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Monday, May 14, 2001

Dot.com bust made them jobless
By Lisa Baertlein

IN what could become something of a reverse Gold Rush, people made jobless by the dot-com bust are mulling whether to leave San Francisco with its sky-high rents and shrivelling jobs market.

"Iíd do anything now. Iíll bartend or make espresso, but you canít support yourself," said former Web site editor Alexander Castle, 28, who was laid off from ign.com in October and lost his job as a restaurant bartender not long after.

When San Franciscoís hip Boom Boom Room recently advertised that it was hiring for a one-night-a-week bartending gig, Castle said he was one of about a dozen applicants to turn up.

"Itís crazy out there. It took me a very long time to find a waitressí job," said Jen Ifer, 29, a former Web site editor who opted for a voluntary layoff when chickclick.com was making its second round of cuts in January.

"There are plenty of jobs that pay $10 an hour, but $10 doesnít pay a $1,700 rent," said Ifer, who married Castle in November and says they are thinking about moving to Cincinnati before making their way to New York City.


"The main reason we donít want to leave is that we have a lot of really good friends now ... but thatís starting to lose its weight," Castle told Reuters

The San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle have been at the epicentre of dot-com job cuts, which number more than 93,000 since December 1999, said John Challenger, chief executive at Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Relocating is a better option than waiting for the next technology surge, especially for persons who are living from unemployment cheque to unemployment cheque, turning to parents for capital infusions and dipping into savings, he said.

"The rest of the country needs persons with technology experience and e-commerce experience, so many have gone to the well to get their experience in San Francisco. Now we need to see them fan out and spread that knowledge where theyíre needed," Challenger said.

While the dot-com and high-tech downturn has drained trillions of dollars from investorsí portfolios, it has also touched the city that came to represent the go-go Internet economy of the í90s.

"San Francisco feels like a ghost town now," said Ifer.

Restaurants that were once booked solid are again taking walk-in customers. Lavish dot-com launch fetes have been supplanted by Pink Slip Parties. "For Rent" signs are popping up in neighbourhoods where, not long ago, only the lucky and very well compensated had a shot at taking up residence.

It is not just dot-commers who are having problems these days. Northern Californians laid off in investment banking, marketing and sales also face tough competition as the US economy in April lost jobs at the fastest pace in a decade.

David Howard, 32, said he would soon return to Los Angeles after about a year in San Francisco. He was among some 30 persons laid off in January when his direct marketing company was at the receiving end of budget cuts made by clients Cisco Systems, Micron Technology and a host of Internet and computer consulting firms.

"The job market is slightly better there (L.A.) and the cost of living is astronomically lower. I could unload boxes on the shipping dock at Bed, Bath & Beyond and still pay my rent," said Howard, adding he has sent out nearly 1,000 resumes and netted only three interviews since he lost his job.

"I want something that somewhat resembles an adult job," said the former assistant talent manager, before joking that his sleep patterns and social life are deteriorating as his video game skills improve.

For many in San Francisco, unemployment is an all-too-real end to a surreal boom time when Internet businesses seemed to be minting 20-year-old millionaires every minute.

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