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New York Times, June 2, 2002
HOME FRONT; An Idea, at Least, Amid the Job Hunting
By Leslie Eaton

''YOU work your whole life in this city, filling out your taxes and voting, and when you need help, you don't get it.''

Those words belong to Carmen Torres, who spent 22 years working as a clerk on Wall Street beofre being laid off last fall. She has not been able to find another job, and fears that her unemployment insurance benefits may have just run out.

You'll hear the same said refrain from Milind Shah, a former dot-commer whose benefits will run out in two months. And from Clayre Scheiweis, who until October had been working in New York City for El Al, the Israeli airline. And from Orlando Godoy, Rene Sauve, Sultan A. Salim and James S. Johnson, all of whom worked at Windows on the World, none of whom has been able to find a new job.

All of them want, quite desperately, to be employed. Failing that, they would like another couple of months of unemployment benefits, which will start running out in two weeks for thousands of New Yorkers.

And so all of these jobless workers, and hudreds of others, have joined the New York Unemployment Project, a nonprofit group that is trying to persuade state officials to give the jobless 13 more weeks of unemployment benefits, an idea that does not seem to be on Albany's radar right now.

Jonathan Rosen, the director of the project, said that such an extension would cost about $23 million, which he contends could probably be covered by money already in the state unemployment insurance trust fund.

Unemployment insurance typically runs for a maximum of 26 weeks, but in March, Presiden Bush authorized a federal financed 13-week extension. Right now, more than 230,000 New Yorkers from across the state are collecting extended benefits, according to the New York State Department of Labor.

The whole point of unemployment insurance is to tide over unemployed workers until they can find new jobs. But right now, there are an awful lot of unemployed people, and a lot fewer jobs than ust a year ago.

About 263,000 people in New York City are actively looking for work, a 43 percent increase from a year ago, according to the labor department. The unemployment rate in the city has zoomed to 7.7 percent, from 5.5 percent a year ago.

Meanwhile, there are now about 107,000 fewer jobs int he city than a yea ago, according to a govenment survey of employers. The biggest losses have been in business services (Mr. Shah, the computer expert); brokerage firms (Ms. Torres, the Wall Street clerk); air transportation (Ms Schneiweis, the airline worker), and food service (the Windows on the World crew).

Sitting in the unemployment proect's office on the Avenue of the Americas last week, thse jobless workers described the frustrations of their fruitless hunts for work. All have been attending job fairs, which entails standing in lines for hours to watch their resumes disappear into huge stacks. At least one is living off credit cards; others are borrowing from family and friends.

Mr. Sauve, who is 59 and lives in Manhattan, says he has given out 200 resumes, and has even had some phone interviews. ''But the minute I show up and they see how old I am. ...'' he said, shrugging. ''I tell you, if I didn't have a rent-controlled apartment, I'd be homeless.''

Ms. Schneiweis, who is 49 and lives in Queens, is getting by on her unemployment and the money she got from selling her two-yuear-old Honda. ''I'm willing to start at entry level, but they won't take you,'' she said.

Things aren't much better for younger workers like Mr. Shah, 27, who says that he has given out resumes and canvassed his friends and connections to try to find a ob. ''But most of my connections are unemployed, too,'' he said, adding that his wife still has a job, ''so I won't be out on the street, but it's very scary.''

Tell that to Mr. Salim, 36, whose family includes his 2-year-old daughter and elderly father. When his benefits run out in about a month, he said, ''I have no idea what I'm going to do.''

Mr. Johnson, 43, is taking computer classes, but still longs for his old ''sweet job'' as a bartender at Windows. He still has a card in his wallet from the restaurant, where at least 70 workers died. And while he's sad and angry that he and so many of his co-workers are still unemployed, he reminds the others that ''some of them are not here to complain.''



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