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Gains in National Job Figures Don’t Mean Bronx Resurgence

Gains in National Job Figures Don’t Mean Bronx Resurgence

Bronx residents line up outside a Workforce 1 job center in February. (Zabaneh/Bronx Ink)
Bronx residents lined up outside a Workforce 1 job center in February. (Zabaneh/Bronx Ink)

Story by Shreeya Sinha, Lynsey Chutel and Sunil Joshi

While the national jobs figure for March indicated that the country is on the path to economic recovery, the employment picture in the Bronx was not so sanguine. Unemployment in the borough remains several points above the national average, and thousands of residents are still unable to find work.

For more coverage of Bronx job hunters, click here.

Above the bustling business hub of 149th Street and Third Avenue, rows of almost 50 people sat on Thursday in a cordoned-off waiting room in the Workforce 1 office, looking for help from the Bronx branch of the citywide employment agency.

This was Veronica Eaddy’s second time at the “one-stop employment center.” With a soft round face under thick waves, in a casual jeans and T-shirt, Eaddy, who asked that her full name not be used, doesn’t look her age at 42. But the string of jobs she has tried her hand at reveal a long struggle with unemployment. “I’ve been through many systems where a job has been promised and nothing happened,” Eaddy said.

Nationwide, there may be reason for optimism after the jobs report revealed that the depressed economy may be turning around. The U.S. Department of Labor announced on Friday that 162,000 jobs were added to the national economy, though the nationwide unemployment rate remained steady at 9.7 percent. But an increase in the national jobs number does not necessarily correlate to an increase in the number of jobs in the Bronx, said James Brown, an analyst with the New York Department of Labor. “There’s not a one-for-one increase,” he said. For Bronx job-seekers like Eaddy, economic struggles are still festering.

“You pretty much need a master’s degree to pick up the garbage,” said Eaddy, who feels that living in the Bronx has been a disadvantage for her. She’s spent the last seven years looking for a full-time job. Unemployment in the borough soared to 14 percent in January, well above the national average. Hunger and poverty are stark realities in the borough that is already struggling to compete with a higher-skilled workforce.

“That doesn’t bode well for the Bronx, which has a pretty high percentage of the local workforce that doesn’t have high levels of educational attainment,” said Jonathan Bowles, director of the Center for an Urban Future, a research firm.

About half of Bronxites work outside the borough, Brown said. Many of these jobs in the hospitality and retail sectors are not only low-paying but largely dependent on consumer spending, which has sunk deeply in the recession. Analysts are hopeful that consumers will grudgingly start spending. Consumer spending picked up for the sixth month running in March.

“A lot of establishments are closing,’’ Eaddy said. “There aren’t many jobs that you could get if you come straight off school, like low-skilled jobs. And most of them can be pretty crap.”

Arthur Merlino, manager of Workforce 1, has worked in the labor market for 48 years, crisscrossing labor offices across the city’s five boroughs. After two years managing the Bronx branch, he admits that the borough poses a specific challenge. “This is a real serious time,” said Merlino, his eyes closing as he spoke. “I’d say, experientially it’s been a very difficult couple of years.”

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. has made economic development and job creation a priority but critics have accused him of costing the Bronx thousands of jobs at a mall he opposed at the Kingsbridge Armory. Diaz opposed the project on the grounds that it would not provide Bronxites living wages. The City Council voted against the mall.

Franck Strongbow, associate director of the James Monroe Senior Center agreed with Diaz. After he spent eight months living “between a rock and a hard place,” Strongbow lived paycheck to paycheck when he was 25 years old trying to make ends meet. For him, a job is all about dignity. “What the borough president was saying was, “Let’s start with affordable living range because people should be paying an honest day’s labor.” According to the Center for Urban Future, 42 percent of the Bronx workforce is making less than $10 an hour.

The payroll company Automatic Data Processing said this week that U.S. employers cut 23,000 jobs in March, dampening expected forecasts ahead of Friday’s job report. Much of the nationwide growth in March was in temporary government jobs, particularly by the Census Bureau, which hired 48,000 temporary employees, according to the Department of Labor, including enough staff for four Census offices in the Bronx.

Elsewhere, there are signs of life in the borough’s jobs market. A coalition of construction workers in the Bronx said it has seen employment opportunities tick upward in March, with more activity on job sites. While the overall number of new building permits issued in the Bronx during the first three months of the year is down from 2009 — 44 to 18 — there were eight new building permits issued in the Bronx in March (up from four last year), according to the Department of Buildings. Richard Rodriguez, an administrator for United Hispanic Construction, said that his labor coalition was able to connect more workers with jobs in March, particularly with a new development on 163rd Street in Morrisania.

Despite the real-estate market’s more than two-year struggle, prices in Manhattan remain high, fueling new development in the outer boroughs, said Ken Margolies, director of organizing programs at the Cornell School of Industrial Labor Relations. But while Margolies noted the signs of improvement, he cautioned against unbridled optimism. “The key thing about the news,” he said, “is that, by and large, the new jobs that are being created pay less than the ones that are being lost.”

The manufacturing sector is another industry that saw accelerated growth in March, according to the Institute for Supply Management, a private trade group. In February about 11,000 jobs were created, the largest increase in almost four years. Other sectors like health care have also done well, especially after President Obama’s health care plan passed. In March, 27,000 new health care jobs were added to the national economy, according to the Department of Labor.

That’s where Eaddy hopes to try her luck. She’s optimistic that the health care reform will revitalize jobs in this sector. “Since there was such a push going on in public health, I think that a lot of jobs are going to start that I want to get into while the getting in is good,” she said. Eaddy is trying to secure a voucher from the New York State Department of Labor that will cover a six-month-long Medical Billing and Coding course at Hostos Community College. Waving a manila folder on Thursday, with the college brochure inside, she checked that she had all her documentation. She had been waiting for move than an hour for her 4 p.m. appointment.

While she waits for a steady job, Eaddy decided to start her own business. “Splendidly Me,” a cosmetic business that she runs out of her East 180th Street apartment, supplements her income. When she is not teaching customers how to make coconut oil or twist their hair, Eaddy is pinning her long-term hopes on the health care industry.

“Now I have to come back,” she said, “but this time I’m doing something smart with a marketable skill so that I can have some leverage.”

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On Day of Census Snapshot, 37 Percent of Bronx Has Responded

What does the Bronx look like today? The answer could resonate for the next decade after the 2010 Census is complete.

If the Census is a decennial snapshot of the American populace, today would be the day the photo is taken. That’s because the Census forms ask respondents to answer questions about their household as of April 1. The information gleaned from the national headcount will be used to divvy up more than $400 billion in federal money for hospitals, schools, emergency services and roads, among other things. When money is allocated, it is based on the number of responses in a given area. People who are not counted can cause services to become overextended.

“The accuracy of the Census is crucial,” said Rafaela Santos, a specialist with the Census Bureau.

Watch a video on one group’s efforts to get the word out about the Census.

With two weeks remaining before the April 15 deadline, however, the Bronx has only 37 percent participation, according to figures published on the Census Bureau’s Web site. The borough lags behind the state total, 46 percent, and the national total, 52 percent. Currently, the Bronx ranks in the middle of the five boroughs in response rate, ahead of both Brooklyn and Queens.Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. challenged his constituents on Wednesday to finish first among the five boroughs, telling the New York Daily News, “We are going to be the first borough this year.”

Language was a key barrier to participation for many Bronx residents in the past, but the Census Bureau is working to bridge the gap this year, offering surveys in several different languages, including Spanish, Urdu and Mandarin. Santos said that participation has increased as non-English speakers have learned more about the process.

“People are much more receptive,” she said. “They are understanding. They are getting factual information about what the Census is all about and how it affects them.”

One measure of public opinion suggests that the Census Bureau’s efforts to sell the national count to non-native English speakers in the Hispanic community may be paying off. Roughly 80 percent of foreign-born Hispanics said that the Census is good for their community, as opposed to 57 percent of native-born Hispanics, according to the Pew Research Center. Overall, 70 percent of Hispanics said that the Census was good for their community.

The Bronx is 51 percent Hispanic according to 2008 data published by the Census Bureau. Santos said that roughly 56 percent of Bronx residents participated in the 2000 Census, a figure that officials hope to top this year. “A good number is anything beyond 2000,” she added.

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Bronx Church Fights to Keep Neighborhood Affordable

Bronx Church Fights to Keep Neighborhood Affordable

(L-R) Bobby Britt, Frederick Crawford and Ruben Diaz Jr. look on at a ceremony breaking ground at a new housing development. (Joshi/Bronx Ink)

(L-R) Bobby Britt, Frederick Crawford and Ruben Diaz Jr. look on at the ground-breaking ceremony. (Joshi/Bronx Ink)

East Morrisania was at its lowest point when Bobby Britt moved there 31 years ago. After a meeting with his pastor at the Union Grove Church in the mid-1980s, Britt set about rebuilding the community. Though his efforts were successful, he also saw many parishioners being priced out of the community.

On Friday, Britt saw the first step in stemming that tide, a housing development aimed at low-income neighborhood residents. Construction on the Fletcher C. Crawford Housing Development, which is expected to provide 84 units of low-income units, began with a ground-breaking ceremony.

East Morrisania’s population ballooned by more than 63 percent between 1990 and 2000, according to Census data. But much of the growth was in younger, more affluent residents, causing rents in the neighborhood to grow. Lester Souder, a deacon of the church, estimated that as much as 50 percent of the church’s membership is economically disadvantaged. Congregants are leaving the neighborhood in droves, unable to afford the rising costs of living there. Many are opting to live in more affordable boroughs or to leave New York completely.

“They lost their housing. They lost their apartment. They lost their sense of who they were when they moved out of the Bronx area,” said Frederick Crawford the current pastor of Union Grove and the son of Fletcher Crawford, the pastor who initially gave Britt the directive to rebuild the neighborhood.

To stem the parish’s exodus from East Morrisania, Britt turned his efforts to building affordable housing on a plot of land next to the church. After years of work, he succeeded in securing financing, and the church is now partnered with Macquesten Development to build the development, which will cost $27 million.

“This is a place where people are going to be able to afford and continue to invest in their futures in the Bronx,” said Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who was on hand to celebrate the groundbreaking. Diaz presides over one of the nation’s poorest urban counties, where more than 25 percent of the population was below the poverty level in 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Public housing in the Bronx is not meeting the needs of the economically depressed population.

“There’s always more of a demand for low- and middle-income housing in the Bronx,” said Joan Tally, a senior vice president for the New York City Housing Development Corp., which helped finance more than 81 low-income projects in the Bronx, including the Union Grove construction. Since 2004, the City of New York has invested $1.9 billion in the borough in the form of bonds and corporate subsidies through the Housing Development Corp. However, Tally said, “There’s never enough funding to go around.”

For now, money is not a problem for the construction of the Union Grove project, which is expected to be finished a year from now. Church leaders expect the new building to maintain and even grow the parish’s membership rolls.
“We’re trying to build our city back,” said the younger Crawford.

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Called “Burger Boy,” Teenager is Cleared of Assault Five Years Later

Called “Burger Boy,” Teenager is Cleared of Assault Five Years Later

Now that this is over, I can live my life, said Albert Garcia. (Joshi/Bronx Ink)

"Now that this is over, I can live my life," said Albert Garcia. (Joshi/Bronx Ink)

Albert Garcia was manning the grill at a McDonald’s in the Bronx late one night when Officer John Florio of the New York Police Department bought a Big Mac in the drive-through. The next day, Garcia was arrested, with Florio alleging that Garcia, then 18 years old, put ground-up shards of glass in the sandwich. Florio claimed that one bite of the sandwich left him with a chipped tooth and cuts in both his mouth and throat.

Five years later, on Tuesday, Garcia was cleared by a Bronx Supreme Court jury of all charges, including a felony count of attempting to assault a police officer. Garcia’s attorney, Raymond Aab, called the case, “one lie after another, an outrage.” Garcia, now 23, expressed relief in a press conference on Thursday.

“People from my neighborhood who didn’t know would come up to me and say, ‘Oh, look, that’s him, that’s burger boy,’ ” Garcia said. “It was hard for me to get a job. I have a son, so it was hard for me to support him, to get work. This was on my back. This was in my way of living my life.”

Garcia was working at the McDonald’s at 875 Garrison Ave. in the Bronx on January 29, 2005, when Florio, a 20-year-veteran of the police department and a member of the city’s K-9 unit, purchased a Big Mac. After eating part of the hamburger, Florio complained to his supervising officer that glass had been put in the hamburger. Officers from the 41st Precinct were then dispatched to the restaurant to investigate.

There, they arrested Garcia, taking him back to the police station, where he claims that he was interrogated for hours and was the subject of verbal and physical coercion by the officers. He maintains that as a result of the harsh treatment, he gave a false confession in writing and on videotape.

“I felt trapped, really confused. I really didn’t know what was going on,” said Garcia, who told police officers that no glass was in the hamburger. He added that police officers “kept putting so much pressure on me, so much pressure. I was scared. I was crying. I didn’t know what to do, so I kind of gave up, and I gave them what they wanted to hear.”

He added, “They really treated me like a dog.”

In Garcia’s confession, which he later recanted, he admitted to smashing a picture frame, grinding the shards of glass and putting them in the hamburger. The Bronx district attorney’s office began prosecuting Garcia soon after his arrest. “There’s nothing in the statements and in the video that shows physical or psychological coercion,” said Gary Weil, the prosecuting attorney. Calls to the 41st Precinct were not answered. By Friday afternoon the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Public Information had not responded to a request for comment.

However, forensic analysis of the glass, which was revealed in court, indicated that it was rounded and its thickness was inconsistent with that of a picture frame. Expert testimony indicated that the shards were consistent with “ubiquitous container glass.” Investigators also compared DNA evidence from both Garcia and Florio to a hair that was found on the sandwich; neither returned as a match. The jury took 40 minutes to return a not guilty verdict.

Aab said he believes that Florio made up the story in order to sue McDonald’s. “The fact is the cop made the whole thing up to get a pay day,” said Aab. “Within a couple days, he sued McDonald’s, and that speaks for itself.”

Florio was unavailable for comment, but his attorney, Richard Kenny, strongly disputed that claim. “The allegation that this is feigned is utterly ludicrous,” Kenny said.

Aab and Garcia said that they are considering filing a countersuit, but until then, Garcia said that he’s looking forward to spending more time with his 4-year-old son and enjoying a life without looming court dates.

“Now that this is over, now I can live my life,” he said.

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