Bench marked

It took him four months of sitting at home, answering advertisements and handing out his resumé, but Swaminathan Ramamurthy thinks he will finally get a new job.

“I’ll know by next week for sure,” the database management consultant said. “I’m hoping it goes through, because at least I’ll get a break.”

Even though the contract itself is small — initially set for only three months — and the company isn’t some cutting edge technology firm, Ramamurthy will gladly take it. In this economy, he said, there is little room for being picky, and he counts himself as being fortunate enough to have an opportunity.

In December, New York City’s unemployment rate jumped to 7.4 percent from 6.9 percent, as the number of jobs lost since the terrorist attacks passed 100,000. Over 22,000 people have been cut from the city’s famed banks and investment firms alone.

With the economy’s financial woes, Indian-Americans from all professions have not been insulated from cost-cutting and layoffs. For some, it means living with less.

Ramamurthy said he pared down his expenses to rent, groceries, telephone, basic cable and Internet. He has a car but hasn’t driven it, because it needs repairs, and repairs cost money.

“My family and I have been living off our savings, which are now almost gone,” he said with a sarcastic chuckle.

For others, the uncertainty in the economy means constant worrying about what’s ahead.

“I am just taking things day-to-day right now,” said Kiran, a young analyst with JP Morgan. She explained that her term with the financial company would be up in six months, and that the rumor was a large layoff was being planned.

“If the economy was good, I could have been promoted to an associate. Now I’ll have to find a new job, or go back to school.”

With a sigh, Kiran, 24, said the failing economy had been on her and her colleagues’ minds for so long, there was even a sense of apathy towards it.

“We had layoffs every week last year,” she said. “Everybody talked about it so much, but it takes something like the layoffs at Merrill Lynch to spark any discussion now. Things happen so rapidly. We’re just rolling with the punches.”

Being an analyst, Kiran could at least make sense of why things were occurring, and what to expect.

“It is not just about market fundamentals,” she explained. “Investor confidence plunged after September 11. The revenues aren’t there. People are too apprehensive. And when people lose jobs, spending goes down. These things happen in a cycle. This has to be the worst in ten years.”

But some unlucky people, like Dipak Dasrao, didn’t care for cut-and-dried explanations. Dealing with a recession was bad enough, but Dasrao has also been forced to stomach the disastrous effects of September 11.

“I have lost my job. I have lost my life,” said Dasrao, 39, who worked as a server for four years in the World Trade Center Marriott’s Greenhouse Café.

Marriott decided to close the damaged hotel after the attacks, and laid off all its workers on October 5. Dasrao complained that the chain is opening new hotels in the city, but won’t hire him back, because new employees will be paid the minimum for his old job, rather than his old salary of $40,000.

In protest, he joined a picket line in Times Square, calling on his former employers to help him get a new job.

“All my bills, medical, rent, everything will have to stop,” said the native of Sylhet, Bangladesh. “I gave an important time in my life to Marriott… I lost my pension, medical benefits, insurance. Why did they cheat me like that?”

One woman, whose family owns restaurants in two major East Coast airports, complained about the difficulty in running the businesses during a bad economy and in a battered industry.

“Most people have cut back on their flying, and business travelers don’t have the expense accounts like they used to,” she said. “My high days are now what my low days used to be before September 11.”

Passengers were just part of her clientele, she said. The cutbacks in the airline industry —employment has fallen more than 21 percent in the last 12 months — have also taken away many airline employees who were regular customers.

There are also tough security measures that make running her restaurant a nightmare: for instance, one of her stores is in the secure area, so she must get deliveries and bring them back because only people with clearance or ticketed passengers can be there.

“Even UPS can’t deliver a package to me,” she said. “And I can’t use or give or give out knives.”

She said it was unfortunate that the store opened in August. “I suppose timing is everything; we never expected such a thing to happen,” she said, explaining that the sales in the new store were down 80 percent a month after the attacks, and 50 percent off in December.

“I see this now as a challenge: to get my stores’ numbers back to where they used to be, and to survive,” she said. “You have to take it day by day.”

Those people with jobs say they are sitting out a tough market in the hopes of finding better employment when things pick up.

“I want a higher position, something to do with middle management,” said Shamael Khan, an information systems analyst and programmer in Manhattan.

What he wanted was better pay and higher job responsibilities, two wishes that he knows aren’t going to come true soon.

“Lately, it has been very hard for anyone to find a job, and the computer industry itself has been shattered since the summer,” Khan said.

“There is no way out,” he continued. “I see myself being jammed here in the same position, with the same salary, for at least a year,” he said.

Yet he assured India in New York that he was thankful to have a job, lest someone else were interested in it.

“I pray to God every night, no doubt,” he said. “I am sure I would have to compete with a lot of people right now for my job. One of my cousins graduated last January with a computer science degree from Rutgers University. Right now, he is working as a security guard.”

Ramamurthy chalked up the current woes of the computer industry to its need for constant training.

“There is no dignity of labor in this field,” the 17-year veteran said with a laugh. “Experience does you no good. You can learn about new software in one month, and be better off than a fellow with 10 years of experience who is not so cutting edge.”

He said the cost-cutting mentality would probably alter the industry’s demands on its workers too.

“Companies are looking for people who can do more than one job,” he said. “If you were a programmer before, now they want you to do maintenance too. That way, they can merge salaries.”

Ramamurthy expected his coming interview would go well, because the match between his needs and the company’s was a good one.

“These past months have been difficult,” he said.

“But I am hopeful things will change.”

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