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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

New Illness: Facebook Depression?

This may sound like a joke, but it's not: researchers at Stony Brook University in New York have found that too much Facebook usage can leave you more prone to anxiety and depression...that is, if you're a teenage girl. In a study, a group of 13-year old girls were evaluated by psychology professor Dr. Joanne Davila and her colleague, Lisa Starr. A year later, the researchers followed up with the girls, testing them for depressive symptoms.

Feeling Down? Blame Facebook!

The results of their tests, recently published in The Journal of Adolescence, showed that the girls who talked with their friends online had significantly higher levels of depression. Says Dr. Davila, "Texting, instant messaging and social networking make it very easy for adolescents to become even more anxious, which can lead to depression."

Apparently, the problem with these electronic tools du jour is that they allowed the girls to discuss the same problems over and over again. This caused them to get stuck obsessing over a particular emotional setback, unable to move forward.

A Couple of Caveats

Turning a critical eye to this research, though, we have to wonder: is it really Facebook and IM that's getting the girls down? Or is it just the nature of teenage girls to talk themselves to tears? We already know that teenage girls engage in excessive talking and rumination...and they've been doing so for years. It's just the means by which they communicate these days that has changed.

Years ago, those same girls may have spent hours on the phone or writing out their thoughts in secret "slambooks." Even longer ago, they probably sat at their desks writing out long, emotional letters. For many girls, chatting about or dwelling on their problems is just a part of growing up.

Even Dr. Davila seemed to notice that it's not necessarily the medium through which the chatter tasks place that's the issue - it's the amount of discussion that leads to the feelings of depression. Said the professor, "[The girls] often don't realize that excessive talking is actually making them feel worse."

It's also worth pointing out that the study involved a relatively small sample of girls: 83 in total, which doesn't seem like a large enough group to form any definitive, universal conclusions.

If anything, this study just shows that social networking sites haven't changed anything about how we communicate - they've just given us a different platform through which we do so.

Original here

The long reach of youthful angst

By Judy Foreman

A troubled, gun-wielding 23-year-old student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute goes on a campus rampage, killing 32 people and eventually himself. An MIT student commits suicide by ingesting cyanide, and another dies in a fire after an overdose.

Such highly publicized occurrences underscore the sense of personal angst on today's college campuses. But contrary to popular belief, the stress young people experience has nothing to do with meeting the demands of higher education.

It comes simply with being a newly minted adult.

Whether in college or not, almost half of this country's 19-to-25-year-olds meet standard criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder, although some of the disorders, such as phobias, are relatively mild, according to a government-funded survey of more than 5,000 young adults, published in December in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The study, done at Columbia University and called the National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions, found more alcohol use disorders among college students, while their noncollege peers were more likely to have a drug use disorder.

But, beyond that, misery is largely an equal-opportunity affliction: Across the social spectrum, young people in America are depressed. They're anxious. They regularly break one another's hearts. And, all too often, they don't get the help they need as they face life's questions:

"Who will I be? Will I make friends? The romantic relationships, planning for the future . . . there is all kinds of stuff going on at the same time, including raging hormones," says Ronald Kessler, a medical sociologist at Harvard Medical School.

Some evidence suggests that college students may even be less miserable than their nonstudent-age-mates.

Suicide - the third leading cause of death for teenagers and young adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - is one-third lower among the college than noncollege set, says Dr. Paul Barreira, a psychiatrist who is director of Behavioral Health and Academic Counseling at Harvard University Health Services.

The reason is not well understood. One possible explanation, according to Barreira, is that most residential colleges don't allow firearms. Firearms are still the most likely way young people kill themselves.

Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety affect slightly fewer college students than noncollege peers, researchers say.

And the biggest cause of despair? Even among college students, it's not academics, but love that hurts most.

Emotional problems were more than twice as common among students who had recently had a major loss - typically a romantic breakup - than among those who had not, says Dr. Mark Olfson, the Columbia University psychiatrist who led the National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions study.

The universality of youthful angst may come as a surprise in light of tragic college occurrences. But to the specialists, it makes perfect sense.

For one thing, early adulthood is the time when serious psychiatric problems such as bipolar disorder (manic-depression) and schizophrenia often surface.

For another, happiness in general follows a U-shaped curve, with the greatest unhappiness among young and very old adults, according to Kessler, the Harvard medical sociologist. For the young, the trick is navigating a steep developmental curve - figuring out who you are, getting work, family, and finances on track, and generally stumbling toward independence.

An open question is whether life has always been this way for the young, or whether psychological problems are on the rise. A 2006 survey of directors of college counseling centers suggests things are getting worse.

But Dr. Andrew Leuchter, a psychiatrist and associate dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, says, "We don't know to what extent kids are having more difficulties and to what extent we are much better at recognizing and diagnosing them."

Barreira agrees. "Most college counseling people would say students are more depressed today. But my hypothesis is that we're looking for it more and we're better at diagnosing it in high school. More students are showing up in college on medications - they've been successfully treated so that they can get into good colleges."

For its part, Harvard is conducting a multiyear survey of mental health among incoming freshmen. And UCLA, despite general financial austerity, has launched a new initiative to help students with psychological problems.

That said, the Columbia study suggests that mental health treatment is actually better outside the Ivy-covered walls. While 1 in 20 college students with psychological problems gets treatment, 1 in 10 of same-age nonstudents gets help.

It's not clear why, says Olfson, the Columbia University psychiatrist. "College students may be more concerned" that if they seek help they might jeopardize career opportunities or academic achievement, though he adds that even so, "colleges should make more of an effort to make services available and acceptable, particularly for alcohol use problems." Living at home with parents seems to protect kids' mental health, whether they are in college or not, the study found.

Young people, in and out of school, can also do more to help one another, says Barreira, especially by minimizing isolation. "Everything gets worse if you're isolated," he says. "It's amazing how many students eat alone in the dining hall. My message to them: Find someone to talk to, even if it's a teaching fellow or a faculty member. Don't stay isolated."

Worried parents can help, too, whether their offspring are in school or in the job market. They can reassure their sons and daughters that it's not necessary to get all A's or move like lightening up the job ladder. And perhaps most important, that broken hearts usually do heal.

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Folding dealers shock car buyers with liens

Image: Inga Randle
Rich Pedroncelli / AP
Inga Randle , one of thousands of consumers who have faced problems with dealerships who have failed to pay off used car loans, bought the 15-year-old used car she is seated on, after having difficulties with two pre-owned vehicles.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The national wave of auto dealership closures has come crashing down on thousands of people who are on the hook for used-car loans that dealers were supposed to absolve.

When a car buyer still owes money on a vehicle he is trading in, the dealer promises to pay off the outstanding loan, then resells the vehicle. But as more dealers go out of business, some are sticking consumers with the bill. Lenders can then go after the previous owner who thought the debt was paid, or repossess the car from the new owner who assumed it came with clear title.

"It's devastating for people when it happens because they have two car payments and they can't afford them," said Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, a Sacramento-based nonprofit that lobbies on behalf of vehicle owners. "Their credit is destroyed for no fault of their own because the dealer defaulted."

Regulators in California and other states, including Florida, Iowa and Washington, are seeing a surge in consumer complaints. They warn the problem is sure to grow this year because of the deepening recession and continued trouble in the auto industry.

About a quarter of all car buyers are vulnerable because they still owe money on their trade-in or lease when they buy another vehicle, according to industry tracker Edmunds.com. It's become more common for a driver to owe money on a trade-in as people stretch their car payments over six or seven years to make them more affordable.

Inga and Brian Randle of Elk Grove, a Sacramento suburb, are among those who got burned.

In 2006, they bought two 2001 Mercedes vehicles, a CLK430 convertible and an E320 sedan, finding out afterward that the small Sacramento dealer had not paid off the previous owners' liens.

Creditors called, and the Randles found they owed $40,000 on the old loans.

"I stopped paying on both of those loans because I couldn't afford to keep paying. It's a huge stain on my credit — and I had very good credit," Inga Randle said. "Our life has really been affected by what's going on here."

The Randles now drive 15-year-old vehicles they own outright. Brian Randle is working more overtime to rebuild their savings, and the couple has been dragged into the dealership's bankruptcy proceedings.

A few states have programs that require dealers to post substantial insurance bonds to repay victimized car buyers. Consumers in states with no such program, or a poorly funded one, have little recourse but to sue and hope for at least a small slice of the assets if the dealer has filed for bankruptcy.

Authorities have brought charges in rare cases where they have proof of intentional wrongdoing, but local prosecutors, motor vehicle departments and state attorneys general are paying more attention as the problem grows.

California state Sen. Ellen Corbett, a Democrat from San Leandro, has introduced legislation that would require dealers to prove they are paying off a vehicle's lien before transferring the title. That's already a requirement in some states, said Jason King, spokesman for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

Corbett's bill would require auto dealers to post bonds as high as $250,000 with the California Department of Motor Vehicles so liens could be paid off if a dealership collapses.

"It's becoming a serious problem because the consumer, through no fault of their own, may be facing financial ruin just because they purchased a car," Corbett said.

California is hit particularly hard because it has the nation's largest auto market, more dealers going out of business, and more buyers who owe money on their trade-ins.

DMV spokesman Mike Marando said the agency had 319 open investigations on dealers for failing to pay off liens or register a vehicle as of December, up from about 200 cases at the same time a year ago. It fielded 1,655 vehicle-transfer complaints against dealers from July to September, nearly double the number of consumer complaints for the same period in 2007.

Complaints also are rising in Florida.

Between March 1 and Sept. 1, 2008, Florida officials deemed valid 103 complaints regarding auto dealers' delinquent loan payments. By comparison, there were 37 confirmed complaints during the same period in 2007.

Florida also received more than 1,886 confirmed complaints of delays in title transfers during that five-month period in 2008, compared with 900 a year earlier, said Ann Nucatola, spokeswoman for the state's motor vehicle department.

Data regarding auto loan defaults are not compiled nationally, but other states have similar problems, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association, National Consumer Law Center, prosecutors and private attorneys who are suing bankrupt dealerships.

Washington state created a task force in October after an agency that oversees dealer licenses saw a 4 percent increase in complaints against dealers who failed to transfer titles.

Officials are having trouble helping consumers who still owe money on trade-in vehicles if a dealer defaults, said Mary Lobdell, an assistant attorney general for the state. For now, they are advising consumers to hire attorneys and seek a share of the dealer's $30,000 bond.

"The problem is once they've gone out of business, there's no money. You can't get blood from a turnip," Lobdell said.

Nevada Department of Transportation investigator Gordon Rogers said he is dealing with about four cases a month, double the number of a year ago.

More than 5,000 new and used car dealerships closed nationwide last year, according to industry groups. That includes 450 in California.

"Unfortunately, with this economy, we can expect to see a growing number of dealers go out of business in the next year," said Iowa Assistant Attorney General Bill Brauch, who heads the National Association of Attorneys General auto working group. "I think there are going to be problems around the country with consumers having to be made whole and consumers having to eat significant costs."

Iowa, like California, requires dealers to post a $50,000 bond, but some states' bonds are as low as $5,000. Even $50,000 is often too little to cover defaults, Brauch said.

California lawmakers took an extra step by creating a Consumer Recovery Fund in 2007, with money coming from a $1 fee on each vehicle sold. Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia also have restitution funds, according to the National Consumer Law Center and the Ohio attorney general's office.

But California's fund cannot be used yet because the state is still forming the agency that will consider claims and distribute the money.

Consumers are left to sue the dealer, which typically has declared bankruptcy and has no money to reclaim, said Armando Botello, a spokesman for the California DMV. He said the state can suspend the dealer's license or refer the dealer to local prosecutors but cannot recover buyers' money.

Before they land in trouble, used-car buyers should insist on seeing a vehicle's title to make sure it has no liens, consumer advocates say. They also say buyers offering trade-ins should first pay off the loan themselves if possible, or deal only with high-volume dealers who are part of a larger auto group and thus are less likely to fold.

"You've got to check out the dealer's financial health as best you can if you're going to let them handle your vehicle resale," said Jesse Toprak, executive director of automobile industry analysis for Edmunds.

Original here


Mat made of moss stays alive with the help of bath water

Mat made of moss stays alive with the help of bath water
Natural bonus: it feels soft underfoot and does not smell when it gets damp Photo: SOLENT

The mat contains a total of 70 pieces of ball, island and forest moss measuring 2.4in (6cm) each in diameter.

It feels soft underfoot and does not smell when it gets damp.

Each piece of moss is cut into a foam frame, which prevents the moss from spreading or growing out of control.

Its designer, Nguyen La Chanh, from Switzerland, says the mat is very relaxing and needs little care.

She said: "The idea was to find a new way of having your plants inside.

"Not only plants in pots quietly standing in the corner of a living room but alive plants, evolving in the house.

"I think this mat would appeal people who miss a corner of nature in their appartment - perhaps if they live in an urban environment, far from parks and nature areas.

"It's relaxing, feels lovely and soft under the feet and doesn't need much care."

Miss Nguyen is looking for financial backing so she can mass produce the mat for less than the £220 it cost her to make.

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In Paris, an anti-ad insurgency

Dismantlers

TAKING ACTION: A member of the Dismantlers, a nationwide group that considers large public advertisements to be obtrusive and manipulative, is recorded as he defaces one near Place Malesherbes in Paris.

By Sebastian Rotella and Audrey Bastide

Reporting from Paris -- Over the centuries, the French have cultivated the fine art of rebellion.

The list of targets encompasses tyrants, wars, colonialism and, above all, capitalism in its many manifestations. The latest enemy may seem unlikely: billboards.

The Dismantlers, as a nationwide group of anti-ad crusaders call themselves, aren't violent or loud or clandestine. In fact, they invite the police to protest rallies where they deface signs. With a copywriter's flair, one of their slogans warns: "Attention! Avert your eyes from ads: You risk being very strongly manipulated." The goal of the Dismantlers is to get arrested, argue the righteousness of their cause in court and, you guessed it, gain publicity.

"We challenge the mercantile society that destroys all human relationships, professional relationships, health, the environment," said Alexandre Baret, 35, a founder of the group. "It's a message that proposes to attack advertising as the fuel of this not very healthy society."

Despite the stick-it-to-the-man rhetoric, there were neckties and briefcases in the crowd at an evening rally here a while back. Part-time insurgents had come from work for the gathering in the Place Malesherbes, an elegant, tree-lined plaza graced by statues of the author Alexandre Dumas and his musketeer hero D'Artagnan, one of literature's most irrepressible swashbucklers.

The 80-odd demonstrators, looking bohemian and stylish, listened to Baret set the ideological stage. The red-bearded schoolteacher and father of four explained that he doesn't want to abolish advertising, just limit signs to no more than 1.2 feet by 1.6 feet. The current wall-size dimensions are obtrusive and oppressive, he said.

The large and colorful billboards that are a fixture of the Paris streetscape are hard to ignore, especially the many suggestive ads for undergarments. Some consider them artistic; religious fundamentalists condemn them as proof of Western decadence.

"You see commercial messages every day, you get them right in the face, in the subway, in the street, all the time, and if you don't want to, you do not have the choice," Baret declared over a megaphone. "So we are obliged to resort to civil disobedience. In a symbolic manner, we will tag a few billboards in order to provoke debate and push for things to progress."

Baret urged the crowd to give a cordial welcome to the police. Advised by the activists ahead of time, the authorities had dispatched a squad of riot police, the renowned head-thumpers of the CRS, or Republican Security Companies.

The officers formed a cordon: burly and stern in blue uniforms, black gloves, pants tucked into lace-up boots. They looked bemused. They were no doubt thankful to tangle with polite leftists instead of housing-project gangs who have been known to "welcome" police with bricks, Molotov cocktails and gunfire.

Under Baret's direction, three activists approached billboards promoting audiovisual products and a television talk show and spray-painted them with slogans. The police slapped on handcuffs and led their prisoners to a van. There was applause. An accordion accompanied the crowd in a popular song, "The Deserter," with lyrics modified for the occasion. And that was that.

The Dismantlers represent an enduring contradiction of the French mentality. The center-right won the last elections by a comfortable margin. Juggernaut industries sell the world everything from jets to trains to wine. The average citizen enjoys long vacations, a beach or country home and a lifestyle that is the envy of the West.

Nonetheless, a large percentage of the population tells pollsters that it is hostile to the capitalist system. That ideological current produced the anti-advertising movement, which took off in 2003 and has won sympathy with its mix of economic and environmental messages.

"I think that when you get down to it, they are right," said Marina, 33, a restaurant worker who stopped to see what the fuss was about in the Place Malesherbes. "Between TV, Internet and advertising billboards, we are told about consumption all the time."

But Marina expressed doubt that this particular mini-revolution would triumph.

"I find it funny, but a little useless," she said. "I think tagging ads bothers passersby more than anything. A sign full of graffiti is even worse than having to look at an ad."

Unlike anarchists or other groups that engage in hit-and-run tactics, the Dismantlers see the courtroom as a battlefield of choice. They gather contributions to pay fines that are often low because judges tend to be lenient and the vandalism is calculated to remain minimal.

Baret appeared at a hearing last month on charges of "unauthorized advertising." The case involved an incident in 2007 when he was caught plastering commuter trains with the "avert your eyes" stickers.

Baret, who like his fellow insurgents is a veteran defendant, had refused to pay the $58 fine. His lawyer argued that his actions were less destructive than the 57,000 giant signs that fill the train stations of France.

"The advertisements are energy-intensive, they use paper from forests," the lawyer said. "It's an assault on individual liberties, an advertising aggression."

In response, the prosecutor reminded the accused that "the tribunal is not a tribune." A lawyer representing the French railroad company, which demanded a symbolic $1.30 in damages and $650 for legal costs, chided the activists for returning to rabble-rousing of "years ago."

A verdict is expected in February. But the Dismantlers say they have already won by making people stop and think about the messages that bombard them each day.

"The advertising budget in France is $39 billion a year," said Antoine Trouillard, a 26-year-old philosophy student and activist.

"That's equivalent to the entire education budget in France. . . . Our movement goes a lot further than a simple symbolic gesture. And that's what we want the public to understand."


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Proposed Law Would Allow Guns in Churches

Little Rock, AR - Should you be able to carry a gun to church? It's a question state lawmakers will be taking up next week when they debate a bill that's kicked up a little controversy. The bill being discussed would let churches decide on their own to post a sign to ban guns inside, but opponents say it should not even be an option.

Grant Exton is a gun owner and president of the state's Concealed Carry Association. He's been working with lawmakers on a bill that would allow people licensed to carry a concealed handgun to take their guns to church. Exton says the proposed law's less about guns and more about property rights.

(Grant Exton, Concealed Carry Association) "Businesses, homes here in Arkansas are able to make the decision on whether they want to have people carrying on their premise, and we're just trying to give that right to churches as well."
It's also about personal protection. Exton cites the 2007 shooting that killed one person and injured four others in a Colorado church, where a gun-carrying church security worker stopped the shooter.

(Exton) "She was able to stop them at the door, while 7,000 congregants were seated in the pews and the Colorado Springs police said she probably saved a couple hundred lives."

Little Rock pastor John Phillips, now at Central Church of Christ, has first-hand experience with guns in the sanctuary. In 1986, while working at a different church, across town, he was gunned down in the pulpit.

(John Phillips, Little Rock Pastor) "A gentleman came into the church. He was mentally deranged, and at the end of the sermon, pulled out a gun and shouted something about baptism and proceeded to shoot me in the back a couple of times. I still carry one of the bullets embedded in my spine."

Phillips says philosophically, a sanctuary is a place of peace and should be gun free. As for protection, despite what he's been through, he says he feels safer in a church with no guns.

(Phillips) "We really believe God provides and protects his own and that it wouldn't be in the best interest of what the church stands for to have people armed and packing on Sunday morning."

Original here

A Month Free? Rents Are Falling Fast

Tina Fineberg for The New York Times

MOTIVATED When Sara Nuttall and her family went hunting for a rental, she said, incentives "made a big difference."

By ELIZABETH A. HARRIS

IN this painful economic climate of layoffs and shrinking investments, there is a sliver of positive news: it’s a good time to be a renter in New York City. Prices are falling, primarily in Manhattan, and concessions like a month of free rent are widespread.


Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times

Amy Baglan and Johnny Muñoz negotiated the rent.

Although it is notoriously difficult to quantify the state of the rental market, rents fell in almost every sector of the Manhattan market last year, according to the Real Estate Group, a New York brokerage. The steepest drop was in one-bedrooms, down 5.7 percent in buildings with doormen and 6.53 percent in buildings without. The only category that rose: rents for two-bedroom apartments in doorman buildings, up just a bit, by 0.61 percent. But these numbers, like most available data, represent asking rents rather than the final price. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some people are negotiating rents as much as 20 percent lower than the original prices asked by landlords. These figures also leave out incentives, like a month of free rent or a landlord’s paying the broker fee, which can add up to real savings.

Fritz Frigan, executive director of sales and leasing at Halstead Property estimates that when these incentives are considered, rents are actually down some 10 percent to 15 percent since the market peak in mid-2007.

“In that really strong market,” Mr. Frigan said, “landlords didn’t have to do anything.” In 2008, that was no longer the case.

In January 2008, Halstead had about 90 listings for which the owner offered to pay the broker’s fee. By the summer, that number had pushed upward, hitting about 450 a month.

“Then, in September or October, the whole thing broke loose,” Mr. Frigan said.

In a one-month period, from Dec. 23, 2008, to Jan. 23, 2009, some 1,700 of Halstead’s 9,000 total rental listings included owner payment of the broker’s fee.

Jimmi Circosta, a vice president and associate broker at Citi Habitats, also saw a big slowdown in the autumn, which he pegs to the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September. “Once that news hit the marketplace,” he said, “it just got really quiet.”

Tom Botts and his wife, Libbie Rice, found all kinds of deals from landlords when they went apartment hunting this winter, and they were able to negotiate a reduction in the rent on the Upper West Side three-bedroom that they finally chose. They also encountered a symptom of the market that was simply unheard of in recent years: their previous landlord offered to lower their rent if they renewed their lease.

“We had a truly un-New York experience with our old landlord begging us to stay,” Mr. Botts, 39, said in an e-mail message. The owner offered a rent reduction of more than 10 percent, but the couple had already found an apartment they preferred and were committed to moving.

It’s impossible to say how often owners are lowering rents to encourage tenants to stay put, but anecdotes are starting to surface. “It’s not a common occurrence,” said Mr. Circosta of Citi Habitats, “but it is happening.”

Mr. Botts, a partner at Hudson Crossing, a travel industry advisory company, and Ms. Rice, 44, who does similar work as an independent consultant, hope one day to buy an apartment for themselves and their children, Tommy, 4, and Camille, 2. But they have decided to hold off for now. “The economy feels too scary,” Ms. Rice said.

They have a lot of company on the sidelines of the sale market.

“It certainly makes renting more attractive when the rental market softens,” said Gary H. Schatsky, a financial adviser in New York. “If people suspect — as most people do — that the New York City sales market will get much softer, and they’re able to rent in the meantime, then being able to negotiate a rental rate puts you in a better position.”

Teresa Hsiao found a kinder-than-expected rental market when she moved to Manhattan from Los Angeles last month.

“I was expecting to live in a box,” she said. She looked at more than 10 apartments and found lots of concessions on nice spaces that added up to substantial price cuts. “Everyone was paying the broker fee,” she said. “They were very flexible on their lease terms. One broker told me: ‘We’ll get it done for you. Just name your price and we’ll do it.’ ”

Ms. Hsiao, 23, and her roommate, David Liu, 24, settled on a two-bedroom two-bathroom apartment in Midtown on the West Side. It was listed for $4,200. They offered $3,650 a month and were accepted. After one month free and a $2,000 signing bonus, the total came to $3,215 monthly, and they did not have to pay the broker’s fee.

“This apartment was definitely a great find and a bargain compared to 1.5 years ago,” Mr. Liu wrote in an e-mail message. “It’s definitely a renters’ market now.”

The creation of jobs is one of the primary ingredients in a strong rental market, and people like Ms. Hsiao and Mr. Liu, who both moved to New York for work, used to be its lifeblood. Now their numbers are dwindling as the city has begun to shed jobs.


Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times

Libbie Rice and her husband also negotiated their rent.

According to the New York State Department of Labor, New York City lost 49,100 private-sector jobs from December 2007 to December 2008, which helped send the unemployment rate from 5.1 percent to 7.4 percent.

“People assume when sale slows down, rental will pick up, but that depends on what the source of this is,” said Gregory J. Heym, the chief economist at Terra Holdings, which owns Halstead and Brown Harris Stevens. “When you’re losing jobs, the rental market is also going to suffer.”

While prices have started to slide in Manhattan, they are steadier in Brooklyn. Increasingly, however, there are deals to be found, especially in neighborhoods like Williamsburg that have seen a lot of new construction.

Last July, James McGuinness, 23, and his partner, Louis Kerscher, 25, moved into an apartment in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, for which the owner paid the broker’s fee. Adrian Cardona, a broker with the company they used, Rapid Realty, says he has seen more owner payments since the summer. “Absolutely,” he said. “They have no choice.”

Patrick McGrath, a managing partner at Taurus, which owns a recently converted luxury prewar rental building in Brooklyn Heights called the Standish, says the Brooklyn market has softened, but not a lot.

“We’re not renting as fast as we would have expected,” Mr. McGrath said. “We’ve had to provide concessions — a free month rent, we pay the broker fee. But rents are around where we expected them to be. We’re in the ballpark.”

Owners with more property — and deep pockets — generally would rather offer incentives than reduce rents because when the market comes back, they start from a stronger bargaining position. But landlords of smaller buildings tend to just lower the rent.

Allison Gill and Hadley Hege, both 22, found that they had some bargaining power when they went apartment hunting late last year. Ms. Gill, a law student, and Ms. Hege, an actress, looked at a two-bedroom apartment in a three-unit building in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, listed for $2,000. They took it for $1,900.

The rental market in Queens, meanwhile, is relatively stable.

“The prices are not going up,” said Donna Reardon, Queens divisional manager for Prudential Douglas Elliman. “They’re staying the same.” Concessions are still an exception rather than the rule in that borough.

It is in Manhattan, which saw steep price gains in recent years, where the discounts can be substantial now — even on the higher end.

Sara Nuttall, her husband and their 11-year-old twins relocated to New York at the end of last year from Dakar, Senegal, where they paid $2,500 for a five-bedroom house with a garden. They were looking for a three-bedroom apartment and started with a budget of about $6,000 a month.

Senad Ahmetovic, an associate broker and vice president at Halstead, showed them about 35 apartments.

“In my 10 years’ experience, I haven’t seen so many three-bedroom apartments on the market,” Mr. Ahmetovic said. “It just seemed endless. In the past, they weren’t being offered with incentives, because there were so few available at any given point.”

That, it seems, is no longer the case.

“We started to discover that there were incentives there for us,” said Ms. Nuttall, 52. “That made a big difference. It meant we could get something that was a bit nicer, a bit more what we wanted for the same price.”

They eventually settled on a three- bedroom three-and-a-half bath apartment in east Midtown. It was listed for $8,500 but they were able to negotiate the rent to $8,000 a month. They also received a free month of rent, and the owner paid the broker’s fee. Their monthly payment will be $7,400. That $1,100 decline represents a 13 percent decrease from the asking rent, not including the money saved on the broker.

Ms. Nuttall found the apartment in December, always a slow time in the rental market. But seasonal sluggishness does not explain the discounts that she encountered.

“In any last quarter, the rental market always adjusts — vacancies rise and prices dip, every year,” said Gary Malin, the president of Citi Habitats. “This year there was substantially less activity than you would normally see. There was an extra layer of pressure on the rental market — and the world at large — that forced prices down further and vacancy rates higher.”

Some landlords hope that adjusting leases to expire in summer 2010 will get a better price next time around.

Amy Baglan, 26, and her boyfriend, Johnny Muñoz, 28, found a one-bedroom apartment in a prewar building on the Upper West Side at the end of last year. They negotiated a cut of $200 per month in the rent and received a free month. (They connected with the owner on Craigslist and did not use a broker.) But they signed a 16-month lease, which will expire at the end of April 2010.

Mr. Muñoz wondered why his landlady was not offering a standard one- or two-year lease. “Do you want to make sure this is open and available during the prime season of rentals?” he said he asked. She chuckled and said yes, Mr. Muñoz said.

Mr. Muñoz’s landlady may get a boost from the warm weather, but no one knows where the market will be in 2010.

“My assumption would be over the next year that you’re going to see effective rents drop because of the increase in concessions,” said Andy Joynt, a real estate economist at Property and Portfolio Research, an independent research and advisory firm. “We’re forecasting that asking rents are also going to drop,” he added. “We’ll see if that ends up being reflected in the numbers.”

Marc Lewis, the president of Century 21 New York, has seen several recessions in his many years in the business, most recently after Sept. 11, 2001. “But in the past,” he said, “it always felt like it would be a few months and then it would be over. This one, we don’t have an answer yet.”

Many people — including President Barack Obama — are suggesting that the economy is likely to get worse before it gets better. And the rental market is unlikely to strengthen until the economy, and the job market in particular, turns around.

According to the Independent Budget Office of New York City, the outlook is bleak. The agency expects the city to lose 243,000 jobs from the peak of early 2008.

“Let’s hope this is a short-term problem,” said Vicki Been, the director of the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy of New York University. “You know, we prefer more affordable housing, until there’s a downturn. And then we panic.”

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