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Unemployed New Yorkers Get Creative With Their Free Time

Out of work! Now what? New Yorkers who are recent casualties of the economic crisis are finding unique ways to hunt for work and fill their spare time.  For some, the answer is as easy as daytime television. Others stay active in the job hunt by networking.

Then there are those, as Rachel Geizhals reports, who choose to work on their most important tool, their bodies. Gym memberships are on the rise, and at least one New Yorker is hitting the mat.

Eric Rubin wrestles with the job market

Eric Rubin wrestles with the job market

Eric Rubin was never a couch potato. Before he lost his job as an environmental engineer, Rubin went to his local New York Sports Club for about three hours a week. But since he was laid off in October, Rubin, 26, has been working out almost triple that amount.

“Even though nobody likes being unemployed and being broke, I have all the time in the world to go to the gym,” said Rubin.

Rubin is not the only one spending more time at the gym. Other New York Sports Clubs have noticed an increase in use of their facilities. Eric Duquette, assistant general manager at the West 41st Street branch, said not only are members staying at the gym longer, but there has also been an increase in membership sales.

Tube Time

Since more people are out of work, television watching habits have changed. For some, more free time means more quality time with the likes of Oprah, Ellen, and the other kings and queens of Television. Our own Kristen Joy Watts spoke to job seekers at the Labor Employment Services Office in Fort Green, about their watching habits.

Jamar Minto, 28, is a plumber’s assistant, but he’s been unemployed for the last six months. He said that he watches TV “all the time,” on his 58″ television set. He used to spend between four and six hours in front of the small screen.

Now, Minto admits he watches more than he used to:
[audio:http://cdn.journalism.cuny.edu/blogs.dir/132/files/2009/04/jamar-minto_1-2.mp3|titles=Jamar Minto]

Florence Morgan has been unemployed for the last six months. She used to work as a substance abuse counselor at a non-profit organization. Morgan, who used to watch about four hours of television a day, now keeps her television on more than ever.

Morgan sees the extra television time as a temporary distraction:
[audio:http://cdn.journalism.cuny.edu/blogs.dir/132/files/2009/04/florence-morgan_1-2.mp3|titles=Florence Morgan]

Diane Carter has been unemployed for the last three to four months. She used to work in security. Before, she said, she didn’t have a lot of time to watch TV in between shifts. Now she watches even less.

Here’s Carter on why:
[audio:http://cdn.journalism.cuny.edu/blogs.dir/132/files/2009/04/diane-carter_1-2.mp3|titles=Diane Carter]

According to a survey by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, membership at 180 sports clubs either stayed the same or increased in January of this year.

In an article mid-March, the Wall Street Journal reported:

“Although [Erica Schietinger, Chelsea Piers Sports Center Health Club representative] says it’s difficult to directly correlate club usage with employment status, she’s seen members who previously came in once a week now coming into two to three times a week. Curves spokesperson Becky Frusher says the club chain has seen a 22% year-over-year increase in gym usage in January.”

Why are some people exercising more? The downtime that comes with joblessness may provide people with the opportunity to explore a passion, said Lindsey Pollak, a career development guide writer whose focus is young professionals in the job market. If the alternative is watching soap operas all day, working out is a positive thing, said Pollak.

In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services, promoted physical exercise as a way to relieve recession-related stress and anxiety in a mid-March guide entitled “Getting through Tough Economic Times.”

But Pollak warned that exercise might be used as an excuse to escape reality and hide from a job search. “Moderation is everything,” said Pollak.

To that end, Rubin is doing what he can to get a new job. He has three recruiters scouting for him, he browses websites and newspapers for openings, he keeps up with industry news, and he networks constantly. And Rubin’s qualifications are pretty strong. He has a bachelor’s degree in geography from George Washington University, a master’s in environmental management and 3.92 GPA from Montclair State University, and he’s still having trouble landing work. “I went to school for eight years for a reason,” Rubin said. “And here I am and I might be working at McDonald’s or Barnes and Noble.”

Bowling for Jobs

One of the best ways to get back into the job market is to network. Rima Abdelkader spoke to professionals on the hunt at a networking event at Leisure Time Bowl at the Port Authority’s South Wing in Midtown.

Networking Bowling Event
Slideshow: Networking Bowling Event

Not only does Rubin spend more time working out, he also wrestles a lot more than he used to. When he had his full-time job, Rubin wrestled professionally on weekends. A few years ago, he suffered a knee injury that required surgery, and he was out of the business for two years. Now he’s back and as intense about the sport ever. “When I got laid off, I had all the time in the world,” said Rubin. “I realized I spent so much time in the gym that I was still in good shape.”

Rubin enjoys his physical activities, but at this point, he’s starting to get dejected by his situation. Rubin was living in a one-bedroom apartment in Suffern, N.Y., for two years, but he couldn’t afford it after he was laid off, so he moved in with his father. “It’s weird,” said Rubin. “If you asked me five years ago where I would be, it wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be unemployed. I said I’m going to school, I’m getting my Master’s degree, I’m gonna have a job. And here I am with a Master’s degree, but with no job.”

As for the exercise? “It’s also depressing to be here. I mean it’s nice to sleep in and do nothing but go to the gym all day,” said Rubin. “But I’ve been unemployed for six months now, and I’m going crazy.”

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