price increases to consumers, which means earnings could see bigger hits in the future.

“That is why we are wary on the equity side,” he said.

Among the products that Mr. O’Sullivan said he favours in the fixed-income space are higher-quality and shorter-term bonds. Still, he added, it is important for investors to find portfolio diversity outside bonds this year. For that, he said he views commodities as attractive, specifically metals such as copper, which could continue to benefit from China’s reopening.

—Caitlin McCabe


Find the fear, and find the value

Ramona Persaud, a portfolio manager at Fidelity Investments, said she can still identify bargains in a pricey market by looking in less-sanguine places. Find the fear, and find the value, she said.

“When fear really rises, you can buy some very well-run businesses,” she said.

Take Taiwan’s semiconductor companies. Concern over global trade and tensions with China have weighed on the shares of chip makers based on the island. But those fears have led many investors to overlook the competitive advantages those companies hold over rivals, she said.

“That is a good setup,” said Ms. Persaud, who considers herself a conservative value investor and manages more than $20 billion across several U.S. and Canadian funds.

The S&P 500 is trading above fair value, she said, which means “there just isn’t widespread opportunity,” and investors might be underestimating some of the risks that lie in waiting.

“That tells me the market is optimistic,” said Ms. Persaud. “That would be OK if the risks were not exogenous.”

Those challenges, whether rising interest rates and Fed policy or Russia’s war in Ukraine and concern over energy-security concerns in Europe, are complicated, and in many cases, interrelated.

It isn’t all bad news, she said. China ended its zero-Covid restrictions. A milder winter in Europe has blunted the effects of the war in Ukraine on energy prices and helped the continent sidestep recession, and inflation is slowing.

“These are reasons the market is so happy,” she said.

—Justin Baer

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