When Carol Popovich and her partner, Alice McKeage, began planning for retirement, they didn’t factor in a layoff. The Detroit residents figured McKeage, 60, would retire from the IT department at Ford Motor Co. in the next few years, while Popovich, 56, would continue to design control circuits at ThyssenKrupp Krause, at German-owned automobile engineering firm.
But this September, after 13 years at the company, Popovich lost her job -- without warning. Popovich says she was aware ThyssenKrupp was in the process of merging some divisions, but “we thought it was going to bring us more security. But it turned out to be a downsizing, restructuring thing.” Seventeen people, including Popovich, were let go. Layoffs aren’t a foreign concept for Popovich, who has worked in the often unpredictable automotive business since 1973, but “this is the first time it seemed so severe,” she says. “Before, it was ‘We’ll take you back when we can.’ This time it was ‘We’re not going to call you back.’ ”
In addition to being victims of the foundering American automobile industry, the couple is experiencing the concomitant real estate crunch as well. After McKeage’s retirement, the couple planned to live together in Detroit’s Madison Heights neighborhood, where McKeage currently lives. So Popovich put her house in the Southfield suburb on the market. The house has remained unsold since January.
“I’ve had to lower the price,” Popovich says. She originally listed it at $160,000, but at press time was considering an offer of $120,000 -- $10,000 less than what she paid for it in 2006. “And that’s not including what I have put into it,” she says, noting the new windows and heating and cooling systems. “I consider it just an expensive lesson learned.”
Meanwhile, Popovich has begun sending out résumés, networking with former coworkers, and looking for contract work. She’s also using the outplacement service that ThyssenKrupp provided as part of her severance package. “I’m hoping to improve my overall interviewing skills,” she says.
For now, Popovich intends to focus on opportunities in the admittedly anemic auto industry, because “that’s what I know,” though she’s not optimistic that a new job will match her previous income. So she’s also investigating retraining programs offered by the state to branch out into other, perhaps more viable, industries. “It concerns me to be starting over at 56 years old,” she says. “But you do what you have to do, I guess.”