Unemployed? Yeah, you're not alone. As of July, 2012, 12.8 million Americans are in the same boat - and that only counts those who are still looking. It doesn't count those who have become so demoralized they've given up, or those who have accepted part-time or low-wage jobs to help bridge the financial gap until they find a "real" job. Depressing, yes.
As you search, you probably have a salary range in mind - usually comparable to your last job, or even less if you've been looking for a while. You've probably discounted jobs that offer less, saving them for when you're really desperate - but that may not be the best move. Some employers are offering lower pay but more benefits, and those benefits may actually be better than a slightly higher salary. Since wages have been essentially stagnant since 1970 while productivity has risen 154%, you may as well consider perks as your due.
Health insurance can get incredibly expensive if you have to pay for it yourself. If you had insurance through your former employer, your COBRA payments probably came as a shock - and just imagine if you had to buy your own plan from the start. The average cost of health insurance is around $140 per person per month, for healthy people with no pre-existing conditions. Not astronomical, but if you're forced into a low-paying job, it could easily eat half a week's salary - to say nothing of the typical $3,500 deductible, you would have to pay if you actually needed to use it.
Employers recognize the need for comprehensive health insurance is a bigger issue now than ever before, so many companies are offering medical, dental and vision plans even to part-time employees. The job itself may pay slightly less, but not by much.
Paid Time Off
You may not think you need paid time off - after all, you go to work every day, sick or not, right? But what about when your kid gets sick and you can't get a babysitter at the last-minute? If you were assured an average of six days throughout the year where you would be paid for not showing up to work, it would take the burden off staying home to take care of your kid. In fact, it would make more financial sense to not hire a babysitter.
And what about paid vacation? Sure, we've not yet caught up to the European standard of four to seven paid weeks per year, but the average American job offers two weeks, which is nothing to sniff at. Employers recognize the need for workers to de-stress and recharge every so often - take advantage of it. The cost of a family vacation is a bit easier to bear when you don't also lose income during that time, and if you join the growing trend of the "staycation", it's all money in the bank.
What about volunteering? You don't have time to volunteer - you work for a living, right? Well, companies are seeing the value in encouraging their employees' altruistic sides, so many are granting the equivalent of two paid days per month to be spent on volunteer work. Not enough time to go build schools in Africa, but plenty of time to help out at the soup kitchen or animal shelter.
Flex time has been around for a while now, but it's becoming more common in industries that aren't time-sensitive. For instance, allowing waiters to show up "whenever" as long as the work gets done would result in a lot of angry diners. Graphic design, on the other hand, can be done any time, anywhere. Telecommuting goes hand-in-hand with flex time at many jobs, and liberates your schedule in a similar way.
Flex time and telecommuting can help minimize child care expenses by allowing you to work around your spouse's schedule so someone is always home with the kids, and it allows you to get non-work stuff done during the week as well so you can spend time with your family on the weekends. That, my friends, is worth its weight in gold.
The interesting thing about this particular recession is that experienced workers are getting the shaft in favor of inexperienced workers. Employers would rather hire someone whom they can mold into what they need rather than a fully formed employee who commands higher pay. Kinda stinks. But the upside is that they may pay for any additional education you may need to perform the job. If they see you as reliable, capable and driven, but lacking a particular certification, they just may pony up. And that certification will follow you to future jobs, too.
Reimbursement doesn't just apply to new education, either - if your field requires CE credits or periodic re-certification, the employer might pay that as well. They may send you to conferences and retreats as part of your CE - some of these events practically qualify as vacation, so it's like getting a bonus getaway on top of your paid vacation time.
All said, the benefit package can really spice up a job offer - study it carefully. While you should never take a job you hate just for the perks, don't turn down one you might like simply because the actual salary isn't quite there. Look for the benefits.