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Wall Street blues

This is how Aidan Menzul’s dream fell apart. He was laid off in September, barely three months into a $65,000-a-year job at a private equity firm. Now, facing credit-card debt and student loans, he is frequenting McDonald’s and contemplating a return to South Florida, where he grew up the son of a supermarket manager and a shipping dispatcher.

“I’ve thought about the possibility of putting my stuff in storage, and moving back to my parents’ place,” said Menzul, who is hanging on with a $10-an-hour part-time job with a political action committee and the $4,000 he managed to save over the summer. “But I really don’t want to leave New York.”

Menzul, 22, is among the untold numbers of young finance types caught in limbo by the economic crisis, yearning to stay in the US’s financial heart yet fearful that no market rebound is in sight. It is impossible to gauge how many are leaving New York or considering it. But interviews over the past two weeks with affected workers and recruiters revealed an emerging portrait of newly minted college graduates suddenly jobless in a frightfully expensive city, and forced to contemplate a change in career — or address.

Severance packages, for those lucky enough to get them, have allowed some to cover steep rents, at least in the short run. Others are collecting unemployment checks, living off shrinking savings or relying on family largesse. Still others are subletting their apartments and going backpacking.

Adjina Dekidjiev, an operations manager at Manhattan Apartments Inc., said she had been seeing more people trying to break leases, some leaving, some just looking for cheaper places to live. “A lot of people are doing their math, asking, ‘How can I stay in the city, for as long as possible, and try to find a job’?” said Win Hornig, who started the blog bankergonebroke.com after being laid off from JPMorgan in September. “People are definitely going to leave the city if the market doesn’t come back. It’s just too expensive.”

Compared with their laid-off bosses, many of whom have private-school tuitions and suburban mortgages to pay, many of the younger ex-finance workers have flexibility on their side and, like others in bad job markets before, are considering graduate school.

“The more junior people are more willing to get out, and a lot more nimble,” said Gustavo Dolfino, president of the WhiteRock Group, a global recruiting firm.

One former investment banker, who commented on the condition that he not be named because of the confidentiality clause in his severance agreement, said in an email: “There’s a large divide among the single guys (much more open to relocating / school) vs the married /committed relationship guys.”

Staring in the faces of even the most optimistic financial-sector strivers is the fact that the city’s job market is awash with people like them: young, educated and hungry for work.

“In this sort of market, you need to keep an open mind, and start thinking of going wherever the opportunity takes you,” said Jonathan Miller, 24, who lost his job as an investment banking analyst in September and is looking for work in Boston, Washington, San Francisco, Seattle, London and Israel. “You can either say to yourself, ‘No thanks, I know zero people there, I hate the rainy weather in Seattle, I hate the Red Sox in Boston, I don’t want to go’,” Miller said, “or you can say, ‘These are good opportunities to advance my career’.”

The trouble, of course, is that although few financial job markets are as saturated as New York’s, the finance sector is shedding jobs the world over. “People were thinking of going into international at first, a year ago, when things started shaking up in the US,” said Hornig. But, he said, “the rest of the world is blowing up too”.

Ariel Litvin, 34, survived three rounds of layoffs at Bear Stearns, only to lose his 80-hour-a-week job as a real estate underwriter in August. So, for roughly five weeks, he took advantage of the down time, visiting friends in various cities around the country. “For the last two years I had basically been living in my cube,” he said. But job hunting in New York proved fruitless — and he lost half of his severance money after investing it in Lehman Bros. So Litvin and his girlfriend decided to move to Chicago, where she found a position with a real estate firm. He rented out his co-op near Union Square for $3,700 a month and is moving next week. While the job market in Chicago is dreadful, Litvin said, his housing expenses, at least, will be way down —$1,800 a month for a two-bedroom in trendy Wicker Park. But he is going grudgingly.

“Right now I’m really enjoying being in New York, even though I’m unemployed,” he said. “I’m not ready to leave”.

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