New York's Chinatown seeks voice in redevelopment

Effects of Sept. 11 included layoffs of many of area's workers


NEW YORK - The effects of the World Trade Center attack included layoffs of about one-fourth of Chinatown's 34,000 workers, and economic ripples in Queens and Brooklyn, because half of Chinatown's workers live outside Manhattan, according to a new report released Thursday.

Chinatown accounts for 1 percent of New York City's employment, but 10 percent of the jobs lost in the three months after Sept. 11, the authors of the report said - or about 7,500 of the 75,000 jobs lost in that period.

Until now, much information about Chinatown's economy has been anecdotal and difficult to collect, because its immigrant economy is largely insular and cash-based.

This report is probably the most comprehensive economic analysis in the history of the more than 150-year-old neighborhood.

Drawing on data from government, business surveys, newspaper reports and charitable organizations, the Asian American Federation of New York, a nonprofit public policy group, spent three months putting together a 60-page glossy report detailing the rates of unemployment, business closings, and lost revenues in Chinatown in the three months after Sept. 11.

`A guidebook'

"It will be a map and a guidebook for getting attention and support that are needed here," said C. Virginia Fields, the Manhattan borough president.

Chief among Chinatown's priorities is gaining a representative on the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which is in charge of the rebuilding effort.

In addition, Chinatown's leaders have been frustrated that the line for economic aid has often been drawn at Canal Street, the northern border used to define the zone of the most severe restrictions after the attack, but one that slices through the heart of the neighborhood and neglects many of those in need.

The report estimates that wages lost after the attack totaled $114 million.

In garment manufacturing, Chinatown's largest industry, 40 out of 246 factories have closed because of the sagging retail economy and restrictions on trucking, the report said.

Details of the long-term impact of Sept. 11 are a bit murkier, since much of the information dates to December.

The community, less than a half-mile from Ground Zero, was paralyzed in the immediate aftermath of the attack, when large swaths of the neighborhood were closed by the police. Businesses suffered from telephone and electricity cutoffs.

When asked last week about what could be done for the unemployed in Chinatown, Mayor Michael Bloomberg pointed to the hot line and Web site the city has set up (in English) to help job seekers.

`An advertising campaign'

"You want to have an advertising campaign, and we will focus that campaign on those communities where it is hard to get to," he said.

However, some neighborhood leaders feel that Web sites will not help much. Chinatown is a largely working-class community that is not particularly Internet-savvy. Most people speak little English and the going wage in most industries was about $350 a week before Sept. 11, the report said.

The situation in Chinatown nearly seven months after the attacks is mixed.

Among the businesses hardest hit are jewelry stores. The garment factories that remain have seen orders increase.

One company, Bottoms Up, laid off 12 of its 56 employees after Sept. 11. But orders have started to come back in. The owner, Peter Wong, rehired those workers and has expanded the work force to 65. He has also taken over the lease of the factory next door, which went out of business.

But workers who have not been able to get rehired still feel the strain. Wai Chun Ng, who is 62 and has four children, lost her garment job when her factory closed after Sept. 11. Her husband, also a former garment worker, has been retired for four years, so their 24-year-old daughter, who works part time at a hospital, supports the family.

Ng has been careful to budget, buying things on sale. If she buys meat, she also has to be economical. "Chicken is cheap," she said.

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