On the heels the latest U.S. Department of Labor jobs report released today which finds the unemployment rate, disappointingly, has edged up from May to June, Bed-Stuy residents definitely are feeling the squeeze and are growing increasingly frustrated, stressed and desperate.
Outside of the busy unemployment office at 500 Dekalb Avenue, Bed-Stuy resident Geneva Young, 30, was crying and irate.
“The workers at this center are not right; it’s not right,” said Young wiping her tears. “They treat us like we’re scum out here, and it’s not right.”
Young, a former nanny, had just been kicked out of the center by police officers for yelling at the intake worker. She has been unemployed for a little more than a year now, she explained, and the unemployment office was delaying her food stamps, which she was supposed to receive by July 3.
“Yes, I got a little loud. But they treat me like I don’t have the right to be upset about my benefits that’s owed to me. I earned it. It’s not like they’re just giving it to me. I complied to everything they asked of me, so there’s no reason why here it is the 8th of the month, I’m still sitting here without my benefits.
“What am I supposed to do, starve? There’s been no work, nothing, nothing… I’ve applied to everything, they tell you to go online and apply, but they don’t call you back,” said Young, who was “Employee of the Month” at her last job, where she worked four years. “I’m getting so stressed out. I’m a New York State-Certified Nanny Childcare provider. I also carry an ACS provider number and an HRA provider number.”
Two years after the official end of the longest economic downturn since the Great Depression, the jobs report shows a slight slow down in economic growth, with 14.1 million people were out of work in June, among them 6.3 million who have been jobless for six months or longer.
In May, the total number of unemployed people was lower -- 13.9 million -- with the long-term unemployed at 6.2 million. But officials are finding prospects may get worst before it gets better. And the tales and experiences of the unemployed of Bed-Stuy speak volumes of support to such a prediction.
“I got a friend who had two kids, a car note and a house note. He’s now locked up because he got laid off two years ago, and then got caught for narcotics possession. He never had a record his whole life, but he got desperate and started selling drugs. Now he’s in jail,” said Carl, who declined to give his last name.
Carl, who was also standing outside of the Dekalb center, has been out of work for almost two years after working on the same job for seven years. Since getting laid off, he has been homeless for the last year and a half. He now lives in a shelter where he says he sleeps in a chair with his head resting on a desk every night.
“I know a lot of people who was working, trying to do the right thing, and now they’re starting to get into the wrong stuff, because they’re trying to survive,” he said. “The situation has gotten worse and worse."
Yes, . 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.
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, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute.
For those who have been able to hold on to their jobs, many report an increase in the work load, as employees are either laid off or not replaced. Employees are working longer hours with more responsibilities but do not complain, for fear of retribution or losing their own jobs.
In fact, higher-level workers are increasingly being asked to put in 50 hours or more a week, effectively working an 8-to-6 work week at the very least, while lower-income workers are often forced to work fewer hours but at jobs with irregular schedules, according to a comprehensive report released yesterday from the Center for American Progress.
Kenny Mendez works for the Department of Environmental Protection. He has been with DEP for 16 years. He says that although he has seen few layoffs at DEP, the work environment has become more stressful for those desperate to keep their jobs.
“There haven’t really been any job losses, but no gains either,” said Mendez, who was on-site working at a Bed-Stuy location with some of his co-workers. “People are just retiring and they’re not re-staffing, so the workload has increased; they’re always expecting a little more from the employees now.”
Kim Summers, 45, is a single mother who is working a per diem job—one she just secured in February, after being out of work for more than a year. She says finding full-time work has been nearly impossible and she’s barely surviving off of her part-time income.
“Oh Lord, don’t get me started, it’s so much stuff you gotta go through these days; they give you the runaround just to get your unemployment,” said Summers.
She said she was temporarily homeless during the time she was unemployed and was forced to move in with her cousin and his wife before she secured her current part-time job.
“First I lost my job; I put in for my unemployment. They denied me, because my job contested it, so I went to court and won. So I started getting the money, then the freeze came. So then, no money. Then they lifted the freeze. But once I got this part-time job, they cut me off of unemployment. I can’t live off of part-time pay.”
It's not uncommon in some parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant to see people standing around on corners, idle, hanging out on stoops during the day—particularly young, black men, men such as Prince Riley, 28, who says he’s has been out of a full-time job for almost four years.
“The jobs say they’re looking for workers, so I go in and fill out the application, and then no one calls me back,” said Riley. He said the last job he had was part-time, but he was laid off last August and hasn’t found work since. “My friends have gotten hired, but not me. I guess I just have really bad luck.”
"I’m not getting locked up again, going back to jail. I got kids. I want to be better, so I’m going to go through the system until I can get some help," said Carl. He says he's been praying every day and trying to share information with people about how they can get into the various shelter and employment programs rather than resort to drugs and violence. "I want to be able to help my kids. I don’t’ want them to go through what I’m going through.”