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Service economy

Workers who once built houses, offices or big-box retail complexes are now venturing into the absurd. Ken, who declined to give his last name because he said he was embarrassed by his situation, said he had been paid $250 to clean out a Palm Beach apartment where a tenant had committed suicide.

But he has rebuffed other responses to his ads, variations on "RENT A HUSBAND ! ! ! HANDYMAN SERVICES - 25% OFF." Last month, he said, "I had a guy call me 10 o'clock at night and ask me if I had a vise. And I said yeah, and he said 'Can you meet me somewhere and I want to put my hand in the vise and you crush it ?' " Ken said he demurred.

Then there was the woman from Fort Lauderdale who called wanting to hire him to rig up a sex swing while her husband was away. "She wanted me to come hang it in her 'room of doom,' " he said. "She offered me a lot of money, but I said 'No, no it just doesn't seem like something I want to get involved in.' "

Some construction workers have left the industry. But "it's been very hard for people to give up and move to other sectors because it's not like there's been a lot of expansion in other parts of the economy," said Nik Theodore, an associate professor in the department of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "Most of what I'm hearing is people eking it out on the edge of the construction industry."


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