They call themselves the fastest growing club in New York and joining is dead simple: just lose your job.
The 405 Club, named after the 405 dollar maximum weekly payout to New York's jobless, is one of a forest of Internet-based self-help groups springing from the desolate economic scene.
AdvertisementCo-founder Jose Gonzalez, 31, says the new group, which holds its inaugural meeting next week at a pub, is meant to give the newly unemployed a boost.
"You get stressed. You know there's only a certain amount of jobs out there," said Gonzalez, who was fired in January from his lucrative position as a hedge fund researcher, and is now learning to live on a shoestring budget.
The405club.com website offers nuts-and-bolts tips, ranging from how to get benefits to spending less in Starbucks to pointing out 10 ways to ruin a job interview from "complaining about the parking" to "doing anything disgusting."
New York City has a 6.9 percent unemployment rate, less than the national average of 8.1, but it is rising rapidly.
Many jobless here are not victims of dying industries, or inefficient behemoths like General Motors, but young, white collar workers from cutting-edge finance and entertainment sectors.
And when they face economic disaster, they hit the Internet.
The405Club.com is just one of the sites started in the Big Apple since the recession started to bite.
Others include PinkSlipsAreTheNewBlack.com, which declares "We're broke, we're angry.... like you," and LaidOffDad.com, and a psychology blog called "Feeling Up in Down Times."
New members of the 405 Club say that blogging and sharing tips on how to live cheaply, or how to look for work, brings moral, as well as practical support.
"Keeping your mind going is the hardest thing when you're unemployed. You can keep saying, 'I'll do that tomorrow, and then tomorrow becomes next week," said the other 405 Club co-founder, Garrett Dale, 27.
Meeting this week at Dale's Manhattan apartment, half a dozen early members seemed still dazed and humbled by their fate.
Until a few weeks ago, Gonzalez enjoyed the hedge fund lifestyle of company junkets, partying and trips to the ritzy Hamptons on Long Island. "We worked hard too and made a lot of money and our boss showed his gratitude," he said.
He had just married and gone on an African safari for his honeymoon when the bad news came.
"Now there's a lot less shopping and there's a lot less wine," he said, correcting himself with a grin: "There's cheaper wine, actually."
His wife still has a job at a major media conglomerate and her salary, with his 405 dollar checks, is enough for now.
But the implosion of Wall Street means Gonzalez's future is uncertain, while the sudden absence of work pressure -- something he used to thrive on is painful.
"Knowing you can sleep all day is awful," he said.
Another high-flier brought down to Earth is Courtney Adams, 28.
She was on a fast-track career at Sony's Epic Records when she lost her job, along with Dale, in December. Her boyfriend, working as a conference director for pharmaceutical companies, got the chop that same month.
They quickly realized they were not alone.
"I know people from all walks of life: bankers, people in our music industry, entertainment people, consultants. One of my best friends is a hedge fund manager and also got laid off," Adams said.
"It's the people who were rising, not the CEOs, who get hit. We were highly valued at the time and perhaps are a little expensive now."
All say that new jobs are almost impossible to find.
The only older person at the meeting, Yvonne Fitzner, 66, said she had not managed to get work since June 2006 when she was let go from her job as an assistant at a psychologist's office.
One of her few recent offers, she said with a rueful smile, was from a company offering suspiciously high wages for work from home: turned out to be a telephone sex operator.
"You reach the stage where you don't even want to look for jobs anymore," Fitzner said.
But at the 405 Club they are nothing if not inventive.
While Dale tries hawking recession-related wares on his site -- there's a T-shirt emblazoned with "My Company Just Wasn't That Into Me" -- Adams and her boyfriend plan to use her kitchen as base for a lunch delivery service.
"Good food for bad times," Adams said.
Her boyfriend, Christopher Merritt, has started auctioning unwanted possessions on the Internet and says the stab at entrepreneurship is his dream.
"After college, I thought my career was going up. My first job I got 22,000 dollars, then 35, then 40. I thought this was it! Then it stopped," said Merritt, 25.
He describes sending out 25 resumes a day and attending two to three interviews a day. "It was so dispiriting to hear, 'no, no, no.'"
Then he taught himself to use Flash and Dreamweaver on the Internet so that he can build the delivery service's website.
"I feel like looking for a job isn't what I should be doing. I should be working for myself," he said.
"The most creative people are the ones who are going to survive," Fitzner said. "Most of us probably won't go back to working for someone else."
Lack of work doesn't mean lack of pressure. Under the latest rules, New York stops paying those 405 dollar checks after 59 weeks.
But there's one bit of good news: benefits are to be increased by 25 dollars to 430 dollars later this month.
"We got a raise," Dale said.
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