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Jessops shuts stores for last time with the loss of 1,370 jobs

Category : Business

Administrators PwC said the camera shop chain was unable to continue trading and shops will not open on Saturday

Camera retailer Jessops has closed the doors on its 187 stores for the last time and made 1,370 staff redundant after the administrators said the camera shop chain was unable to continue trading.

The shock announcement on Friday, which came only days after the firm said it was in financial trouble, left staff stunned.

Head office staff in Leicester were told they would keep their jobs for the time being, but are also expected to be made redundant within the next few weeks.

The administrators, Edward Williams, Rob Hunt and Matthew Hammond of accountants PwC, said a review of the business had quickly revealed it was no longer viable. They said stores will not open on Saturday and customers will be unable to return any purchases.

Hunt said: “We have reviewed the position of the business and held extensive discussions with suppliers around their support for ongoing trading.

“It is apparent that we cannot continue to trade and as a result we have had to make the difficult decision to begin the closure of all 187 Jessops stores at the close of business today.

“Regrettably, this will result in around 1,370 job losses across the stores with further job losses likely, in due course, at the head office in Leicester.

He said stock will be collected from all the shops over the coming days and returned to a central warehouse.

“It will be returned to suppliers if they are entitled to it. As a consequence of the closure, Jessops is no longer able to accept returned product from customers,” he said.

Jessops is one of many high street names to go bust in the last year. It follows electrical retailer Comet and JJB Sports into the shop graveyard, with analysts saying there are likely to be many more victims before the economic recovery takes hold.

Figures covering the Christmas period show shoppers were reluctant to spend while wage rises remain constrained and cuts to welfare payments are in the pipeline. Only a handful of upmarket chains, including John Lewis, improved their sales significantly.

Estimates by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research on Friday suggested that the economy, which is suffering from a combination of austerity at home and a desperate lack of exports to European markets, may have contracted in the final three months of 2012. A second quarter of contraction at the start of 2013 would signal the onset of a triple-dip recession.

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Comet to go into administration due to ‘underinvestment’ – video

Category : Business

Retail analyst Richard Perks attributes underinvestment to the closure of electrical retailer Comet

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Continue reading here: Comet to go into administration due to ‘underinvestment’ – video

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Arts Council England jobs to be cut

Category : Business

More than 100 jobs will go at funding body, which also faces regional restructuring

More than 100 staff are to be axed from Arts Council England (ACE), it has been announced, alongside news of a regional restructuring in order to make savings demanded in the last spending review by the then culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt.

The reduction in staff from around 559 jobs to 442 will be accompanied by closures of offices and mergers of regions, as part of a strategy which the organisation’s chief executive, Alan Davey, said would result in ACE doing less but doing that “differently … [and] well”.

Some fear this will mean people working in the arts will be further away from their local Arts Council office; there were claims that the body had been “butchered” and suggestions that the changes amount to a “withering” of the regions.

The Arts Council had been told to cut its administration costs by 50% as part of the 2010 government spending review, in which its annual budget will drop from £449m to £349m by 2015.

The restructuring means that there will be five Arts Council areas instead of nine, covering London, the south-east, south-west, Midlands and north, while the body said that property costs would be halved through reductions in the size of offices.

Major offices will be located in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol, plus some smaller local offices in an effort to keep the Arts Council close to the arts and cultural sector and to local government.

The number of executive directors, who are responsible for delivering the Arts Council’s overall strategy, will also be reduced from eight to four.

Davey said that the savings had been challenging to achieve, given the body’s “already pared-down structure”, but added: “There is an absolute need for the Arts Council to remain an intelligent investor, leading growth and ambition in an arts and cultural sector which contributes so much to the wealth, quality of life and reputation of our nation.

“We are protecting the relationship management and the artistic and cultural expertise we know our colleagues in the sector value, but we must be pragmatic. We’ll do less and we’ll do it differently – but we’ll do it well.”

The 2010 spending review saw a 29.6% cut in ACE’s current government grant of £449m to £349m. At the time of that announcement ACE was asked to pass on cuts of only 15% to the “frontline” – defined by the culture minister, Ed Vaizey, as its portfolio of regularly funded organisations.

Moves towards the new structure are to begin next month and are scheduled to be completed by July 2013. ACE said that proposals for the changes were refined during consultations with staff, unions and the wider cultural sector and that it had been guided by the principle of being able to continue to deliver its 10-year strategy for 2011-21.

The television executive Sir Peter Bazalgette, who was behind programmes such as Big Brother and is the chair of the English National Opera, was announced as the new chairman of the organisation last month and will replacing Dame Liz Forgan from February. Forgan’s tenure was cut short by Hunt – a decision he said was one of the hardest he had had to make. Forgan, who chairs the Scott Trust, owner of the Guardian, served for four years and had hoped for a second four years until Hunt stepped in.

Nearly 700 Waverley workers made redundant

Category : Business

Administrators have been unable to find buyer for drinks supply firm – which will continue to operate with workforce of 97

Nearly 700 employees at collapsed drinks supplier Waverley TBS have been made redundant after administrators were unable to find a buyer for the business. The firm, which supplies alcoholic and soft drinks to clients including Madame Tussauds parent company Merlin Entertainments, fell into administration last week.

It has offices in Hemel Hempstead, Chesterfield and Felling, near Gateshead, and was sold a little more than two years ago by the brewer Heineken. The business will continue to operate with a reduced workforce of 97. It has suffered as the number of pubs and bars in Britain has fallen. More than 6,000 pubs have closed in the last four years as the smoking ban, beer duty increases and competition from supermarkets have taken their toll.

Daniel Butters, joint administrator and restructuring services partner at administrator Deloitte, said: “Regrettably, despite our continued efforts, we have been unable to identify a suitable buyer for the business. Whilst we will continue to consider offers for the sale of the business as a going concern, we will now focus on realising value from the company’s assets.”

Waverley was acquired for £19.2m in cash and loan notes in June 2010 by a management buy-in team led by former Heineken UK boss Jeremy Blood.

It posted a pre-tax profit of £4.2m last year despite a 12% drop in turnover.

Waverley was originally the wholesale arm of Scottish & Newcastle, which was taken over by Heineken in 2008 in a joint deal with Carlsberg.

Royal Bank of Scotland forced to cut price of Direct Line share offering

Category : Business

Analysts expect OFT investigation into car insurance market to hit Direct Line’s premium income and depress flotation price

The top management of Royal Bank of Scotland’s insurance arm Direct Line stand to rake in millions of pounds after its planned stock market flotation, even as a consumer watchdog found evidence that drivers are being overcharged for car insurance and ordered a detailed investigation into the industry.

RBS could be forced to slash Direct Line’s flotation price after the Office of Fair Trading referred motor insurance to the Competition Commission for an inquiry that could take up to two years.

Only hours after the decision, Direct Line, Britain’s biggest motor insurer, released details of its planned stock market debut. The prospectus revealed that its chief executive, Paul Geddes, and finance chief, John Reizenstein, are in line for big potential payouts following the flotation. The maximum annual package for Geddes, including cash and shares, will be £3.8m while Reizenstein could get up to £2.1m.

Geddes will get an annual salary of £760,000, a bonus worth up to £1.3m in deferred shares, share awards under the long-term incentive plan (LTIP) worth up to £1.5m and a £190,000 pension. Reizenstein’s salary is £460,000, plus a bonus of up to £690,000 in shares and £920,000 under the LTIP. A spokeswoman said three-quarters of the compensation was variable and subject to performance criteria.

Direct Line offers home, travel, pet and car insurance. It also owns the Churchill and Privilege brands and the breakdown business Green Flag. It said it would float at between 160p and 195p a share, with the mid point valuing the company at £2.7bn. Some of the 375m to 500m shares on offer – representing between 25% and 33% of Direct Line – will be earmarked for sale to private investors. The spokeswoman said the sale would be done through brokers, rather than a “man-on-the-street type campaign like British Gas”.

Analysts think that the Competition Commission inquiry will force the flotation price down. The OFT asked the commission to investigate after concluding that insurers were inflating the cost of repairs and hire vehicles by £225m a year. The OFT said it had “reasonable grounds for suspecting that there are features of the market that prevent, restrict or distort competition”.

Sandy Chen at Cenkos Securities said further investigation of the motor insurance industry “will almost certainly mean that forecasts for premium income will need to be revised downwards”. He said that any downward revision of expected profitability would put pressure on the float price. He said it was possible that RBS may have to accept a valuation of less than £2.5bn.

Shore Capital analyst Eamonn Flanagan said the commission inquiry could “put a spanner in the works” of the flotation, London’s biggest for more than a year. “We may see Direct Line struggling to achieve a valuation of over £2.7bn.” But he thought the hoped-for value was achievable. “There is a reasonable level of confidence underpinning the dividend.” He also believed that the targeting of retail investors was a “smart move”.

RBS, which is 82% owned by the government, has to sell Direct Line by the end of 2014 under EU rules after the £45bn taxpayer bailout in 2008. The sell-off is likely to happen in three tranches. At least a quarter will be sold in the first round to institutional investors and stockbrokers, led by Barclays Stockbrokers, which will help private investors buy shares.

Direct Line will assess demand before deciding how many shares it will make available to retail investors. The shares formally start trading around 16 October.

RBS has not said what it will do with the float proceeds but given the pressure on the bank to strengthen its capital position, they are likely to go into retained earnings.”Direct Line Insurance Group has a leading market share and its scale has the potential to deliver a significant advantage,” said Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown, one of the brokers involved in the share offer to retail investors. “The first half of 2012 saw the value raised by London Stock Exchange IPOs at similar low levels to those around the depth of the financial crisis in 2009. Given this, and the current economic uncertainty, we believe that the stock will need to be priced to appeal to investors in order to be successful. We also believe RBS will be determined to achieve an acceptable price for their shareholders.”

The flotation is expected to lead to more job losses at Direct Line, which recently announced 891 job cuts from its 15,000-strong workforce. It hopes to save £100m by slashing costs in marketing and IT to improve profitability as a standalone company.

Disabled Remploy workers to strike over government’s sale of factories

Category : Business

Employees to stage four-day strike in protest at removal of obligation for new employers to provide pensions

Disabled workers at factories being sold by the government are to stage a four-day strike over the threat of job losses.

Members of the GMB and Unite unions at Remploy sites in Chesterfield and Springburn, Glasgow, will walk out from 28 August.

Officials accused the Department for Work and Pensions of removing the obligation for a new employer to provide a pension, and warned that potential buyers may want to make redundancies based on an individual’s disability.

GMB national officer Phil Davies said: “Members are concerned that no information about three potential buyers has been given to them. The DWP has removed the obligation for a new employer to provide a pension.

“We understand that all three potential buyers may want to make redundancies based on the individual disability.”

The GMB said 25 Remploy factories closed last week under controversial government plans to switch spending to help individual workers find jobs in mainstream sectors.

Kevin Hepworth of Unite said: “To attack the most vulnerable in our society and throw them on the scrapheap is an act against disabled people.”

Half of the 54 factories are to close by the end of the year, 18 will close or be sold next year and the remaining nine face an uncertain future.

Bmibaby to close after owner BA fails to find buyer

Category : Business

Loss-making airline which employs 470 staff is to be grounded this September

Bmibaby, which employs 470 staff, is to close this September after no buyer was found for the loss-making airline.

All flights from its Belfast base will cease in mid-June, with many services from East Midlands and Birmingham axed at the same time.

British Airways’ parent company IAG acquired bmibaby and bmi regional when its purchase of bmi mainline from Lufthansa was cleared last month. IAG has made clear that the low-cost and regional subsidiaries were not part of its plans. The takeover could ultimately lead to 2,000 job losses across the bmi group, although IAG boss Willie Walsh has insisted that the deal was preserving many jobs that would otherwise have been lost.

IAG, which has begun consultations with trade unions on future options for bmibaby, said there had been progress with a potential buyer for bmi regional. Peter Simpson, bmi interim managing director, said: “We recognise that these are unsettling times for bmibaby employees, who have worked tirelessly during a long period of uncertainty.

“bmibaby has delivered high levels of operational performance and customer service, but has continued to struggle financially, losing more than £100m in the last four years. In the consultation process, we will need to be realistic about our options.”

To help stem losses as quickly as possible and as a preliminary measure, we will be making reductions to bmibaby’s flying programme from June. We sincerely apologise to all customers affected and will be providing full refunds and doing all we can with other airlines to mitigate the impact of these changes.”

Bmibaby flights to and from Belfast will end on 11 June, along with services from East Midlands to Amsterdam, Paris, Geneva, Nice, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newquay, and from Birmingham to Knock and Amsterdam.

The airline said customers could still book summer holiday flights from East Midlands and Birmingham. Bmi mainline services from Belfast to London will continue.

Dairy Crest closures put 500 jobs at risk

Category : Business

Supermarket milk supplier announces plans to close factories in Cambridgeshire and Merseyside

Almost 500 jobs at Dairy Crest are under threat after the milk producer announced plans to close two dairies, highlighting the fragility of the job market ahead of unemployment figures out on Wednesday.

Although economists expect fewer new benefits claimants in March, forecasts of painfully weak pay inflation suggest the climate remains bleak. Economists expect to see 5,900 more people signing on in March, compared with 7,200 in February; but salaries are forecast to grow by just 1.4%.

Chris Williamson, chief economist at data provider Markit, said: “While [Wednesday] might see some good news on the labour market, the overall picture is one of persistent high unemployment. The key factor which characterises just how weak it is are the pay figures. People can’t negotiate up their wage rates because they are worried about job security and visibly high levels of unemployment.”

Dairy Crest announced plans to shut a glass bottling dairy at Aintree, where 220 people work, and a site at Fenstanton in Cambridgeshire employing 250 people.

The company also said its contract to supply milk to Tesco would not be renewed when it comes to an end in July. Dairy Crest sells around 3% of its liquid milk to Tesco and insisted that the loss off the contract was not a factor in closing the dairies.

Instead, it said the closure of the Aintree plant reflected changing habits, as milk deliveries decline and people opt for plastic bottles and bags of milk over glass bottles.

Chief executive Mark Allen said: “It’s not a decision we’ve taken lightly; it has an impact on quite a lot of people.” Dairy Crest is hoping to find jobs for 10% of the 470 staff affected by the closures in other parts of the business. Allen said the company was working with the rest of the staff, retraining them were necessary and offering help with CVs and interview techniques.

Dairy Crest expects the closures to cost around £15m, but said the loss of the Tesco contract would not hit profit expectations for the year to March 2013.

Analysts at Exane BNP Paribas said the loss of the “hard-won” contract was a blow for Dairy Crest. “This was small in the context of Dairy Crest and Tesco, but this had been seen as a potential foot in the door to the UK’s biggest retailer.” They added that it was “a further reminder that the UK liquid milk industry remains challenging on all fronts”.

Remploy staff reject claims of disabled segregation

Category : Business

The government – and some disability groups – want to close Remploy’s sheltered factories but the prospect of mainstream employment, assuming they can find jobs, scares the workers

After 20 years working in a Remploy sheltered factory, there are few jobs Paul Effeny has not done. From soldering circuit boards, he has gone on to work in the kitchens and packaging electronics on the assembly line. These days he is an odd-job man, emptying bins and cleaning up.

For the 44-year-old, who suffers from severe learning difficulties, work on the factory floor in Barking, east London, with other disabled people has provided “support, advice, help and friends”. He has acquired professional qualifications and says his £246-a-week job buys him independence. “I pay rent, council tax, gas, BT, mobile,” he says.

But unless ministers announce a U-turn by August, Effeny – and the 47 other disabled people working at the Remploy factory – will be laid off and forced to look for work in “the mainstream“.

The government claims it can no longer bear the £68m of annual losses racked up by the 54 Remploy sheltered factories. So 36 sites, including Barking – where management says losses last year were £1.6m – will shut.

The prospect of life outside the secure Remploy factory is “frightening”, says Effeny. “I don’t want to live on the dole for the rest of my life. But I have worked somewhere else and a lot of bullying goes on.”

Granted exclusive access to the factory, the Guardian heard harrowing tales from staff about their time in mainstream employment. In his seven years working for a firm in Romford, Effeny said he was frequently called names, often had to endure a barrage of missiles and was occasionally hit by colleagues.

His most “frightening moment” was when two women tried to set light to his overalls – apparently as a joke – while he was waiting in the queue at the company canteen. When he complained to managers, his tormentors beat him up on the way home. Little wonder that Effeny felt distressed when the disability minister Maria Miller announced the Remploy closures in March. “I just flipped out when I heard.”

Injured soldiers

Whatever the sentiment in Remploy’s factories, ministers say they are an idea whose time has gone. Set up in 1945 to provide work for injured soldiers, the factories are in manufacturing sectors – such as electronics, textiles and automotive – which struggle to compete with cheaper foreign labour. Given the diminished role of manufacturing in the UK, critics complain skills learned there are no longer “relevant”.

The coalition argues that Remploy is now a relic of bygone nationalised age. Ministers say the state is paying £25,000 a year to keep each disabled person in a job in Remploy factories, and insists that money would be better used to fund schemes that would help disabled people retrain, fund specialist equipment to allow them to work, or pay for specialist help to keep them in mainstream jobs.

The trade unions dispute this analysis. In Barking, Unite’s Julie Haynes says the electronics division was in line for a £1m order to assemble Raspberry Pi, the credit card-sized computer for schools, until the ministerial announcement last month. The unions argue that Remploy factories make chemical warfare suits for troops in Afghanistan, produce parts for Jaguar cars, and make most of the furniture for schools and libraries. Haynes also says factory losses have been overplayed, not helped by a lack of investment and high administrative costs imposed from London. As an example, she claims the Remploy head office charges the Barking factory £200 a month to run an email account.

There is also an issue of timing. The closures will lead to 1,752 staff, including 1,518 disabled people, losing their jobs. Economists say that, given the parlous state of the economy, those made redundant will find it very difficult to find another job – according to the OECD, the likelihood of people with disabilities being unemployed in the UK is twice that of someone without a disability.

They will also be at the back of a very long queue of 2.7 million unemployed people. Claudia Wood, deputy director of Demos, suggested that “perhaps the government did the numbers too”. She says: “A year claiming employment support allowance [which replaced incapacity benefit] amounts to £5,000, which is still cheaper than the cost of supported employment [in a Remploy unit] for a year. But what about a lifetime of unemployment, and the costs to health services associated with the mental and physical effects of long-term unemployment?”

None of this appears to cut much ice in Whitehall. Iain Duncan Smith, the welfare and pensions secretary, has defended the move, saying the state should not fund “Victorian-era segregated employment”.

The Department for Work and Pensions said: “For many, Remploy factories can lead to institutionalisation and isolation of disabled people.”

This line of thinking is echoed by many disability organisations, long concerned that Remploy factories were a block in their attempts to shift policy towards “supporting disabled people to get in, stay in and get on in competitive open employment”.

This finding was at the heart of a government-commissioned report last year into disability employment by Liz Sayce, then chief executive of Radar, the Royal Association for Disability Rights, which is now Disability Rights UK. She controversially called Remploy factories “ghettoes” operating a “glass ceiling … with non-disabled people largely running the organisation and disabled people working in it”.

It is this idea that separate workplaces get in the way of tackling bullying, harassment and discrimination that is provoking anger on the assembly lines in Barking. Stephen Whitlock, 42, who suffers from severe dyslexia and works on circuit boards, says his experience outside Remploy was “that employers put a lot of pressure to get things done quickly. It’s very pressurised. You get shouted at for making mistakes. I don’t want to go back to that. Imagine: I cannot even stack shelves in Sainsbury’s because I can’t read.”


Any plan to “include” disabled people in mainstream workplaces as a way of countering stereotypes and ensuring good practice is dismissed as “do-gooding gone bad”.

Mark Holloway, a GMB shop steward in Barking, who has cerebral palsy, says: “The fact is many staff have worked in mainstream employment. They had a terrible time. That’s why they don’t want to go back. Liz Sayce said we’re a ghetto. I would say we’re a community. People feel safe.”

Holloway, who has worked at Barking for 12 years, says the staff know former employees who took redundancy last year but have still not found jobs. He says successive governments, including Labour, have run down Remploy.

“We used to have 200 people working here. A lot of staff went when they took redundancy and they still come back and say ‘we are looking for work’. You are talking about people with families or who support elderly parents. Closing down the factory is a disgrace. I can tell you: at 45, I can’t see me working again,” he says.

The government argues that such fears are unfounded. To enable a disabled person to get into a “non-subsidised, non-segregated” job costs the state just £2,900 a year under the Access to Work scheme. It claims that for the same price as keeping the 2,300 Remploy staff in work, almost 20,000 people could be helped into mainstream positions.

Sayce told the Guardian that “tying the limited public funding for disability employment support into a system that segregates and doesn’t contribute to the overall economy seems both outdated and wasteful”.

She welcomed the government’s assertion that £15m of the cash saved from closing down Remploy will now be used to fund more places on Access to Work. Another £8m will be used to help unemployed Remploy workers find work. That leaves at least £40m in savings that can be returned to the taxpayer – or used to pay off the deficit.

There is little doubt that schemes such as Access to Work are popular with many disabled people. David Aldred, a lecturer in pharmacy at Leeds University, says he could only keep working because of support from Access to Work. The 37-year-old has a degenerative connective tissue disorder that causes an unbearable burning pain in his joints.

Once a keen cricketer and scuba diver, the condition is now so crippling that Aldred can no longer type or drive a normal car. Yet he can teach because the scheme allowed him to modify his car and install voice-recognition software on his computer, and pays for an assistant to help prepare lessons. “Access to Work is a lifeline and I could not continue with my job without it,” he says. “The alternative is a low-level job where I’d be bored, or being long-term sick.”

• Comments will be opened on this piece at 9am on Thursday

Looking for work: our readers respond

Category : Business

We asked you how you’re being affected by the so-called economic recovery. Eight Guardian readers share their thoughts

The latest official US job figures were released today and proved to be a surprising disappointment. The US added 120,000 new jobs in March, half what they added in February. Last week, we asked you to tell us how your hometown is being affected by the so-called economic recovery, and here’s what you told us:

‘I feel stranded for the first time in my working life’ – Jenna Barry, @JennaMBarry

I’m 26, have a masters in conservation biology and a bachelors in zoology, as well as a good wealth of experience under my belt. I have now been without stable employment in my field of interest for close to a year, and it is most definitely taking its toll. I feel quite stranded for the first time in my working life.

Free time can be a bonus for productivity. I maintain an environmental blog, I have written a proposal for a PhD, and I am looking into a veterinary nursing apprenticeship. Unfortunately, exercising one’s mind and creativity rarely does much for finances, and though I am loathe to admit it, money matters. Despite praise for my blog, it is not a source of income. PhDs require funding, and veterinary nursing is unbelievably oversubscribed. I am sometimes scared that I’ve lost my dream.

Being as passionate about your subject as I am about mine is both a blessing and a curse in this climate – a blessing to know without doubt what you want to immerse yourself in, to commit yourself to, to be. A curse to know that you’ll never rejoice in anything less.

‘If I don’t find a job, I’ll have to go back to Afghanistan’ – Jay Atwood, @jayfoh

I am looking for a job right now. I’ve been looking for a job this time since about October. I got back in January from a yearlong government contracting job in Afghanistan. Before that, it was a security guard position at a museum. Before that, I stocked a wine store. Before that, I worked for the US census bureau. I have a college degree and a law degree, but no license to practice law. If I don’t find a state-side job soon, I’ll have to go back to Afghanistan.

I’m very frustrated with the job search. Do I leave off my law degree from the résumé? Is that the reason that I don’t even get calls for interviews? Do my skills not match up with HR hiring department criteria, or is it something else? I feel like I have much to offer a company, but the best I can seem to do is a combat zone position that is only available to me because of skills I acquired while in the army reserve, plus a security clearance.

It seems there are lots of jobs listed on the internet in my area. I apply to as many as I think I qualify for, but lots of them are not open positions, but fronts for for-profit career placement services or identity-stealing spam collectors.

I am 40 years old. There is nothing I would like better than to work 25 years for the same employer and retire. At this point, that doesn’t seem very likely.

‘I’m not worried about losing my job, but I’m not immune to it either. That’s just the reality’ – Charlene Gary, @themesskeeper

I live in Orlando, Florida, the tourist capital of the world. The first thing people cut back on when they lose their job is vacation time, so yeah, things have been tenuous here for a while.

My neighborhood has gone through a transformation in the last few years: lots more rentals, some vacant houses and some that just won’t sell. We’ve always been a very transient city, but it seems like it has been even more so the last few years. People rent houses, you learn their first name and what car they drive, and 6 months later they move out and someone new arrives. It’s weird.

I haven’t personally experienced the job downturn, but I hear about it. I work for the local government, and almost daily the government, at every level, is being scrutinized for some policy, procedure or paycheck. We are tightening our belts here as well. Positions are being eliminated, and no raises have been had in over three years. I’m not worried about losing my job, but I’m not immune to it either. That’s just the reality.

Just as I take half an hour to actually get out of bed in the morning, I think the recovery is slowly regaining momentum. It’s taking its shuffling steps down the hallway with eyes half open to get the day started. We both need breakfast and tea before we can say we’re there.

‘I’m rethinking the definition of a real job’ – Suzanne Exposito, @senorita_ex

Four years ago, I expected to have a swanky job at a magazine by now. But by the time I graduated with a BA in writing, print journalism was declared obsolete. Even with several office jobs and internships under my belt, my job prospects looked abysmal.

That summer I completed a total of 72 job applications. The only job I got was an internship that paid minimum wage with limited hours. I took it, but I only survived those three months with food stamps and the occasional freelance gig.

Then I turned to professional babysitting.

Seven months after graduation, I scored a position as a nanny in Manhattan. It’s not my ideal career, but it pays the rent, among other things. I like my job. I like kids. And most of all, I like the fact that I don’t report to a desk. But my parents want me to get a master’s. Today, I’m $58,000 in debt. Graduate school only means more debt. “But you’ll have a real job,” they say.

Now I’m rethinking the definition of a “real job”. People look down on domestic workers, but it’s astonishing how many successful, affluent families couldn’t function without us. It’s shameful how little compassion is valued, especially in today’s economy. To care is to work. And I’m learning how to value different forms of work and making the most of it every day.

‘The talk of recovery is a personal affront’ – Frankie Jenkins

I have been jobless for 18 months, even though I live in a state with an official unemployment rate of 4%. I fear that claims of an improving labor market will leave people like me forgotten. For millions of us who see no prospect of a decent future, the talk of recovery is a personal affront.

In the small town where I live, the economy is centered on agriculture, retail, healthcare and hospitality. Despite their apparent demand for warm bodies, these employers offer low pay and few benefits. I have two advanced degrees in the humanities (one from a UK university), which are more of a burden than an asset in this blue collar town. In the past I survived on administrative jobs with modest pay but decent benefis, jobs that are becoming extinct.

To make matters worse, the job search has never been so degrading. I’m 57, so I can remember a time when looking for work did not mean forfeiting your dignity. The screening process for even the lowliest position is more invasive than a strip search. Urine tests, credit checks, Internet searches of your personal life and protracted inquisitions by committee are the norm.

In the wealthiest country in the world, should a job with a minimal level of financial security really be so much to ask? Despite the deficit hysteria, there is in fact no shortage of resources in the US.

‘What did I do to deserve this?’ – Albert Engelhart

At 31, I feel as though my unwritten social contract with American society has been broken. What exactly do I mean? In the US, we’re conditioned from grade school to believe that if you graduate from a decent university or volunteer for public service say, as a firefighter, prospects for a bright future are in your favor.

I graduated from a recognized university and spent three years as a volunteer firefighter because my community at the time needed me. Oddly, since 2008, when I moved back to Boston to further my education and live near to my parents, I have not been able to secure full-time employment. Instead I have worked as a barista, commercial clam digger and maintenance technician, among other marginalized occupations – none of which provided a living wage, health insurance or year-round employment.

But I believe now as I did then: America should be about opportunity and upward mobility for those who seek it. At the moment I feel like I’m experiencing downward mobility, and I’m not sure what I did to deserve it. I read about economic recovery in the Boston Globe, the New York Times and Economist, but I don’t think it’s trickled down to my level yet.

‘What kind of recovery fires teachers and crowds kids into crumbling classrooms?’ – Brian Giuffre

Almost everywhere in Orange County, empty commercial buildings litter the sunny sprawl. Fewer new cars are on the roads. More freeway exits are haunted by homeless people. They carry signs asking motorists for money. A lot of them are veterans.

I tutor math to college kids. Once I wanted to be teacher, but now …

Massive layoffs in California schools have decimated public education, ending the careers of first-rate teachers with years of experience. Now they compete for increasingly scarce substitute positions, earning around $100 per day, no benefits, no raises, no guarantee of regular work. The lucky few who avoided job cuts now teach classes crowded with 50 to 100 students.

Figuring I’d never find work as a teacher in California, I decided to create my own job. Even though entrepreneurship is the last thing I’d ever envision for myself, I started a small tutoring company. It’s a lot of work, but I enjoy all aspects of it – everything from web design to negotiating a sponsorship deal with the local women’s roller derby league.

I know I’ll make my business succeed and earn enough to meet my needs. But I’m far from optimistic about the overall economy. What kind of recovery fires teachers and crowds kids into crumbling classrooms? What kind of recovery reduces homeless veterans to begging in the streets?

‘There is generally a lot more opportunity today’ – Florence5

I have worked in the health insurance industry since 1997. In 2009 my then-company started a layoff that would finally claim 2,500 employees – I was one of them. It was difficult finding another job, and when I did, seven months later, it paid half of what I had been making.

Now, almost two years later, my current company is hiring. I have a new job within the company, closer to what I had been doing in my old company in both responsibilities and salary, and from my initial team, several of us have moved within the company into much more suitable jobs. There is generally a lot more opportunity available both in my company and in my industry. (Thank you, healthcare reform!)

My company hired a lot of good talent cheaply during the recession, and as things improve, people are looking for more responsibility and compensation and are willing to leave to company to find it.