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IS ANYBODY HIRING? <br> WESTERN NEW YORK'S WEAK JOB MARKET GOT EVEN SOFTER AFTER SEPT. 11 -- JUST ASK THE PEOPLE PROFILED HERE WHO ARE LOOKING FOR WORK

In a city that has lost 1,800 jobs over the last year, Allen Welch is looking for work.

And he's not alone.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks may have pushed a weakened economy into recession, and American workers are the latest victims. People across the country who thought they were secure in their jobs are suddenly finding themselves hunting for work.

Welch's search is getting more competitive by the day. He lost his job in August when Gaymar Industries cut 20 positions, including his computer support job at the medical equipment manufacturer. Since then, companies across the country have been slashing payrolls by the thousands.

He has applied to 25 local companies and another 25 companies in other parts of the country. He also posted his resume on several job sites, including Monster.com and hotjobs.com. On Tuesday, he was at the Buffalo Employment and Training Center on Goodell Street researching a local company with which he had an interview.

"I'm getting inquiries, but they're not beating the doors down. The economy is pretty bleak. It's very competitive," said Welch, who is 46 and concerned that companies will favor younger, less experienced, workers who they can pay less. "I would move, but my first choice is to stay here."

While Western New York has not been hit with mass layoffs, job cuts in some unexpected places are mounting. Airport concessionaire Delaware North Cos., a privately held company not subject to shareholder pressure, recently eliminated 30 jobs at its corporate headquarters. About 450 Buffalo China workers have been on a two-week layoff scheduled to end this Monday as the Buffalo tableware manufacturer deals with cutbacks by the hotels, airlines and restaurants it supplies. Even local schools and governments -- once seen as guaranteed life-time employers -- are cutting jobs.

It might be the worst time in about a decade to be out of work. Buffalo has lost 1,800 jobs since September 2000, extending the longest decline in the local job market in eight years, according to the state Labor Department.

"It's not a great hiring market right now. It's taking a little longer for our clients to get placed," said Mark Weigel, vice president of sales and client relations for Career Partners International/R.W. Caldwell Associates, an outplacement firm in Clarence. "No one is in a hiring mode, but opportunities occur."

There are few numbers showing just how much the terrorist attacks have affected the Buffalo Niagara region and the nation. The local unemployment rate remains steady at around 5 percent, but those figures were collected Sept. 12-19. Numbers reflecting recent mass layoffs across the nation will not be released until November.

The state has received a surge in initial claims for unemployment benefits -- 25,832 for the week ending Oct. 13. An estimated 5,000 are related to the terrorist attacks in New York City, said Betsy McCormack, state Labor Department spokeswoman. During the same week last year, the state received 12,712 claims. Local numbers were not available.

Denise K. Lawson of Buffalo filed for unemployment benefits as soon as she learned Sept. 10 that she no longer had a job with "Behind the Scenes," a magazine for the music and recording industry based in Buffalo on Franklin Street. The 30-year-old moved to Buffalo from Rochester nine months ago to take a job as the magazine's managing editor.

"I've never been out of work for more than a month," she said. "I would never have come here if I knew the prospects of finding another job were so bleak."

Those employers that aren't downsizing or in a hiring freeze are offering her about $10,000 less than a similar position would pay in Rochester, Lawson said.

She's filed for unemployment benefits and hopes that will tide her over until she can find the job she wants -- which she admits will probably mean leaving the area.

Unemployment is available to most people laid off by a company. The most a person can receive is $405 a week and it can take up to a month to receive the first check.

And the terrorist attacks and weakening economy are stretching this safety net.

New York state might have to dramatically increase the unemployment taxes that employers pay on their employee wages. There was about $1 billion in the fund before the Sept. 11 attacks, which the state acknowledges is less than other states have set aside. The reserves were purposely kept low to keep that money in the economy, McCormack said. But New York is bracing for a slew of claims and has asked the U.S. Department of Labor to loan it $260 million, but the federal government has not yet responded.

"In no way would benefits be cut," McCormack said. "And to change who is eligible for unemployment requires legislation."

Still, if the unemployment taxes go up, more layoffs might follow as companies struggle to deal with the added expense. Already computer wholesaler Ingram Micro cut 71 people in June and just recently slashed another 32 positions. And Reciprocal, a firm that helps companies sell music and other digital assets on the Internet, eliminated 27 jobs.

But all is not gloom and doom. Some companies are hiring. Even Ingram Micro has openings for maintenance workers, secretaries and sales representatives -- even a database administrator and senior systems analyst. These were all positions not affected by recent layoffs.

And the state Labor Department is holding a job fair from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday in the Statler Towers, 107 Delaware Ave. More than 60 area employers with 500 available jobs have registered. Customer service representatives, registered nurses and licensed practical nurses are in the highest demand. Other openings are for home health care aides, telemarketers, grocery store employees and general laborers.

The average salary for most jobs is $8 to $11 per hour, according to the state Labor Department.

The number of service jobs, which are typically lower paying, has risen in recent years. Ten years ago 26.9 percent of jobs were in the service sector, according to the state Labor Department. Today it's 31.3 percent of all jobs.

Finding a higher-paying job can take time.

At this time last year, about 85 percent of the clients of outplacement firm Eileen K. Ward and Associates in West Seneca found a job in three to four months, said owner Eileen K. Ward. Through September 2001, she said the placement rate is still 85 percent, but the process now takes four to five months.

"For every $10,000 in salary, an individual should expect to be out of work one month," Ward said. "Annual earnings of $40,000 would, on average, require four months of job search. There are exceptions, of course."

For some people, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have changed what types of jobs they are considering.

Joe Larkin worked for Ingram Micro for 13 years overseeing the computer systems Ingram uses in 30 countries. International travel was routine, and he relocated with his wife and two children three times. The Clarence resident had a good salary, plus stock options, when the company eliminated his job in June. He's now exploring jobs with non-profit agencies and willing to take a dramatic salary cut.

"With the Sept. 11 attacks, I think, in general everyone's priorities have really changed," he said. "I'm looking for a position that's rewarding from within. Money's not everything."

Larkin is fortunate that he invested wisely and his family has enough money to live while he is without a job. However, if he did want a position similar to the one he had at Ingram Micro, Larkin said his would be a difficult search and he would probably have to move.

"The Buffalo market is such that there's not a lot of high-level executive positions available," he said. "I would have to leave."

e-mail: lhaarlander@buffnews.com

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