Asphalt Exhibition

In October of this year, renowned street artist Shepard Fairey – the mind behind the 2008 Obama “Hope” poster – descended upon Asbury Park, a reviving beach town in New Jersey. Fairey spent the week of the All Tomorrow’s Parties music festival creating music-related murals along the boardwalk and on the city’s iconic buildings.

Since then, local street artists have campaigned for recognition of their craft as a valid art form. But both artists and residents pose the following question: while seeking legitimacy, does it mean you’re selling out?

Asphalt Exhibition from Kate Trafecante on Vimeo.

One Dollar Dinners

Doing anything on the cheap can be difficult in a city like New York, and dining out is no exception. There is inexpensive food, of course, but when one wants quality, usually they expect to pay for it.

However, various New York Travel Guides want to dispute this claim, offering insight on how to find good meals on the cheap. Time Out New York even offers walking tours of neighborhoods where one can get any food for one dollar – including Jackson Heights and Sunset Park.

Since the 1980’s, Eighth Avenue in Sunset Park has attracted many Chinese immigrants, earning the area the title of Brooklyn Chinatown. Like the similarly named neighborhood in Manhattan, Brooklyn Chinatown has many stores and restaurants selling goods and foods from home.

Walking along Eighth Avenue one can easily find a number of eateries offering food for only one dollar. Bakeries, cafeteria-style diners, and dumpling restaurants all have food available for a mere buck.

But what exactly can one get for one dollar? And how good is it? Check out the audio slideshow below to see the different foods one can get for a single dollar in Brooklyn Chinatown.

Voices of Plumb Beach

For a four hundred yard stretch of Plumb Beach, a few yards of sand and sandbags is all that stands between the Belt Parkway and the lapping waters of Jamaica Bay.

Plumb Beach, a half mile of coast on the North Shore of the Rockaway Inlet, stands as the last line of defense between the water and the major thoroughfare of the Shore Parkway. Since 2009, erosion has been a major issue for the strip of beach.  Though restoration is necessary, actual steps for action have dragged since that time.

But members of the community like Ellen Hoyt have had enough of talk.
What Restoration? by KateTrafecante

Water on the sandbags at Plumb Beach.

Others, like Eileen Heinbach, worry about the fate of the Belt Parkway.
Close the Belt Parkway by KateTrafecante

The delay is due to the involvement of too many public agencies.  Plumb Beach is part of Gateway National Park, so the beach is under both federal and city jurisdiction.

But in a press conference on October 27th, Mayor Bloomberg announced that plans for Jamaica Bay have finally been formalized.
Bloomberg Plan for Jamaica Bay by KateTrafecante

Residents like Hoyt were at first hopeful at hearing the news.
I Love It Here by KateTrafecante

Plumb Beach, which some resident's call "an oasis."

But memories of a better time give residents like her hesitant expectations.
Now it’s Nothing by KateTrafecante

However kids playing on the beach recall such a time for Hoyt, who hopes that Plumb Beach can achieve its former glory.
Hope for Plumb Beach? by KateTrafecante

Children play on the dwindling shore of Plumb Beach.

Headhunters: Useful or Not? – The Results


During a time when many Americans are actively looking for work, I wrote a post two weeks ago questioning the legitimacy of headhunters.  There were numerous sources singing the praises of employment recruitment, seeing it as the best way to hire these days.

But if this was so, where were the numbers to back these claims up?

First off, the experts didn’t seem to agree.  CareerXRoads, a resource for professional recruiters, released their annual Source of Hire Survey in March of this year.  Of the 200 companies they surveyed, the highest number of hires in 2010 were from personal referrals at 27%.  Hires from Third Party Sources, or headhunters, made up a mere 2.3% of new hires.

But these numbers were from the companies themselves.  What, then, did everyday people – those who are either employed or searching for work – think?

My own findings reflected the corporate ones.  Of over 50 people surveyed, only 32% reported that they had ever used any kind of job recruitment.

“Never really saw the purpose,” wrote Alicia Thompson, a social worker from Pennsylvania.  “It seems easier to find jobs through personal connections than paying someone else to search for jobs.”

In fact, the 68% who never used employment agencies expressed distaste for them, seeing them as unneccesary middlemen.

“I’ve had friends and family members advise me to stay away, specifically because of the quality of employment they usually procure,” wrote Chris Davis, a graduate student from California.

Lindsay Hurst, a high school Spanish teacher from Virginia, has stayed away as well, but for different reasons.

“I like helping myself,” she wrote.

But as a teacher, Hurst may have made a good choice.  A few others claimed they never sought out headhunters because they believed their chosen professions were ill-suited for the work of those agencies, such as education and health care.

Which is mostly true.  There are very few options of recrutiment agencies for those in education, with the exception of operations like Education Pioneers who match high achieving graduate student with careers in public education.  And agencies like B.E. Smith work in health care, but only on the executive or managerial level.

But what of the 32% who say they have tried headhunters?  Despite the promise of success and simplicity, most who did contract a headhunter have had negative experiences.

“It’s easier, but they weren’t thorough at all,” Dave Blumberg, a Customer Experience Analyst, writes of his experiences with a temp agency.  “They did not understand my skill set and it was very impersonal.  I missed a phone call from the agency trying to staff me, and when I called back five minutes later they had already filled the position.”

Most complained of similar woes, saying the agencies did not really understand them, or were unsuccessful in helping them find work.

“I felt that I found better job matches while searching on my own,” wrote Jenna Krauter, a Creative Arts Therapist.

In fact, the success stories were rare among those who did use an employment agencies.

However, Catherine Wilensky, a statistician from Washington, D.C., said she would absolutely use a contingency employment agency if she ever needed to look for work again.

“It seems to be as painless as possible,” she wrote, “and they matched me with opportunities that seemed to be a good fit.”

Overall though, people like Wilensky seem to be in the minority.  For each one story of a speedy job placement, there were five of wasted time and feelings of being patronized.

So whether the data is coming from the corporations themselves, or people who have used their services, there seems to be little evidence in support of the overall success of headhunters.

Looks like in these trying times of unemployment, we unfortunately have to keep going at it ourselves.



Coney Island Businesses Forced to Close Up Shop

Since it was first established as a beach destination, Boardwalk businesses have been the life blood of Coney Island’s success.  The steel doors and hand painted signs of the restaurants and shops along the boardwalk have witnessed the many ups and downs over Coney Island’s 130 year history.  But on November 4th, a small part of that history is being forcibly shut down.

In 2010, New York City leased Central Amusement International, an Italian Amusement Company, 6.2 Acres of land to help revitalize the area.  These parcels contained much of Coney Island’s boardwalk and amusements.  Last summer, that revitalization began with the reopening of Luna Park.

This year, the company turned its attention towards the stretch of businesses along West 12th Street.

According to Valerio Ferrari, the company’s president, Central Amusement is looking for a more “refined, cleaner look” to its businesses.  They will be forcibly evicting anyone who doesn’t fit Ferrari’s vision for the boardwalk.

With the exception of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog and the Lola Star Boutique, every other business on the strip will be forced to close up shop on November 4th.  Including Ruby’s Bar and Grill, a beach front bar that has been in operation for 77 years.

This past weekend, a number of businesses began dismantling signs in preparation for their forced closing in three weeks time.  Many residents and boardwalk patrons stopped by to watch the progress and say goodbye.

Coney Island Boardwalk Closes Up ShopKate Trafecante’s Coney Island Boardwalk Closes Up Shop set

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Headhunters: How Useful Are They?

There’s little arguing the difficulty of the current job market.  But in times of trouble, it’s not uncommon for people to look for a bit of help.

And when it comes to employment, the first place most people will turn to are employment agencies, known colloquially as headhunters.

Headhunters and recruiters are a large industry.  A simple google search of the employment agencies just in New York City returns 601,000 results.

But employment agency is a blanket term for these businesses.  There a several different kinds of operations that help people and employers get together, as described in a helpful article on

A contingency employment agency hinges on contingency – in other words, no one gets paid if you don’t get a job.  This is used by both employers looking to fill a position, or a job applicant who wants to send their resume out among a wider net.

A retained search firm is used exclusively by employers, and to fill a specific position.  If you ever had dealings with them, most likely they sought you out.

A headhunter/recruiter is a person who you work personally with on your job search.  Either they will approach you about a position they want to fill, or more likely, you will approach them when looking for help on your job search.

Temporary agencies help people find temporary positions.  They are used often for seasonal employment, or for those looking to find a temporary position that may grow into a permanent one.

That last agency especially is important in a time when any employment is difficult to find.  In fact, headhunters of all kinds look down right desirable these days.  So much so that numerous websites list ways to woo a headhunter to your cause.

But employment agencies are often industry specific, and do charge a fee.  So it begs the question, is the price actually worth it?  Or would someone be better off just dealing with the job market on their own?

This is where help is needed.

If you have ever used a headhunter, a temp agency, or even just had someone point you in the way towards a job, please fill out this survey.  Even if you haven’t used an employment agency, it’s good to know why you never sought one out.

Let’s Twist Again: A Successful Craze or a Massive Flop?

Once upon a time, the twist was a dance craze made famous by Chubby Checker.  The 1960 hit inspired the dancer to maneuver the balls of their feet back and forth across the dance floor.  But this past week, the Federal Reserve launched it’s own twist – that is, with the implementing of Operation Twist.

Operation Twist is a jaunty name for some fiscal maneuvering that, if successful, will lower interest rates and encourage people to invest and borrow more.

How, exactly, would that work?  Smart Money had an expert explain it quite succinctly:

Experts Explain: What is ‘Operation Twist?’The Fed announced that it will use a strategy from the ’60s to try to boost the economy.

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The plan is simple: the Federal Reserve would sell over $400 billion worth of it’s short-term bonds and use the proceeds to buy up longer-term bonds.  At first, anyone who has long-term bonds will see their value rise.  As time passes, the act would drive down the interest rate on the longer-term bonds (When demand for bonds rise, interest rates fall.)

Interest rates on long term treasury bonds are connected to many other interest rates in America, such as mortgage rates.  The hope is that the lowered interest rates from Operation Twist would encourage borrowing and investing.

Robert Smith of NPR has a great step by step explanation of the process here:

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via NPR

Operation Twist is not a new idea, nor is it even a new title.  The plan for the federal reserve to buy up bonds to “twist” the interest rates for investors was first proposed in 1961 by the Kennedy Administration, and was named for the popular dance craze at the time.  Most people now consider it a failure.

But how about this time around?

Econbrowser, a website that analyzes current economic trends, tried to predict the effect the maturing bonds would have before the operation went into affect September 21st.

The horizontal axis is weeks of maturity, and the vertical is the yield, or comparative worth, of the bond.   Econbrowser determined that after an initial peak, the interest rates would drop dramatically.

So September 21st came and went, and the Federal Reserve implemented Operation Twist.  Did it stimulate the economy?  Did investors run to the market, capitalizing on long-term investing?  In other words, was it a failure or a success?

Both, actually.

The stock market index took the worst dive it had in over a month.  The bond market, however, saw long term investment rates drop immediately.  A question and answer from the Seattle Times elaborates:

ReutersVideo expanded on the boon the bond market experienced:

Look beyond Treasuries for bond values, says TCW’s RivelleSept. 23 – TCW’s Tad Rivelle says Treasuries aren’t attractive but other parts of the bond market are including investment-grade corporate bonds, markets for secured lending to airlines and non-agency mortgages.

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Though long term investment rates hit a record low, as mentioned in the video above, no one is quite sure who is benefitting yet.  The overwhelming response from investors seem to be luke-warm at best.

As Matt Busigin, an ametuer economist and author of Macro Fugue analytics, tweeted:

Now that I've read that, I certainly understand the rationale behind Operation Twist more. Big effect? No. Good policy? Probably.
Matt Busigin

Colin Cunningham than tweeted:

Fed announces Operation Twist - nothing worth twisting over. /via @
Colin Cunningham


In the aftermath, Twitter was full of bad puns and indifference.  Still, it is too early to tell the true effect Operation Twist will have on the U.S. economy.  Though it achieved what it set out to do – lower long-term interest rates – it is still unclear whether the proposed boost of borrowing and investing will pan out.

Like the twist itself, we can only move back and forth on that question for now.

What Recession? 5 Ways to Land a Good Job in a Bad Economy

The results are in: August of 2011 saw zero job growth.  Amidst a summer of political squabbles over the debt-ceiling and the looming European debt crisis, the U.S. experienced its first month since October of 2010 that had absolutely no increase in jobs.  And zero is a scary figure, especially for those who are one of 14 million unemployed Americans in the process of looking for a job.

But those Americans who are job hunting should not be scared of facts and figures.  A task that is daunting even in the best of times can be easily tackled with a little bit of forward thinking.  There are five simple ways in which you can land a good job in even the worst of economies.

1. Update Your Resume to Make it Recession Specific

When job hunting these days, it is the potentional employees job to sell themselves to companies; you need to convince them why you are worth the money of hiring.  A resume is a great way to first show employers how you would be an asset in tough financial times.

The best way to do that is to demonstrate to companies that you can turn a profit for them, and bring in new clients.  Jan Corn has helpful tips on writing resumes that show employers that you make them money.  She also advises using specific examples instead of vague terms.

Joe Turner on provides some of those specifics.  He insists that your resume should focus on how you can help the company you are applying to specifically, such as proving how you can stretch a budget or show accomplishments that demonstrate you can thrive in challenging times.

Once your resume is recession ready, the next step is to network.

2.  Be Creative in Your Networking

The job hunting methods of yesteryear are no longer effective in a bad job market.  Therefore the unemployed need to inject a bit of creatively in how and where they look for jobs.   The unemployed must go beyond the usual job fairs, employment sites, and buzz word searches.

A great way to do this is network in places you wouldn’t expect to.  Fiona Robyn, in an article for Do Your Own PR, suggests reaching out to loosely associated events in your field, old colleagues, and even the man sitting next to you at the cafe in the morning.  You never know who can help you out, so it helps to be a generally nice person.

And with the changing landscape of social interaction, social media can be a great way to connect with more people than you ever could before. offers several great tips on how to improve networking on social media sites.

3.  Don’t Appear Desperate for Work

When applying for a job, confidence is key.  But when someone is desperate for work, it’s very difficult to appear assured.  Remember, you are marketing yourself as someone they would be lucky to hire.  So how does one keep from seeming too eager?

The solution is an easy one: have enough money while job hunting to not actually be desperate.  That way, there is no fakery involved.  There are many ways to make money while unemployed, such as spending less money, filing for unemployment, and working odd jobs.

But job hunting does take time, and can feel like a job in and of itself.  The Coupon Sherpa has compiled a list of 24 ways you can make money quickly while unemployed.  The suggestions range from house sitting to handyman to freelance and consulting work.

The last one, specifically, has the prospect of becoming more than a side job.

4.  Make Your Part-time Your Full-time

Perhaps you have a specialized skill set, and end up enjoying the freelance and consulting work you do to pay the bills while looking for employment.  You can make the choice to do freelance or consulting work as your profession.

And you would not be alone: has a whole section of its website devoted purely to freelancing and consulting.  The articles in the database offer tips, and the whole site provides a community and resources.

Getting started in freelance and consulting work, however, is difficult.  Escape from Corporate America, the website of career coach Pamela Skillings, has a useful guide on how to begin working in freelance and consulting.  The guide insists that consulting work is useful even in the short term for it will help you network and gather clients, therefore making you more hirable to someone else.

5.  If All Else Fails, Move to an Industry that Actually Has Jobs

Not every sector is growing or hiring, and perhaps your chosen field is one of them. This is where you need flexibility, because there are a few industries that have continued to grow and hire despite the poor economy.

The Atlantic lists 12 such industries that actually grew in 2010, including high tech equipment manufacturing and health care.  Health care alone gained over 160,000 jobs last year.

Besides bed rock industries such as health care that will always be needed, there are also some industries that actually do better during a recession.  The unemployed can be entrepreneurial and take advantage of the poor economy with jobs in debt collection, online auctions, and career consulting.

Anyone can get a great job if they just think a little creatively.  Confidence, flexibility, and critical thinking are all one needs to find the employment they deserve.

Lemons from Lemonade

We all hear the bad news from the recession: unemployment, no job growth, a unsteady market, and general mayhem and madness.  But few ever mention the businesses that do well, or perhaps even benefit, from the global recession.  Despite the flagging economic institutions around us, some companies and industries continue to grow.  So what, in our staggering economy, manages to thrive?

Gas prices have, historically, been known to fall during times of global recession, and this recent one is no exception.  According to the index of gas prices for the last several years, the price per gallon dropped dramatically after the recession hit and has yet to return to pre-recession prices.  Consumers benefit from this, but so do the car companies.  In fact, General Motors reported an 18% sales increase from just August of last year.

Another market to see an increase in value during a recession is gold, which reached the astronomical price of $1,900 per ounce.  In turn, pawn shops and brokers in gold have seen record levels of people selling back their old gold.

But people seem to be taking desperate measures to gain some extra cash, with the sales of lottery tickets skyrocketing in recent months.  In fact, 17 states reported record annual ticket sales.

Either from selling their gold, or winning it big in the lottery, consumers have taken their financial boon and put it back into the market.  The biggest recipient of this is most definitely Apple, who had their best quarter to date in June of 2011 with a record $28.57 billion revenue.  So much so, that for a brief Tuesday in August, Apple overtook Exxon as the world’s most valuable company.

With all those new iPhones out there, digital music sales increased by 12.4% this year, accounting for half the music sold.  And despite physical album sales, falling last year overall, the sale of vinyl records increased 14% to 2.8 million units.  That’s the largest number seen since 1991, right before the invention of the CD.  It seems that unless it’s a unique product, like a vinyl record, people prefer their music digitally.

A form, it seems, that people now prefer their movies as well.  With the decline of DVD sales, people now belong to online streaming and home rental services such as Netflix.   Even with the sales increase they announced last month, a study by The Diffusion Group found that only 12-15% of members would cancel their subscriptions – a negligible amount for the company with the price increase.

The only thing people seem to still be buying in its physical form, and not a streamed or downloadable version, are video game consoles.  Called a recession-proof industry, the major consoles continue to sell, with Xbox having the best year to date in 2011 then it’s has during the six years it’s been on the market.

And while we consumers waste our time at home, watching movies, listening to music, and spending our nights playing video games, how are we ourselves awake for all this activities?  With coffee, of course.

Big chains such as Costa Coffee recently saw their 38th consecutive quarter of growth, and Starbucks just announced a massive expansion throughout Asia with 1,500 shops opening up in China and 700 in South Korea within the next five years.

So all in all, it wasn’t such a bad year for some people  Let’s hope we can all do just as well next year so we don’t have to keep hocking our necklaces to afford our Netflix subscriptions.