It's a scary time to be unemployed. These people still chose to get laid off

Wendell Stinnett had been planning to work for at least another four years, maybe even eight. Instead he agreed this summer to walk away from the job he's had for 31 years.

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Chris Isidore
, CNN Business
CNN — Wendell Stinnett had been planning to work for at least another four years, maybe even eight. Instead he agreed this summer to walk away from the job he's had for 31 years.

It's a scary time to be unemployed. Even with a better-than-expected June jobs report Monday, the unemployment rate still stands at 11% and 17.8 million people are out of work and looking for a job. Most of the 4.8 million jobs that were added last month were people being called back to jobs they lost from the pandemic lockdown — not people finding new positions. There were only 5 million job openings in April, the most recent figure available, not nearly enough to go around for everyone looking for work.

But Stinnett, 61, is one of thousands who has agreed to take a buyout, from his company, Sabre, which handles reservations and software for the nation's travel industry.

"I like to work," said Stinnett, who is a manager in the company's billing department. "Looking at our business, we bill based upon bookings from airlines, hotels, cruise lines. All of our customers were hit. The revenue stream dried up. With that information, I saw the handwriting on the wall."

Stinnett's situation is not unique. So far, 4,500 employees at American Airlines have agreed to leave the company, mostly for early retirement. So have 5,500 employees at Boeing. And offers are on the table at many of the nation's airlines and other travel companies.

Many non-travel companies are offering buyouts to cut staff and align with a new market reality, including TIAA, Kickstarter and Florida hospital system Lee Health.

Stinnett, who lives and works in suburban Dallas, said he figured there would be involuntary layoffs coming, and that they wouldn't receive the same package that he was able to receive. So his decision to retire wasn't entirely voluntary.

"If the company had financial stability right now, I would have continued working there," he said. "But I think the decision to take the voluntary retirement program is my best choice."

Stinnett is planning to adjust his retirement plans, cut some significant expenses in his home budget, including a health aide who was helping to care for his wife, and taking on those duties himself.

"I would be too nervous if I was in the late 40s or early 50s," he said. "I saw team members in that position, they both opted not to do it and rolled the dice."

Rolling the dice

But some workers that far from retirement are willing to take similar offers from their companies.

One Delta customer service employee, who spoke to CNN on the condition that his name not be used, took a buyout offer from the airline, even though he's only 50. He said he benefits from the fact that he had significant savings before he started working for Delta five years ago, and his wife still has a good job.

He's happy with the offer, which he said will pay him for 15 weeks, a year of medical insurance and 11 years of travel benefits on the airline.

The Delta employee said he had agreed to take a nine-month unpaid leave from the company earlier this year, because he could keep his benefits, such as insurance and free travel.

"I'm fortunate, I've been able to work for Delta almost exclusively for the flight benefits," he said.

But he was actually called back to work early because of an influx of calls from customers, some canceling summer flights, other asking about the status of refunds. He didn't foresee good long-term prospects in staying with the company.

"There's probably 2,000 people below in terms of seniority, but I don't feel that comfortable with that at all," he said. "I love Delta. If I believed I would survive this, I would probably stick around. But I'm going to take the offer I know rather than rolling the dice on something that won't be as generous."

But he said many of his coworkers aren't as fortunate as he is and can't afford to lose their jobs. So they're going to stay put and hope for the best.

"As generous as offer is, they don't have that choice," he said. "It's a job paying $18 an hour that doesn't require a college education. They know they can't replace that. They say 'I can't make this money working a Chipotle.'"

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