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January 14, 2003
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While assisting the unemployed generates a lot of noise in Washington, some businesses have quietly begun helping in their own small way, by offering discounts to their unemployed customers and clients.

Health clubs, yoga instructors and professional organizations are offering discounts only available to jobless workers. The Wall Street Journal calls it a "yuppie brand of charity."

For example:
  • A software company in Massachusetts offers free access to its software for unemployed design engineers. Jobless engineers can also receive a discount on software training.

  • The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers knocks off 50 percent of its annual fee for unemployed members.

  • Public Storage Inc., a moving and storage company in Glendale, Calif., this year started offering a $50 moving discount to members of an association of laid-off professionals.
The Journal notes that it's not entirely a matter of altruism. These businesses are struggling for customers as well. These firms aren't advertising the reduced rates, but offer these "alumni rates" to unemployed workers to keep their customer base.

"We've been very discreet in doing this," says a founder of a chain of gyms in San Francisco.

Indeed, these firms don't want all their customers to inquire about the discounted rate, the Journal reports. One yoga instructor tells the newspaper that he charges two of his students who are employed $50 each and his one student without a job $20.

"I don't tell my clients what I'm charging other people," the instructor says.

While some without jobs have become skilled in finding and requesting those reduced fees, others are too embarrassed to admit they are unemployed to request them. Others are finding that when they do ask, the business involved wants proof of their unemployment, such as a termination letter or a benefits slip.


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