The New York Times

September 18, 2009


Unemployment Hits 10.3% in New York City




Continuing layoffs on Wall Street drove New York City’s unemployment rate to 10.3 percent in August, a 16-year high that underscores the need to retrain former financial services workers for other jobs, state officials said Thursday.


In the year since the Lehman Brothers investment bank collapsed and others had to be rescued from failing, the number of unemployed city residents has risen to more than 415,000, the highest total on record. The still-shrinking financial sector, which had been the main engine of employment growth in the city before the downturn, has essentially been declared to be in a state of emergency.


The State Department of Labor has begun using a “national emergency grant” of $11 million in federal funds to help those laid off on Wall Street shift into other fields, like health care and education. Emphasizing the need for such a shift, M. Patricia Smith, the state labor commissioner, said, “Our economists don’t see the financial-services sector ever coming back as strong as it was.”


Ms. Smith joined Gov. David A. Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver at a news conference in Lower Manhattan to discuss the latest jobs data and promote the retraining program. Mr. Paterson said the latest increases in the state and city unemployment rates showed that the recession was continuing in New York.


Referring to the recent pronouncement from Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, that the national recession is probably over, Mr. Paterson said, “What he’s saying about the national recession doesn’t apply to us.” He said New York faced at least another year of “tough sledding.”


The city’s unemployment rate, which rose from 9.5 percent in July, is now well above the national rate of 9.7 percent. Until July, unemployment had been the same or lower in the city than it was in the country for more than 18 months. Last month, the state’s unemployment rate rose to 9 percent, from 8.6 percent in July. Excluding the city, unemployment in New York State was 8 percent.


Still, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg found a bright spot in the report. “While the job market is tight,” he said, “the city is losing jobs at less than half the rate of the rest of the country. This is an important sign that despite the challenges, people continue to be optimistic about the city’s future.”


Ms. Smith said the divergence between the city and the rest of the state was largely attributable to continued cutbacks on Wall Street and the ripple effect of the loss of those high-paying jobs. She emphasized that most of the Wall Street layoffs have involved mid- and lower-level workers who did not earn millions of dollars a year.


Under the retraining program that began in July, more than 450 people have begun classes to prepare for a career shift, and state officials say they have enough money to help at least 1,000 more.


One person in the program, Marisha Clinton, 39, of Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, said she lost her job analyzing technology stocks for Bear Stearns after it collapsed early last year. A year later, she was laid off by another securities firm.


Now, Ms. Clinton is using the $12,500 subsidy offered by the Labor Department to take courses at the New York Institute of Finance that might help her find other work.


“I’m keeping my options open,” Ms. Clinton said. “I’ve been working since I was 14 years old. I’d rather be working than not.”


The emergency federal grant went to New York. New Jersey and Connecticut, which received a combined $22 million to retrain people who have lost jobs since June 2008 at any of 31 companies — mostly large financial firms like Citigroup and Lehman Brothers.


Lana Umali, who worked for JPMorgan Chase for 20 years before losing her job in Manhattan last year, has already put Wall Street behind her. Ms. Umali, who lives in Middletown, N.J., used the state subsidy to help pay for courses to prepare her to work with elderly people. She is hoping to find work at a company that operates assisted-living facilities.


Immediately after she was laid off in June 2008, she said, “I was determined to go back into financial services. I never really thought about anything else.” But after a fruitless search, Ms. Umali said, “I got in touch with a whole other side of me.”


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