Laid-off tech workers advised to sell plasma, personal belongings to survive For some, finding sustainable work after getting let go has been a nightmare

Nina McCollum has faced so many layoffs that at 55, she considers herself an unofficial expert on the topic. This marketing writer, who gained viral fame in 2019 for detailing her journey of submitting over 200 applications during two years of unemployment, eventually secured her dream job at a major HR tech company in the Bay Area. However, she found herself back to square one in March 2023 when she was laid off.

McCollum's situation is far from unique. Over the past two years, major tech companies in the Bay Area have let go of thousands of high-salaried employees, shaking an industry once deemed robust. Meta, for example, has axed at least 21,000 workers, and Google has issued numerous pink slips across San Francisco, Sunnyvale, and Mountain View. Despite state claims of economic growth and low unemployment, multiple individuals who spoke with SFGATE describe a grim reality.

McCollum attributes her struggle to her age and two decades of experience, which she believes make her less appealing compared to younger candidates. She also points to a market flooded with low-paying jobs and contract roles that lack benefits, fair pay, and reasonable hours. Even though recruiters from companies like Mozilla, Apple, and Microsoft have approached her, these discussions haven’t led to stable employment. Adding to her challenges, McCollum also cares for her mother, who has dementia, and has a child to look after, limiting her ability to drop everything for a job at a moment’s notice.

“They want someone young and cheap,” McCollum stated. Currently, after submitting approximately 100 applications, she advises others in similar situations to set aside their egos and take any job that prevents financial ruin. She warns against succumbing to high-volume, low-paying work that can lead to burnout and suggests selling belongings or plasma to keep afloat.

Tech recruiter Irene Nexica also felt an immediate plunge into poverty when she was laid off in March 2023. Since then, she has held several "survival jobs," ranging from catering to online retail, and now works as a career coach in a federally funded program that helps people train for employment. Nexica notes that many tech workers are now turning to such programs out of desperation. Companies, sensing this desperation, are exploiting it. For example, a nonprofit recruiting job she applied for had 1,400 applicants, offering significantly lower pay than usual—$80,000 to $90,000 instead of around $125,000. Nexica also encountered employers who misled her about job opportunities, resulting in wasted efforts.

Staffing agencies report flourishing business even as laid-off tech workers struggle. Jason King, a senior regional director for technology staffing at Robert Half, claims the market is still strong, advising applicants to consider roles at small- and medium-sized startups, tailor their resumes, and broaden their skill sets. Despite claims of high demand for workers, job seekers report months of unemployment. Robert Half states that, on average, it takes five weeks to hire entry-level employees and 11 weeks for senior leaders, with a projected increase in hiring contract workers for AI and machine learning, automation, and software development.

However, job seekers like McCollum remain skeptical. LinkedIn has transformed from a hub for professional boasting to a space for shared hardship, and McCollum has seen posts from people living in their cars. Nexica even saw her mentor apply for over 1,000 jobs before landing one through an acquaintance.

This trickle-down effect impacts other workers too. Minh Luu, a former contract worker at Cruise, now budgets everything carefully after being laid off from a $50-an-hour job. Despite applying for 200 jobs, including reaching the final round with Tesla before a hiring freeze, he remains unemployed. The emergence of "ghost jobs"—positions listed but not actually hiring—adds to the frustration.

Justin King, unemployed since 2019, also describes a cycle of applying for jobs, preparing for interviews, and facing repeated rejections, often from younger interviewers. He calls the experience extremely depressing and self-confidence-breaking, with dwindling finances and an uncertain future.

Ultimately, while industry insiders maintain an optimistic outlook, laid-off workers like McCollum and Nexica are left navigating an increasingly challenging job market, burdened by both financial and emotional strains.  

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