Page last updated at 00:45 GMT, Monday, 20 April 2009 01:45 UK

Spring brings changes in New York

BBC correspondent Matthew Price reports from cities across the US, trying to gauge the effect of the recession beyond Wall Street, asking whether there are any signs of recovery. This is the first of his reports, from the centre of the financial storm, New York.


Life for one unemployed New Yorker

If there is one thing that often stands out about people from the United States, it is their optimism.

Even when times are bad they still exude a sense that everything will, in the end, be ok.

The former 'Masters of the Universe' are no exception.

I found some of them in a lecture theatre on Manhattan's East 55th Street.

BBC correspondent Matthew Price is travelling across the US, reporting from a new city every day, to assess the state of the economy as President Obama approaches 100 days in office. See the Beyond Wall Street route here.

Ed preferred not to tell me his last name since he is looking for work. He lost his job at the start of the year, after a 20-year career in finance and banking.

"It was a change, but I'm looking forward to new possibilities," he says.

Like the others here, Ed - who looks to be in his 50s - has gone back to school. They all lost a job in finance. Now they are being re-trained.

The idea is simple. Show them how they can put their financial analytical skills to use in emerging start-up firms.

It is a pilot programme set up by the Levin Institute at the State University of New York, and supported by the City of New York.


Each person will spend time with a start-up company, and while a job at the end of it is not guaranteed, it will - according to the co-director of the programme, Tom Moebus - "give them a solid entry" into a new part of the economy.

"New firms will form a little bit in the ashes of the old. Before the resources went to the financial sector," he says. "Now there's an opportunity to take the talent into new sectors. The digital sector, or the green sector for instance."

New York, in other words, is beginning to try to re-invent itself. It is diversifying, as it knows it must.

'Masters of the Universe' retrain

Financial services have been good for the US's largest city, but it had become over-dependent on Wall Street.

Jobs in finance accounted for about 9% of New York's total. They made up a whopping 34% of its total payroll - according to the city's office of management and budget.

By the end of this year it is estimated that New York will have lost about 65,000 jobs in finance alone - about 18% down from the sector's peak in 2007.

That is a big drop in tax revenue for a city already struggling to balance its budget.

'January panic'

It is also a worry for those who profited from the spending power of Wall Street's employees.

"January was the month where everyone really held their breath," says Daniel Blumberg, a co-owner of several restaurants.

"It was a moment of panic."

For a short time New York lost some of its famed self-confidence. As the crisis deepened towards the end of last year, people stopped spending.

Now, Mr Blumberg says he is starting to see a change.

"People seem to have decided the financial meltdown is what it is. They may not be as lavish as they were, but they've started to come back out."

Recruitment slowdown

There is then a sense that things have stabilised - though that is perhaps the only silver lining.

Universities in the city talk of a slowdown in recruitment.

Cornell University says that businesses have hired fewer full time workers and interns for the coming summer. Cornell's graduate school recruitment is down 18%.

It is not just the financial sector. Across the board college graduates in New York are finding it harder to get jobs.

The next year or two will see an adjustment, but New York always comes out stronger and better
Daniel Blumberg, restaurant owner

People like Nick Goddard. He is 26 years old, has a degree in mechanical engineering, and is recently unemployed after losing his job as a computer programmer.

"It has been pretty difficult for people to find jobs lately, especially if trying to get back into the jobs they lost in the first place," he told me, on a wet afternoon in Manhattan.

"It's time for a transition from the shrinking industries into the growing industries - people will have better luck that way."

Changing course

Mr Goddard feels lucky. Losing his job has forced him, he says, to change career direction. He is now looking to work - perhaps even unpaid at first - at a bike-sharing programme.

There are signs that plenty of others are choosing this moment to change course.

Wall Street is no longer the get-rich-quick attraction it once was. Graduates are having to re-think their career plans. That in turn is changing New York.

Volunteer and non-profit organisations in the city are reporting an increase in people looking to work for them.

Of course for many thousands here who have lost their jobs, these are still worrying times. This though feels like a city that is large enough, and packed with enough innovative people, to get back on its feet.

More pain lies ahead, believes the restaurant owner, Daniel Blumberg. "When you lose 100,000-odd Wall Street jobs, there will be a knock-on.

"The next year or two will see an adjustment, but New York always comes out stronger and better."

The Big Apple may have lost some of its swagger, but it is still sounding optimistic.

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