According to the most recent statistics from the New York State Department of Labor, the Bronx’s unemployment rate continued to hover around 12.4 percent in October. That’s almost four percentage points higher than New York City as a whole, three points more than the national average and nearly double that of Manhattan.
With the national unemployment rate easing from 9.0 to 8.6 percent in November, the economic recovery finally appears to show signs of gaining steam. But Bronx residents continue to experience as tough a time as ever finding work, with the borough recently coming in dead last among all 62 counties in New York state in terms of employment figures.
Economists say unemployment is likely to remain high in the Bronx as long as the borough’s poverty rate – about 28 percent in October – continues to remain steady.
“The Bronx historically has had particularly high risk factors for widespread unemployment,” said Jim Brown, a labor market analyst with the New York State Department of Labor.
Brown said the large number of Bronx residents lacking a high school or college degree, combined with the significant number of non-English speakers, means that many in the borough face stiff obstacles to finding work in a scarce job market.
“The basic problem lies in a poor educational system and ongoing, endemic poverty,” Brown said.
A number of other factors have led to the unemployment crisis taking its hardest toll in the Bronx, including a surge of new young people in the workforce competing for fewer and fewer jobs, a shrinking retail and manufacturing sector reeling from the effects of globalization, and the leeching of Bronx-based jobs by those who live outside of the borough.
Bronx Works is one of the growing number of aid organizations that have stepped in to help unemployed Bronx residents get back to work, including providing free job training, English-language classes and housing assistance to the recently unemployed.
Ken Small, Bronx Works’ development director, said that although the organization has seen an influx in recent years of people coming in to seek aid, he remains hopeful that the borough will recover along with the national economy.
“In terms of joblessness, the Bronx is obviously struggling with the effects of the recession, and it’s been particularly bad here,” Small said. “But we’re in a much better place than we were 30 years ago when the Bronx was burning, housing was scarce, and there seemed little hope for the future.”
UNDERSTANDING THE PROBLEM
While the numbers help shed light on the broader issues of joblessness and poverty in the Bronx, they only tell part of the story.
Reporters at The Bronx Ink recently set out to tell the stories of six unemployed Bronx residents struggling to find work and make ends meet in one of the scarcest job markets in the country.
Some of them, like 36 year-old Theresa Alcoser and 58 year-old Joseph Ferdinand, have been lucky enough to find creative ways to cope in lieu of stable employment, while others, like 26 year-old Jennifer Santos and 28 year old Richard Hairston, still barely manage to put food on their table each evening.