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Jobless Russian Office Workers Scramble For Work

No good news for visitors of a job fair in Moscow.
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Thousands of unemployed office workers have crammed into a Moscow job fair, as Russia's fledgling middle classes began to take the strain of the deepening economic crisis.

Employers in Russia are slashing jobs, as the economy buckles after a decade-long boom, raising concerns about social stability in the world's largest energy producer.

Most of the 2,000 job seekers at the fair in Moscow were office workers in their 20s and 30s. Organizers said the number of employers had shrunk by up to 40 percent.

"A huge number of experienced, educated middle managers have been dumped onto the market," said Aleksandr Zudinov, an executive offering work at the Czech Insurance Company. "So this year we are free to be very picky."

Russian unemployment has ballooned to 6.1 million, 8.1 percent of the economically active population.

The Kremlin says it will protect the middle classes from the crisis, as they are the natural supporters of President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Analysts warn that political apathy is deeply entrenched in Russia's urban middle class, and there was little overt criticism of the Kremlin at the job fair.

Employers said it was common for office workers to accept pay cuts of 50 percent, or even to switch to factory work or manual labor.

Ravil, 24, who lost his job as a banker in January, said he had been unable to find work since, even though he has three years' experience.

"I'm looking at jobs and salaries I wouldn't even have considered before. There just aren't any more opportunities in banking," Ravil said. He declined to give his full name, citing the stigma attached to unemployment.

Many of the job seekers were trying to survive on Russia's meager state welfare benefits, usually around $100 a month.

Yelena, 44, said she was officially registered for welfare benefits on March 11 after being laid off in December from her job as deputy director of a small accounting firm.

The benefits she was entitled to made up just one percent of her previous salary. "That's not enough to live on," she said. "But what can you expect from the government. Communism is gone. There are no more handouts."

She stood in line at the Federal Tax Inspectorate's stand among a crush of unemployed bankers and accountants.

"We're seeing 10 times more applicants with professional experience," said Marina Shinkevich, the tax auditor manning the booth. "We used to take anybody, now only investment bankers, people with law degrees. They're happy to accept."

Many of those in the queue said the stability of the public sector was attractive and noted private employers had delayed payment of wages for months before laying them off.