A Recovery? This is about Survival.

by Shawniquica Henry

From artists to businesses, college graduates to homebuyers; the recession is being blamed for life being even more challenging. Raised prices and cuts on spending are turning New Yorkers into multi-tasking, anti-socialites. The recession calls for extra work just to survive in the city. But New Yorkers are not giving up on the American dream just yet; the recession is just a deferment.

Though the National Bureau of Economic Research announced that the recession, which began in December 2007, ended in June 2009, New Yorkers believe that the economic stance is ahead of the progress they are making.

Here are the stories of three New Yorkers who are affected by the economic downturn:

Michael London, Art Vendor

Michael London

In Union Square Park, squeezed between the Green Market and the Holiday Market, Michael London, 45, reaches out to a customer who approaches his stand of Bob Marley and Michael Jackson T-shirts. Above the stand, a sign reads, “SALE TODAY: Any T-shirt on this table $10.” The woman stops and looks at the sign, but after browsing through a few colors, then a few sizes, she does not purchase an item, and then walks off to browse through another T-shirt stand.

The “SALE TODAY” price has been the same since early 2009. London explains that his T-shirts were once $15, but because of the recession, he reduced the price to $10. “I decided to bring my prices down 25 percent just to survive…if somebody sees a bargain, especially on the streets, they go for it,” London said.

London, who worked as a freelance construction worker for six years, has been an art vendor for the past three and a half years. “It [the recession] affects not just me in general, but all fellow artists on the streets because we depend on the public,” London said. “People purchase art just like food, they purchase art on impulse – if something is worthy to buy under good prices.”

Once a seller of only T-shirts, he has added paintings and tote bags to his sales collection,”[I’m] doing my own drawings and own art just to make the pennies add.” Since, his sales reach as much as $400 per week, and even less in the winter when customers are not out shopping much, London admits that he is chasing another source of income by developing a children’s book, which he said, offers an interactive way of learning how to count and recite the alphabet simultaneously. The money he earns now, he said, can only pay rent and bills.

But the slow business does not just impact London’s economic welfare, but his personal recreation. London sighed and looked off into the midst of the Holiday Market. “You really have no social life –just coming out here to survive,” he said. “Then you got to deal with negativity from the cops to park rangers to angry customers.”

London is rearranging his display for the current day.

One other worry for London is the new park regulation that, with the approval ofMayor Michael Bloomberg, only allows 18 vendors to be in Union Square Park. This number reduces when the Green Market and the Holiday Market, which comes from November 15 – December 24, are in the park. The selection of the vendors is based on a first come, first served basis, increasing the competition of vendor space.

Not only are the vendors limited to selling just artwork, and no jewelry or clothing without artwork, but the sizes of the stands are also limited.

These rules are not applied to the Green Market or the Holiday Market, according to the Examiner.

Michael Durant, part-time student at Baruch College and a full-time facilities coordinator at Katten Nuchin Roseman LLP

Michael Durant

For Michael Durant, 21, the economic downturn hasn’t been all bad news. In fact, the Obama administration’s tax break for first-time homebuyers made it possible for him to afford the down payment on a studio apartment in the Bronx that he bought in 2010, for approximately $30,000.

But the worries around bank lending made Durant buckle down at his job and trade his usual $200/week hang outs to save.

“Closing on it was not so difficult much because of the economy,” Durant said. The problem, he says, “was the regulations of the bank… Banks have been really strict with lending, as opposed to what they were five, six years ago.”

He adds that renovating his apartment to include separated bedroom will cost an additional $15,000. Durant believes that at this point he cannot afford to lose his job.

With a gym bag in hand, and a business suit on, leaving the Baruch’s Newman Library around 9 p.m, he states, “If anybody quits their job they better either have a very large bank account, or some other source of income.”

But, Durant is optimistic about the economic change. He adds, “It’s [the recession] definitely over, I mean, the stock market is recovering, jobs are hiring. The point now is that people need to take into consideration that the jobs that they have the degrees for are not necessarily available at this moment, and they need to just take what jobs are available.”

Surviving In New York City

Marcus Holmond, freelance writer

Holmond, 22, lounges in front of a Fifth Avenue storefront, taking quick drags before he rushes off to his next appointment.

Both a stylist and freelance writer for magazines; such as, the Fader and New York Magazine, he graduated from the New School two years ago, amidst the recession, expecting his career to blossom.

“I was thinking even four years before that, when I got to the university, thinking I’ll have a job when I get out, but now that’s the only reason I’m freelancing because there are no full-time jobs,” he said.

But, Holmond is not planning to move away because he believes that if there are any jobs available, they are going to be in New York City.

Holmond may be right. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on November 23, that the Northeast has the lowest unemployment rate of 8.5 percent compared to the country’s unemployment rate of 9 percent and the West’s highest unemployment rate of 10.8 percent. In addition, New York has an approximate 0.47 percent increase in employment, between September and October of this year.

The NEBR report , which was released on September 20, 2010 states “The committee did not conclude that economic conditions since that month have been favorable or that the economy has returned to operating at normal capacity. Rather, the committee determined only that the recession ended and a recovery began…”

But this does not phase the three New Yorkers who believe that the damage is still here.

Holmond takes another drag and claims he is freelancing because “Half the jobs aren’t here anymore, a lot of them are going overseas, and that’s kind of messing up a lot of people here.”