At 26, Christina Schneeman of Miami has big plans to buy a home someday. But for now, those plans are on hold while she motors to work on a scooter to cope with rising gas prices and parking fees. Each week, she sees her earnings from her day job as a salesperson dwindle with the drop in tips from her second job as a nightclub waitress.
"Money is tight for everyone," she said.
The slowdown, which many economists believe is a full-blown recession, is showing up in the labor market in higher layoffs and weaker hiring numbers.
It's also starting to show up in how workers balance their lives: scooters parked in employee lots, overstuffed workplace refrigerators, second jobs and workers prepping their résumés -- just in case.
"I think there's much less hope that a quick turnaround is in store," said John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an executive outplacement firm.
Terry Gomez remembers the day the gourmet coffee disappeared in the break room of her office. Gomez said it was a small thing, but one that has led to further cutbacks at the Miami credit union where she has worked for five years. From there, the cuts grew to intense scrutiny of expense reports and talk of hiring and salary freezes.
Gomez said her employer's intense bottom-line focus not only has her watching her spending, but also taking on more assignments to stand out. And she's considering using her weekends to learn new skills.
"I need to give up some free time right now to stay employed," she said.
Miami real estate agent Lizzie Padro also is resigned to sacrificing her personal life. With her industry in the doldrums, she spends her days, nights and weekends trying to sell homes and "keep my face out there." The mother of three said she does her best to spend time with her family, but ends up showing dozens of homes to potential buyers at all hours. "I make myself available for appointments no one else wants," she said.
Others -- even those in their 40s and 50s -- are coping with job losses and rising prices by moving back in with their parents. Financial planners report receiving many calls from parents seeking advice about taking in their grown children.
Some are making simpler changes to cope: car-pooling, brown-bagging, giving up the drive-through and doing without overtime.
Employers are heeding the warning signals, too. As money becomes tight at local businesses, employers are cutting out catered lunches, stretching fewer workers further, scrutinizing expenses, cutting back on temporary help, and postponing projects.
"What I see now is caution," said Suzanne Hodes, principal with CareerXchange of Miami. Hodes said businesses still are hiring skilled workers, but doing without unskilled and temporary workers.
Her business is reacting, too. Although her agency will not lay off employees, she said, when someone leaves, they aren't replaced.
Trying economic times can create tension at even the healthiest companies, forcing managers to deal with employees spending work time negotiating with creditors while struggling to keep staff morale from cratering.
Others find themselves approached by struggling employees asking for loans.
Schneeman's primary employer is Steven Cohen, who has owned Dog Bar for more than 12 years. He has managed to continue to ring up strong sales during the slowdown. Cohen said his holistic department store for dogs caters to an affluent clientele. Because of that, he has been able to provide jobs for some looking for second incomes.
Cohen said he sees his costs rising and plans to get creative with marketing to keep his prices down.
"Maybe I'll start an e-commerce site or do more events," he said. "Or maybe I'll stock up with less doggie clothing and stick to the essentials" such as food.
Challenger said the best strategy for small-business owners during times such as these is to talk with staff and be open about difficulties. He urges businesses to use caution with cutbacks: "The risk is you may miss opportunities and lose good people."