The Paoli Local, now known prosaically as the R5, passes through some of the region's wealthiest suburbs - the storied Main Line, with train stations in towns whose names resonate with privilege: Merion, Radnor, Wayne, Bryn Mawr, Devon.

Only minutes by foot from the Wayne station is Wayne Presbyterian Church on Lancaster Avenue. And there, on any given Monday night, the Main Line money train is off the track.

Closeted in a second-floor conference room are former bankers, executives, marketing managers, top sales representatives, and international investment directors - people with Main Line addresses and occupations but no jobs, casualties of a recession that respects neither address nor privilege.

"Your heart is ripped out because of the stories," said John Parthemore, an unemployed institutional money-market executive who drives to the Wayne sessions from his home in Berwyn.

With the U.S. unemployment rate at 10.2 percent and Pennsylvania's rate at 8.9 percent, the Paoli Local hardly passes through poverty. Unemployment is low, at least in comparison with Philadelphia, the start of the train's journey. In the city, the rate tops 11 percent.

Paoli, the final stop for many westbound trains, is in Chester County, ranked third-lowest among Pennsylvania's counties, with unemployment at 6.5 percent.

But what is remarkable about the Main Line's unemployment situation is how dramatically it has changed.

In Philadelphia, the bleak job picture is not new. Continuing claims for unemployment benefits rose 50 percent from July 2007 to July 2009, according to state statistics.

Along the Main Line, by contrast, the number of continuing claims rose as much as 730 percent in places such as Strafford, Wayne, St. Davids, Radnor, Haverford, and Wynnewood.

Marginally better off are Ardmore, Bryn Mawr, Merion, Rosemont, Devon, Paoli, and Berwyn. In those towns, the number of claims rose 101 to 150 percent over the two years.

On the whole, the number of claims filed by the unemployed along the R5 rose 143 percent to 2,668 continuing claims, up from 1,096.

"It's smoke and mirrors," said Nicole Chabat, a marketing executive from Haverford who lost her job last month. "You keep up the varnish, but everybody's hurting. There's a lot of perceived wealth. It is not the Main Line of 40 years ago."

Recently, Chabat found herself doing the unthinkable - applying for a job at the Talbots store in Paoli, where she had often shopped for business outfits. The clerk told her that holiday hiring hadn't begun.

"We were both lying," Chabat said. "I'm pretending that it's just extra money for the holidays, and they were pretending they may need someone. The store was empty. They didn't need anyone."

The largest number of continuing claims came from those identifying themselves as being in professional, technical, or scientific services. With those job losses came a drastic erosion in retail employment; no wonder Talbots didn't need Chabat.

Other sectors affected were administrative and support jobs, as well as educational services, health care, social assistance and finance, and insurance.

The job loss rippled along the Main Line from east to west, said R. Stanley Schuck, president of the Main Line Chamber of Commerce. Even the chamber wasn't immune. It laid off 40 percent of its staff this year.

"There were the banks and the financial companies," Schuck said after a recent jammed session for the unemployed held at the chamber's headquarters in Wayne.

"Now it's moving west, with biotech being affected because of scarce venture capital, and the pharmaceuticals.

"The hotel industry has been hurt. When the recession started, the first things that got cut back were travel and training. If you are a hotel, you depend on travel and training.

"Car dealers - that's been significant. They went out of business or scaled back. The final piece: There have been a lot of storefronts closing.

"Part of the reason the Main Line survives at all is because of all the resident schools," Schuck said, ticking off Villanova and Bryn Mawr, among others. The students are propping up the local economy.

"You might not want to be dependent on it," he said, "but it's what keeps us going. That's what matters."

One casualty? The ubiquitous Main Line golf-outing charity fund-raiser.

The chamber canceled last year's outing and is delaying this year's. The Ardmore Initiative, a community-development nonprofit, dropped its outing after its main $10,000 sponsor promised only $1,000, said its chairman, John A. Durso Jr., a vice president at St. Edmond's Federal Savings Bank in Ardmore.

Missing in action are the players, once willing to pony up as much as $200 for tickets, which cover the expenses of the outing - the nice meal and rental of the course. The charity makes its money from sponsors, often a bank or a car dealership, which pay $10,000, $20,000, or more for exposure to the kinds of people who can afford $200 for a day on the links.

"Companies aren't opening up their wallets," Durso said.

Meanwhile, unemployment along the Main Line has spawned an array of support and networking groups.

On the second Saturday of the month, except in December, dozens in My Career Transitions meet at Villanova University. Two years ago, 50 people filled a classroom. Now attendance averages 100, and they need a large university lecture hall.

At the Nov. 14 session, many people said they had lost pharmaceutical jobs.

Mergers among major companies, a lack of solid potential products in the pipeline, and the general sorry business climate create a triple whammy that leads to "a lot of professionals competing for jobs," said one woman from Wayne who lost her pharmaceutical job in January and did not want to be identified.

On the second and fourth Thursday mornings each month, the Women's Resource Center sponsors a coffee networking group at the Gryphon Cafe, not far from Wayne Presbyterian Church.

"I feel a little overwhelmed," said William Lawrence, a deacon at the church and one of the facilitators of the church group. "It's gotten more challenging in this environment. With there being fewer job openings, we are having a tougher time for people to get traction."

By sheer numbers, Wayne has been the hardest hit. In July, 540 continuing claims for unemployment benefits were filed there, up from 171 two years earlier, an increase of 216 percent. People in administrative, retail, professional, technical, and scientific services, as well as finance and manufacturing, lost their jobs.

On Tuesday, a group meets at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian. On Thursday, St. Thomas in Villanova hosts a group. So does Har Zion in Penn Valley. All are ecumenical.

Josephs People, the unemployment support group that began more than a decade ago at St. Joseph's Church in Downingtown, has spawned 10 similar groups.

"We are getting one call almost every week from a church that wants to start a group," said Cheryl Spaulding, a founder of the first Josephs People. "People turn to their church in a time of problems."

The most recent Josephs People group began last month at St. Monica's in Berwyn, near the Berwyn station.

Among the founders are two regulars of the Wayne Presbyterian group: Ian Slimon of Paoli and Michele Pattison of Malvern, who just landed work as a job developer at Goodwill Industries through connections made at local networking groups.

She had been out of work since 2006. Slimon has been out of work since June.

"The banks are hurting, so they aren't hiring," said Slimon, who worked in banking and lives within walking distance of Paoli's train station.

These days, his income is so low that he qualifies to enroll his children, 16 and 11, in a state-funded health-insurance program.

He and his wife, a part-time teacher, budget carefully, putting cash into envelopes by category. Not only don't they buy items on credit, but "we rarely use our debit card," a major change for someone who used to market credit cards for a living.

"We used to think nothing of opening a bottle of wine on a Friday night," Slimon said. "Now I can't remember the last time I bought a bottle of wine. We're careful about everything. Everything is as basic as we can get it."

For more of "Jobs at a Loss," The Inquirer's continuing series on the region's job market, including a map of Main Line job losses by zip code, a blog, job-hunting tips, and more, go to