Despite a steady but slow recovery in jobs for most of Brooklyn since the recession hit its peak in mid-2009, unemployment in Bed-Stuy remains significantly high, especially for African Americans who make up the majority of residents in the neighborhood.
According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, the unemployment rate for Central Brooklyn (which includes Bed-Stuy) stood at 15.3% for the third quarter of 2010.
While unemployment among the general population within Brooklyn is 10.2 percent, it's at 16.1 percent for African Americans, and still a bit higher for African Americans in Central Brooklyn at 18.3 percent.
Hispanics, the largest ethnic group in Bed-Stuy behind African Americans, are also feeling the economic strain here with 16.9 percent unemployed.
Different problems plague key industries. Healthcare and the social assistance sector are strong, and ongoing expansion in healthcare will continue to provide a lift. However, retail, apparel manufacturing and professional services in Bed-Stuy have taken a big hit due in part to the slow recovery.
As a result, the unemployment rate for African Americans in Bed-Stuy has approached Depression-era levels.
Central Brooklyn has the second-highest unemployment rate amongst 22 areas in New York City and alarmingly, most of them are young, black males.
“If you just look outside you’ll see that there’s a discrepancy between men and women in terms of unemployment,” said Marie, a 26-year-old grad student and Bed-Stuy resident. “You see a lot of guys in the streets while you see women going to work and taking their kids to school.”
Michael Bailey, a lifetime Bed-Stuy resident community organizer with the Bridge Street Development Corporation, says that African-American men need to have a better support system in place in order to build self-esteem and find work.
“While it is a known fact that black males have the highest rate of unemployment, some of us are simply not marketable,” said Bailey. “Our education system used to provide vocational training. This is extremely beneficial to those that may not be on the track leading to college.”
In many ways, Bed-Stuy mirrors the slowing city recovery which saw the unemployment was 9.4 percent for the 3rd quarter of 2010, with a consistently higher percentage for communities with predominantly African-American residents.
Job counselors in Bed-Stuy cite a lack of education and stress as major factors in why joblessness in the area remains so high.
“Without a proper education you’re not going to get anywhere, and it’s the truth,” said Willie Sanchez, manager of Placement and Counseling at the Bed-Stuy Restoration Center on Fulton Street. “You have people who walk in here with Associates, Bachelor’s and Masters and they still can’t get a job. So you can imagine how much harder it is for someone without an education to come in here wanting a job.”
“I’ve come to learn is that it’s hard to get somebody a job when they’re all stressed out about finances, housing or whatever. The most important thing is to get people mentally stabilized,” said Sanchez.
For unemployed Bed-Stuy residents with less than a college education, finding a job is even harder. Many can’t afford to go to college or are forced to take on part-time job just to survive.
Veronica Richardson, a Bed-Stuy mother of four, recently left a full-time caretaker job in Philadelphia because she could no longer take the grind of the commute. Now she’s pursuing a GED while juggling two part-time jobs.
“Whatever becomes available I can manage it, so I go for it,” said Richardson. “But with a GED and some nursing classes I feel like I can give myself more opportunities to work in a hospital with patients, because that’s what I really want to do.”