Despite Job Growth, Plenty of Worry in Midtown West


Jobs Report_Unemployment

A trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange last week. The U.S. added 103,000 net new jobs in September, but unemployment held steady at 9.1 percent. Photo: Associated Press.

The United States added 103,000 net new jobs in September, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday, a strong enough number to keep up with population growth, but not robust enough to make a dent the country’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate.

The growth was higher than expected, economists said in interviews on Friday, but most were not impressed. Patrick O’Keefe, the director of economic research at J.H. Cohn, an accounting firm, called job growth “generally mediocre.”

But the increase looked strong compared to the report issued last month, which showed that the U.S. had added no jobs at all in August. That news, combined with the continued debt crisis in Europe, stoked fears that the U.S. might be entering a double-dip recession.

“People have been getting very gloomy,” said Joshua Shapiro, the chief U.S. economist for MFR, an economic research firm. “I think a big report like this takes some of the gloom away.”

The reality for businesses and employees in Midtown West, however, can be more complicated.

John Keoshgerion, who with his wife runs Zen Bikes on West 24th Street, said business has been good in recent months, despite fears of a second recession. “People are a little more guarded with their money,” he said, “but they’re still buying bikes.”

But Keoshgerian is planning to lay off most of his seven-person staff in the next couple of months, he said – maybe three salespeople and two mechanics in total. The reason? The seasons are changing, and fewer people buy bicycles in the winter. He’ll most likely hire back the laid-off staff members in the spring, he said.

Seasonal factors are only one reason that the monthly jobs report can be something of a rocky way to gauge the economy. In September, for instance, 45,000 Verizon workers who had been on strike in August returned to work, and their jobs boosted the total amount of hires.

The report can also shortchange workers who take part-time jobs because they can’t find full-time ones, a phenomenon known as underemployment. On a recent afternoon at The Pony Bar on Tenth Avenue, Sean Claffey, a barrel-chested 42-year-old who works in film production, said he had friends who made $100,000 a year before the downturn who have taken deep cuts in pay. Some of them make only $20,000 a year now, he said.

The man on the barstool next to Claffey’s, who declined to give his name in order to candidly talk about his employment status, said he was underemployed himself. Because his job as a bartender pays only $450 a week, he said, he has continued to collect unemployment checks of $150 each week by lying about his job status. “I feel bad about it,” he said, “but I do it, anyway.”

The job market can be especially tough for workers with little experience. Takeo Suzuki, the president of Argos Consulting Group, a recruiting firm on West 44th Street, said his company had placed a steady number of people in positions over the past few months. (Argos specializes in placing workers who are bilingual in Japanese and English at companies like SMBC, a Japanese bank, and Hitachi.)

But most of the people Argos has found jobs for, Suzuki said, have been professionals with several years of experience. For those seeking entry-level positions, it’s a different story. “The number of jobs is going down,” he said.

The total number of jobs gained or lost in a month is also subject to revision. In this month’s report, the government revised the number of jobs added in July from 85,000 to 127,000. The September number could be revised by as much next month.

Economists and business owners remain uncertain where the economy is headed. Asked whether he saw the employment picture getting better or worse in the next few months, Suzuki said, “That’s what I ask when I talk to employers.”