Same Crisis, Different Voices: Typical Wall Street Workers Lose Jobs, Not Hope

A banker, charity worker and an executive assistant cope with layoffs.

Oct. 24, 2008— -- Emory Edwards is doing more volunteer work at his church. Maribel Ruiz is spending more time with her daughter. Win Hornig and his girlfriend have started a blog.

For each, things were different a few months ago, when they all had jobs.

The three are among the growing number of Americans who are stuck trying to make the best out of a bad situation: unemployment. More than 760,000 people have lost their jobs so far this year, and 47 states this week reported that their unemployment rates were higher over last year.

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It's only supposed to get worse. Analysts at the financial firm Goldman Sachs predict that the national unemployment rate will rise to 8 percent from 6.1 percent by the end of next year. Goldman Sachs itself is planning to slash more than 3,200 jobs, according to published reports. Meanwhile, the comptroller's office for New York City, the heart of the country's financial sector, has projected that the city will lose 135,000 jobs in the next two years.

Edwards, Ruiz and Hornig all worked in New York City. Like the top executives of some of the country's financial firms, they can trace their misfortune directly to the country's financial meltdown. Unlike top execs, however, they can't rely on multi-million-dollar golden parachutes to carry them through tough times. talked to Edwards, Ruiz and Hornig to learn more about how they're coping, their plans for the future and their thoughts about the crisis that cost them their jobs.

The Charity Worker

As the economy headed south, Emory Edwards helped his church plan seminars for those who had recently lost their jobs. He didn't think he'd be one of them.

Edwards, 46, was the transportation director of City Harvest, a nonprofit organization that delivers excess food from restaurants and other businesses to food programs for the New York City's poor.

The organization relies heavily on individual and company donations from Wall Street. As the financial crisis progressed, the donations dried up and, early this month, Edwards found himself "restructured" out of his job.

At first, the experience devastated him. The week after he was laid off, Edwards said, he was so upset he didn't want to leave the house. He was also frustrated with the crisis that ultimately led to his job loss.

"I think there are so many people who took advantage of so many other people," he said. "Most of the financial markets were playing with money that didn't belong to them, investments by working people, people saving for retirement."

But Edwards hasn't had much time to stew. After that first tough week, he jumped into a job search. By his third week of unemployment he had already had an interview and attended one of the career sessions that he had helped plan at his church.

"A lot of advice I'd gotten was to take some time and pull back and I just didn't feel that I was able to do that," he said. "It's a rough market. I have financial concerns, I have other concerns that really I want to address quickly."

For now, Edwards says he can get by for a while on his wife's income -- she works in information technology at a law firm -- and on the couple's savings, some of which are tied up in mutual funds. Cashing out his mutual fund investments, Edwards said, means he'll be taking a substantial loss. But, he said, he may not have the luxury of waiting for the funds to rebound.

"You can't get hung up on the current values necessarily, if you need the money," he said.

Although he's anxious, Edwards said he's optimistic about finding new work.

He credits the career session, which was led by psychologist Michael Bednarski and held at New York's Trinity Church near Wall Street, with helping him understand the best ways to reach out to contacts and seek career advice.

"I really did not jump into networking opportunities with both feet until after that session," he said. "One thing I was concerned about, I didn't want to approach friends or contacts from a position of need. [Bednarski] was very good at giving non-threatening ways of doing that."

Edwards says he has called or e-mailed about 50 people, asking for career advice.

"People aren't really promising jobs," he said, "but I've gotten very positive reactions."

The Executive Assistant

Maribel Ruiz lost her job this month. But as an executive assistant at Lehman Brothers -- the now-bankrupt brokerage firm that today is largely owned by Barclay's -- Ruiz says she saw the writing on the wall long ago.

She saw others being laid off around December last year. For months afterward, Ruiz, 42, was exhausted with worry and uncertainty.

"I remember feeling like a sitting duck," she said. "Everyday you came in, your adrenaline flowing. 'Is this the day? Are we going to find out [if] they're going to keep us or not?'"

When she recently learned that she would lose her job, the news actually came as relief. "You can't take the next step until you know what was going on," she said.

Despite her agonizing experience, however, Ruiz said she doesn't harbor any resentment against the financial industry.

"I really get turned off by people that are complaining about the financial industry that were in the financial industry," she said. "If you were in the financial industry for 10 or 20 years or whatever, that's how you were paying your bills and that's how you were paying for your home. It's bad-mouthing the same industry that took care of you."

These days, Ruiz isn't sure what industry will bring her her next job. In the past, she had found work through employment agencies. When she tried the agencies this time, however, they weren't helpful, and Ruiz thinks she knows why.

"Companies are using the cheapest way possible to save money. They're not going to pay headhunters. It's cheaper for them not to," she said.

Instead, Ruiz is relying on online job sites and personal and professional contacts. When friends, family and colleagues heard she might get laid off, she said, they reached out to her with offers to help. Ruiz hasn't been shy about taking them up on their kindness, asking them to pass her resume on to prospective employers.

Ruiz, who is attending college part-time to earn a bachelor's degree, said she's being careful in her search. She wants to find a job that offers more challenges than her last position, one, she says, that makes sense for her career.

"I just think about the future," she said. "I'm thinking five to 10 years down the line. If I start thinking for now, I'm going to do something desperate."

But Ruiz also knows that she can't search forever. She hopes to have a new job by December. Otherwise, if she can't make ends meet, she might have to give up her apartment and move in with family. She worries how such a move would affect her 12-year-old daughter.

"I'm most concerned with giving her a consistent life," she said. "I don't want to uproot her."

Ruiz says her daughter helps keep her grounded. While she's unemployed, she relishes the time they have to spend together.

"I'm having my perfect mom moments," she said. "I wake her up, I do her hair, I make her pancakes. ... I'm definitely enjoying that."

The Banker

Like Ruiz, when Win Hornig, 25, found out he was losing his job, it came as a load off.

Hornig was initially thrilled by his work as an investment banker at Bear Stearns, the now-defunct firm that was purchased by JPMorgan Chase in March.

A Minnesota native, Hornig joined the firm in 2006.

"Wall Street is incredibly competitive," he said. "It's the top of the top. It was just a great opportunity that I felt if I didn't take, I would let people down."

But his typical work week was 80 to 100 hours long and it eventually became too much, he said.

"My life was just a wreck," he said. "All I was thinking about was work. I began to question what the rat race was all about."

And while some grumble about bankers' exorbitant salaries, Hornig said he and his fellow associates had low base salaries and were largely dependent on their bonuses. But the past two years, he said, didn't bring much in the way of bonuses for him.

As business started going south, Hornig found himself with less work and more time on his hands, which yielded some unexpected benefits. He met his girlfriend, Joyce Huang, while out to dinner with a mutual friend. He surfed the Internet and realized he really enjoyed reading blogs.

Last month, shortly after Hornig was laid off, he and Huang, who worked at Lehman Brothers and now is a Barclay's employee, started a blog of their own,

He and Huang put up posts on everything from Wall Street news to job search tips -- one post is entitled "Networking: Don't be a F*king Loser!" -- to advice for those unaccustomed to cooking their own food, instead of getting takeout.

"I hope it's a place where people can kind of go and learn a little bit about what we're going through and maybe be entertained a little bit," Hornig said.

The blog also has included responses from readers. Some are more supportive of than others. One reader called Hornig an "immature little punk" and suggested that the financial crisis could be blamed on "the greed being carried out by little clueless snots such as yourself."

Asked whether the young bankers should be blamed for the crisis, Hornig demurs.

"I personally feel that it's a big mess that we're in and it sucks for everyone," he said.

Still, Hornig said he's fortunate. Spending so much time at the office, he said, kept him from spending much money. Between his savings and severance pay, Hornig said he'll be able to stay and look for work in New York for at least three more months.

The government, other banks and companies that invest in distressed real estate are all on his list of potential employers. He's also considering business school.

"This is all about just falling forward and really trying to figure out what works," he said. "We don't know where the world is going to go so I figure I should walk down as many paths as possible."