An Idea, at Least, Amid the Job Hunting
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 before 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 sad refrain from Milind Shah, a former
dot-commer whose benefits will run out in two months. And from
Clayre Schneiweis, who until October had been working in New York
City for El Al, the Israeli airline. And from Orlando Godoy, René
Sauvé, 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
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
And so all of these jobless workers, and hundreds 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 $235 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, President Bush authorized a federally financed 13-week
extension. Right now, more than 230,000 New Yorkers from across the
state are collecting regular benefits, and almost 137,000 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 just 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 in the city
than a year ago, according to a government 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 project's office on the Avenue of the
Americas last week, these 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
résumés disappear into huge stacks. At least one is living off
credit cards; others are borrowing from family and friends.
Mr. Sauvé, who is 59 and lives in Manhattan, says he has given
out 200 résumés, 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-year-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 résumés and canvassed his friends and
connections to try to find a job. "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."
New York Unemployment
121 Ave. of the Americas, Suite 507
New York, NY
If you think the system is working, ask
someone who isn't