Originally created 09/24/98

Russian middle class on the hunt for jobs



MOSCOW -- Primly dressed Russians waited in a line hundreds long, shuffling forward, somber and unsure of what they would find at the end.

All they found were other frustrated job seekers shoving and elbowing each other toward small booths, asking desperate questions -- "How much are you paying accountants?" -- and getting painful answers.

"Well, how much experience have you got? None?" came the reply, and then an alternative: "We pay truck drivers 300 rubles ($19) a month."

While the country endures its latest financial crisis and companies fire thousands, it's Russia's fledgling middle class that is lining up in a desperate hunt for work -- and finding that the class they belonged to may no longer exist.

When Communism fell, many Russians found work with private firms that paid them enough to live comfortably, travel and buy more luxury goods.

That created a middle class that never could have existed during Soviet times, when private companies were banned and western amenities were too expensive for all but the elite.

But the latest economic crunch, and Wednesday's job fair in southern Moscow, showed how fragile the middle class was, and how desperate those who belonged to it are to sustain their new lives.

"People are first looking at how much the job pays, and then whether it falls within their specialty," said Alexander Lugovoi, a manager with a company that reworks hard metals. "Really, they're looking for anything available."

Most of the job offers were for work in factories, the city bus system or in other state-owned entities that offered wages of about $100 a month. The jobs most sought, with companies that pay wages on time and offer chances for advancement, are nearly nonexistent.

"There's nothing for me here," said 40-year-old Margarita Kolosova, an accountant who was fired earlier this summer. "There's no demand for people of my age or specialty. If I'd known it would be like this, I wouldn't have come."

Some lined up to talk with lawyers, job counselors and even psychologists for advice to better their mostly fruitless efforts. Others already had found a strategy for finding work: Settle for less.

"I came looking for something that would pay $500 to $1,000 a month," said 30-year-old Artur Girsh, who lost his job when his food import company went bankrupt at the start of the crisis. "But if I got even half that, it would be acceptable."

Still, even those willing to take lower wages said it wasn't easy to find work that suited their experience or met their minimal expectations.

"I'm looking for construction work, something that pays around 2,000 rubles ($125) a month," said 30-year-old Andrei Tsaryov, who came in from the Saratov region to test his luck in Moscow's job market. "Back home, they've been withholding my salary for half a year. Even though I'm not having much luck, I've got to keep looking."