U.S. Loses 20K Jobs but Some Are Merchants of Misfortune

Employers cut another 20,000 jobs in April, the Department of Labor reported today. The reduction, while smaller than expected, marks the fourth straight month of job losses in the U.S., as many companies fight to stay in the black in a weakened economy. The unemployment rate now stands at 5 percent, down slightly from 5.1 percent last month.

The construction, manufacturing and retail sectors led the nation in payroll cuts.

As those industries continue to struggle, certain businesses and professions are thriving, and the slump is what's driving them.

Some are less obvious than others. Take, for instance, the video game industry. Conventional wisdom dictates that during tough times, consumers cut back on the extras in life, including entertainment. While movie ticket and DVD sales have flagged, it's been a banner year so far for video game makers.

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In the first three months of the year, the video game industry logged more than $4.2 billion in sales, an increase of just under $1 billion from the same period in 2007, according to NPD Group, a New York-based market research firm.

The video game industry has seen huge sales so far this year.

One of the factors behind the boom is consumers' desire to get more value for what they spend on entertainment and recreation, according to said David Riley, a director at NPD and a gamer himself

If you're "going to a bar with friends and spending $8 on a cocktail -- after five or six cocktails, you're broke. It's hard to justify, especially in this economy," Riley said.

In contrast, he said, a $60 game can bring up to 100 hours of enjoyment.

Some games, such as the music-based games "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero," lend themselves to social gatherings and can substitute for pricey nights out.

"You're seeing more and more friends getting together on a Friday night and playing 'Rock Band' together," he said. "You're spending a lot less money that way."

With sales skyrocketing, many employees who work on successful games see more money in the way of larger bonuses, Riley said.

Auction Block Boom

The soaring increase in mortgage defaults and foreclosures has meant heartache for homeowners but also hefty profits for the real estate auction industry.

Hudson and Marshall, a Dallas company that bills itself as "America's Leader in Foreclosed Home Auctions," expects to sell about 16,000 homes nationwide this year.

As foreclosures spike, so does business at some real estate auction houses.

On average, the homes Hudson and Marshall auction sell for about $100,000, said co-owner Dave Webb. The company makes money by taking a 2 to 4 percent commission on each sale.

So far, Webb said, business is up 40 percent this year. He's had to more than double the size of his staff -- from about three dozen to nearly 100 -- just to keep up, hiring everyone from marketers to receptionists.

Real Estate Disposition Corp., based in Irvine, Calif., has had to increase its staff too. REDC public relations manager Edgar Pagaza expects the company to auction off $3 billion in homes this year.

"We're doing quite well," he said.

Both Pagaza and Webb suggested that the value of their work extends beyond their own profits.

"During this economic downturn, a lot of people are still having the ability to purchase homes through us. We feel great that we can sell properties," Pagaza said, "and fill up those neighborhoods that have vacant homes otherwise."

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