Pretty Vacant


In America, the proverbial bootstrap routine has been the solace of millions who see opportunity in even the hardest times. This up-and-at-em attitude has especially been embraced by the free marketers in the past decade, who told working class Americans, as their manufacturing jobs went overseas, to "suck it up" and re-skill — that their unemployment was transitional, and structural, and nice words like that.

But it looks like brokers are now the ones re-skilling, and in New York City, Boston, Chicago and Miami they’ve started turning up with your order at the local café reports CNN:

"’People come in every day asking if there are openings,’ said Cleve Mash, who owns three night clubs in West Palm, Fla. If a position is available, Mash says he is eager to fill it with a skilled professional between jobs. In fact, many of the bartenders, bouncers and servers employed at Mash’s clubs are out-of-work mortgage brokers, loan officers and real estate brokers, he said.

"’It helps my business tremendously because you have someone that has a professional mentality,’ he said, ‘they’re going to come in on time and take the job very seriously."

Unfortunately for Ken Karpman, a former institutional equity sales trader, his local bar owners weren’t so hospitable, according to ABCmoney:

"Desperate for quick cash, Karpman tried to find a job bartending but came up empty. Finally, he drove his Mercedes to Mike’s Pizza & Deli Station in Clearwater and applied for a job. Mike Dodaro, the owner of the pizza shop, said he was shocked when he read his application but he offered him the job despite some reluctance to hire an over-qualified candidate.

"[Mrs] Karpman said she was more than a little surprised when he came home with his new job, initially saying, ‘You’re kidding me, right?’"

In his past life, Karpman was on a $750,000 salary. Since setting up his own hedge fund in 2005, he not only obliterated $500,000 in savings, but also took a line of credit against his house. But no amount of pizza flipping is going to keep his dream alive, and the Karpmans are presumably trading down their habitat for a cosy little rental.

It’s not just stockbrokers feeling the pain. The nation’s media is inhaling sharply at the thought of all those well-dressed management types schlumming it with the goons on Main Street.

Take this horror story, for example. Mark Cooper used to be a security manager for the western United States for a Fortune 500 company, on a $70,000 annual wicket. He lost his job nine months ago, so now he busts grime for $12 an hour at a friend’s janitorial services company. Says Cooper: "You’re fighting despair, discouragement, depression every day."

The New York Times reports that about 1.7 million people were working part-time in January because they could not find full-time work, a 40 per cent jump from December 2007, when the recession began, according to the American Bureau of Labor Statistics.

One might argue, however, that this kind of downgrade is exactly what financiers need to get back in touch with their, well, souls.

Take Ame Arlt, for example. Arlt is 53, and after 20 years in executive positions, she has recently taken a job in customer service at an online insurance-leads referral service in Franklin, Tennessee.

Arlt concealed her 20 years of experience when she applied for the job, and probably wasn’t game to request a parity wage of $165,000, which is what she was on as vice-president of On Command Video Corporation. She had, after all, applied for 100 jobs, and was getting just a little desperate:

"Her new job at HometownQuotes pays $10 to $15 an hour and has mostly entailed data entry. But even though she has parted ways with some friends because she is no longer in their social stratum, Ms Arlt said she was glad she was no longer sitting at home, thinking, ‘Who have I not heard from today?’

"Her new paycheck covers her mortgage but not her other living expenses. Recently, she cashed out what was left of her retirement portfolio, about $17,000."

You might think Arlt would take this on the chin — that the same fighting spirit that made her so successful might give her the optimism she needs to see the bright side of her predicament. Perspective, however, doesn’t appear to come naturally to Arlt:

"It has been the hardest thing in my life," she said. "It has been harder than my divorce from my husband. It has really been even worse than the death of my mother."

Worse than the death of your mother could be finding an equity sales trader on the tap at your local, like the regulars at a legendary Boston pub may soon discover:

"It’s getting so bleak out there no one is safe. Eddie Doyle, the long-time bartender at the Boston pub that inspired the popular 80s TV show known as Cheers, has gotten the boot due to the bad economy. Doyle, who spent more than 35 years pouring drinks and schmoozing with the pub’s patrons, is now among the newly unemployed. While many say it’s the end of an era, he won’t be crying in his beer for long. Doyle plans on writing a book ‘about the regulars that frequented the bar, who were more eccentric than the characters on the show’. A farewell party will be held in his honor, and he’ll be back from time to time to have a cold one, himself. Bottoms Up!"

And for traders who made an ill-fated call to update their threads just before they were fired, also shows how some lucky customers may scratch some cash back:

"Following the steps of Hyundai and JetBlue, Jos A Bank Clothiers is doing their part to ease the minds of the nervously-employed by helping them look good with one less worry. For the first time ever, the company is offering its customers a full refund (up to $199) for suits purchased before April 9th, who involuntarily lose their job between April 14th and June 1st of this year. Here’s the catch, you get to keep the suit!"

But just in case that job they stole from the Cheers guy falls through, some financiers might be holding on to one last suit. In which case, has some salient advice:

"Following in the gracious footsteps of a thoughtful dry cleaner in Minneapolis, First Professional Cleaners will provide free dry cleaning services to those who need to look nice for upcoming job interviews.

"Owner Carlos Vasquez says it costing him money, but he’s doing it out of the goodness of his heart!"

Even in a flagging economy, however, some people just refuse to go back to the bottom. One New Yorker has even decided to contribute to a new industry by advertising for a new kind of PA on Craigslist:

"Help me find a job, and I will pay you $400.

"I have been looking for a job since November, and I have been stunned at how little luck I have been having. I am a recent college grad with tons of experience in the areas of television and film production, marketing, and communications… much more than the average college student.

"My experience is phenomenal for a recent grad, so I know that is not the problem. It is simply an issue of having to compete with thousands of others for every position I apply to due to the down economy and flooded job market. Who knows if my resume and cover letters are even being read?

"So here is the deal. If you are able to arrange an interview for me that leads to a position, I will pay you 400 dollars out of my first pay check. Period. I’m even willing to sign a contract."

On Friday Wayne Swan said the current unemployment rate forecast (of 6 to 7 per cent) was conservative, saying it was likely to top 7 per cent by the end of this year. We pray for the day Macquarie’s David Clarke brings us a drink in a titty bar.

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