Organizers at UJA-Federation’s Connect to Care program had expected only 400.
Like many commuters, David Arnou traveled to Manhattan on March 2 wearing a suit and tie, carrying a brown-leather briefcase and looking crisp. An accountant who has worked as the comptroller of a private firm and the director of a nonprofit agency, he even showed up where he had to go 90 minutes early.
But the resident of Jamaica Estates, Queens, wasn’t bound for work that day. Instead, Arnou, 59 and unemployed for almost two years, was heading to a job fair organized by Connect to Care, a far-reaching response to the Great Recession sponsored by UJA-Federation of New York. And the fair, hosted by the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, seemed to be familiar ground to Arnou, who worked at his last job for 13 years.
“I’ve been applying, on average, to 40 or 50 places a month,” said Arnou, whose brother, two years older than him, lost his job only a week after Arnou lost his. “Everybody I spoke with at the job fair is in the same situation. They’ve never been laid off before or they’ve never been out of work this long.”
Last week’s fair, aimed at residents of Manhattan, Brownstone Brooklyn and Riverdale, came as city officials and private economists revised their forecasts of how badly the financial crisis would damage New York. They’re now estimating that the number of jobs lost in the city will stand at about 200,000, instead of the 300,000 once feared, and saying that the recession has been much milder in New York than elsewhere in the country, The New York Times reported.
It also came only days before the Labor Department reported that the American economy lost fewer jobs than expected in February — 36,000 as compared to monthly losses a year ago of more than 650,000 — and that the unemployment rate remained steady at 9.7 percent.
Despite those figures, which raised hopes that the recovery may be gaining steam, more New York residents are unemployed than at any time in the past 34 years, according to the Times — hardly a cause for joy. And that confirms what Federation officials are seeing in the Jewish community.
Connect to Care, for instance, has served 16,000 people from its beginning in April 2009 through January, said Alex Roth-Kahn, its project manager. “We’re seeing an average of 30 percent more clients each month,” she said, and the biggest jump took place in December, when the number of clients leaped by more than 2,600.
“Even if we see a downward trend in unemployment, there’s still a tremendous amount of people who are unemployed,” noted Roberta Leiner, managing director of Federation’s Caring Commission, which oversees Connect to Care. Moreover, she said, the number of unemployed Americans is far greater than the figure reported each month by the Labor Department, which only counts those who are receiving unemployment benefits. Neither do those figures reflect the number of underemployed Americans — those who have found work, but at salaries much lower than what they previously earned.
Connect to Care serves those hit by the recession by providing individual employment assistance, financial counseling, legal services and mental-health counseling. As of January, the program has helped find work for 264 clients.
In addition to the individual assistance, Connect to Care has organized dozens of workshops on such topics as coping with stress, writing resumes, interviewing for jobs and the legal aspects of credit-card debt. It has also held three job fairs in addition to last week’s Manhattan fair, and another fair was scheduled for this Wednesday in Brooklyn. The three previous fairs — in Suffolk County, Queens and Staten Island — have drawn a total of 915 people not previously associated with Connect to Care.
The job fair in Manhattan drew about 700 people — 300 more than Connect to Care’s leaders originally expected — and reflected the scope of services that the program provides. In addition to the presence of 32 employers, including insurance and financial-planning firms, health-care agencies and non-profit groups, the event was staffed by social workers from the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, legal and financial advisers from the New York Legal Assistance Group and employment counselors from FEGS. All are Federation agencies.
Some of the social workers saw participants on an individual basis during the fair, providing assistance and referrals, while others stationed themselves in the fair’s main room, looking for participants who seemed tense, “lost” or uncomfortable, said Jonthan Katz, director of Jewish Community Services at JBFCS. Once they connected with those participants — people who may have been frowning, wearing a “pinched look” on their face or seemed to be on the verge of tears, according to Katz — the social workers would greet them warmly or provide a word of encouragement.
Many of those attending the fair were in their 40s and 50s, including Arnou — one of the more than 6 million Americans who have been unemployed for six months or longer.
Arnou last worked as the comptroller of an apparel company, where he earned someplace “in the six figures,” he said. But he lost his job after the company was sold to an equity firm and then moved to Texas, and he is expecting to lose his COBRA benefits next month.
Single and living in a rental apartment, Arnou said he’s been surviving for the past two years on unemployment insurance and savings. He has also been living “very, very frugally,” having eliminated all sorts of activities he used to enjoy.
He has always done “the right thing” as far as work is concerned, Arnou said, adding that he worked “pretty much every day” since college. But he believes that his age, along with the length of time he’s been unemployed, are working against him.
“It’s all very, very scary,” said Arnou, who, early in his career, headed a non-profit agency that served disabled teens and adults. “Unemployment will run out at some point. Savings are not going to last forever. What am I going to do — live on the street?”
Although he’s not a client of Connect to Care, Arnou in many ways fits the demographics of many of the people seen by the program through January. In terms of age, 52 percent of the clients are between 36 and 55, while 28 percent of the clients are between 56 and 75, Roth-Kahn said. Twenty-eight percent of the clients were earning between $35,000 and $75,000 in 2007, while 21 percent earned at least $75,000 and 25 percent took home more than $120,000. More than a quarter of the clients are single, like Arnou, and the rest are part of households of two or more.
Others at the fair included Maury Myer, 50, a resident of the Upper West Side with a wife and two children. An information-technology manager in the financial industry, he lost his job nearly a year ago due to what his company called a “work-force reduction.”
He learned about Connect to Care about three months ago and has been a client ever since, he said, adding that he’s learned a great deal from workshops at FEGS and found the program a great tool for networking.
Myer, who once earned a six-figure income, said he and his family are now living off his savings and unemployment insurance. But despite his circumstances, he calls himself “very optimistic” regarding his job prospects. “I get the feeling that it won’t be too much longer,” he said.
Arnou, meanwhile, has a different feeling.
He and his brother are “hoping we can each work for a few more years,” he said. “All I want is a chance for one more job before I retire.” n
For information about Connect to Care, call UJA-Federation of NewYork’ss central resource line, (877) 852-6951.
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