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Young Workers Find Creative Ways to Cope with Unemployment, Hard Economic Times

Young Workers Find Creative Ways to Cope with Unemployment, Hard Economic Times

When Erik Moser was laid off from his job in public relations in January 2009, he improvised to keep his finances afloat.

He scaled back on eating out. He picked up a few odd jobs, like babysitting for his sister and dog walking for friends. He even got out of the lease on his Chicago apartment and moved back in with his parents.

“Is the situation ideal? Not by a long shot, but desperate times call for desperate measures,” he says. “I’ve done what I’ve had to do to live until I can get back to work.”

Moser, 26, isn’t the only person getting creative with money these days. As more and more Americans find themselves underemployed or out of work -- at last check, 14.5 million were unemployed -- growing numbers of people are resorting to similarly creative methods to pay the bills.

For some, many of these coping mechanisms revolve around second or third jobs, as well as light work for family and friends. Others, however, have adopted less conventional strategies. See if any of their ideas could also work for you.

Teach What You Know

While working as a technical director for a small theater company in New York City, Matt Klan has generated “a good amount” of income by teaching small classes in different stage techniques.

So far, Klan has taught two-day classes in Wisconsin, Maine and North Carolina. Most of the classes focus on stage combat (i.e., stunt fighting). Klan, 33, advertises the workshops on Facebook, Craigslist and other Web sites and gets deals on rehearsal spaces for about $10 to $25 per hour.

“The classes don’t generate a ton of money, but it’s enough to travel a couple times a year,” says Klan, who has another side job working in the engineering and construction management field. “I also get the chance to hone my craft [and] introduce people to new things.”

Klan also benefits from the networking involved. In the last few months, he has been asked to teach the classes at a number of universities as well.

Can’t Make Rent? It’s Party Time

Another creative option for making ends meet is the rent party, in which guests chip in to help the host pay his rent.

Historically, rent parties, or “skiffles,” were social occasions in vogue during the 1920s and 1930s where tenants hired musicians or bands to play, and passed the hat to raise rent money. Cary Wintz, author of Harlem Speaks: A Living History of the Harlem Renaissance, says that as African Americans moved to the city from the South, they needed help paying the rent on their high-priced apartments.

Some of the original rent parties were legendary, with musicians such as Fats Waller and Speckled Red playing regularly.

Nowadays, the names of the performers at these events aren’t quite as big. And aside from booze (of course), entertainment isn’t required. Indeed, many party-throwers unabashedly bill their cover charges as nothing more than a way to help pay the rent.

In April 2009, Zandile Blay, market editor at Paper magazine, held a weekend rent party at her apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey, to fund one month of her $2,400 rent. Blay didn’t have a minimum cover charge; instead, she simply asked partygoers to give whatever they could.

“Everyone, and I mean everyone, knows that you are broke,” she wrote in a recent email, adding that in many cases, friends who can help are more than happy to do so.

The first night of the party was a smashing success, while attendance on the other two nights was a little “disappointing,” she said. While the party earned Blay some money -- she declined to say how much exactly -- it wasn’t enough to make ends meet.

Still, she had a happy ending: A former mentor who couldn’t make the party wrote her a check to cover her rent for a month.

“It was a loan with no time limit,” she explained. “It totally shocked me and inspired me to pay it forward -- after I pay him back, of course.”

Making the Best of It

While many of these strategies represent proactive steps toward coping with the current economic climate, most people admit they are simply making the best of a bad situation.

Back in Chicago, for instance, Moser notes that income from babysitting and dog walking has enabled him to pay his bills, but he says that if he didn’t have the “luxury” of moving back in with his parents, he might still be struggling.

He adds that living with Mom and Dad again has had its ups and downs -- a situation that requires everyone to be patient and keep a positive attitude about the future.

“Free rent, few expenses -- through other people’s eyes, my situation seems like it should be pretty good,” he says. “The truth is that after [five] months of unemployment, I just want a job so I can feel like I am earning my keep.”


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