VIDEO – National Unemployment Falls, in the Bronx a Different Picture

Video by Rania Zabaneh

The national unemployment rate fell last month to 9.7 percent, according to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics today. In the Bronx, however, where unemployment climbed to 13.9 percent in January, economic recovery seems more distant to the thousands of Bronxites struggling to find work. Another measure of the borough’s tough times comes from a recent study noting that it now leads the nation in hunger.

Carlos Martines is a regular at the Department of Labor “Workforce 1” job center in the Bronx, and he’s desperate to find some work to support his family.

“I’m late on my rent, bills. It’s hard, its very hard,” he said. “You know my son depends on me, you know it’s hard, very hard right now. There are no jobs.”

The Bronx has the highest unemployment rate in New York City.

Arthur Merlino, the community service manager at the Department of Labor in the Bronx, says certain factors have made the Bronx extremely vulnerable to the recession.

“I think that in the Bronx approximately 40 percent of the population is at the lower income standard,” he said. “And I think there are a good number of them who have various kinds of employment barriers including a lower level of education than prevails in the rest of the city. And I think that’s a major factor.”

Another hopeful statistic in the jobs report is in the manufacturing sector. About 11,000 jobs were created, according to the report, the largest growth in almost four years.

But Ken Margolies, director of organizing programs at the Cornell School of Industrial Labor Relations, said that job creation in manufacturing might not affect New York City as much. “One of the reasons why manufacturing has been leaving New York City for years is that the real estate is more valuable for other things,” he said.

National statistics also showed that construction continued to suffer, as businesses grappled with the recent crisis in the commercial estate market. In an effort to find a sector that might create jobs, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. recently secured a $4 million federal grant to create green jobs in the community.

This comes after the borough president opposed the now-defeated re-development of Kingsbridge Armory on the grounds that the proposed mall would not create living-wage jobs.

“In order for our borough to get out of this long slide of unemployment, we need to fight against poverty, to educate and train our residents to become a skilled work force, to ensure that when companies come to do business here, those new jobs are offered to Bronxites,” he said in an emailed statement.

But Margolies, who worked with the community organization, is cautious about the green-job approach. “It’s really kind of early to know whether it will be a bigger boom or not,’’ he said. A lot depends on whether the government would subsidize it to create a lot of work in those areas.”

Even Americans who have jobs are feeling the slump. The underemployment rate, which counts people who have given up looking for work and part-time workers, has steadily risen over the past year to almost 16.5 percent nationwide, according to the Labor Department’s report.

Francis Ayalah works in part-time retail and says she works the hours of a full-time employee. “There’s nobody hiring full time,” she said.

State Senator Ruben Diaz, a Bronx Democrat, says he sees people like Ayalah every day. “In my office here in the South Bronx, I have people coming in daily looking for jobs,’’ he said. “I’m pretty sure the economy will recover, but how do I tell that to someone who doesn’t have a job?” He breathed a deep sigh on the phone.

“President Barack Obama promised to create jobs, and he has failed” he said. ” If the president doesn’t create jobs, I’m sure us Democrats will lose seats because the nation is turning away from Democrats.”

Daniel Martin hung out on the street corner of East 175th Street and Eastburn Avenue, explaining that he lost his job last year as a window installer. Friday he was searching for better prospects. “I filled out applications at McDonald’s and Wendy’s, without any luck,” he said.