At the Work Force 1 and New York Department of Labor Center on 400 East Fordham Road in the Bronx, Mondays are slow, say the security guards. But the place is not empty. A dozen job seekers have taken their place in front of the computers in the resource room, separated from the lobby by a bay window, and the copy machine delivers resumes every five minutes.
For the first time in six years, the unemployment rate in the Bronx has fallen below 10%, with 9.8% of the Bronx people being unemployed, compared to 10.2% in January 2009. Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. trumpeted the gains on September 23. But that rate still is far higher than the New York State unemployment rate (6.1%) and the New York City rate (6.4% in August), according to BLS current population survey (CPS) and the New York State Department of Labor.
Work Force 1 is a service provided by the NYC Department of Small Business Services that trains and connects candidates to job opportunities in New York City. At the job center front desk, two female workers wearing the Work Force 1 marine blue jacket welcome newcomers with multiple questions: “Are you coming for orientation? Did you fill the online procedure? Do you have the minimum background experience?”
A small line forms. A young man with a beret plays nervously with his AC/DC T-shirt. A woman wearing fashionable bluejeans with holes is being told that she missed her appointment at 9 a.m. “Come back tomorrow.” She mumbles a reply in a Spanish accent.
In the waiting room, which offers a nice view of the traffic on Fordham Road from the eighth floor, the seats in the last row are occupied by two men discussing a file in a brown envelope. Seth Wreku, 28, a Mount Eden resident, has been unemployed for two weeks. He wears an elegant black suit jacket over his purple shirt. His brother, a large man in an immaculate white shirt, has agreed to accompany him to the job center. Seth lost his job as a housekeeper on 40th street in Manhattan after the building administration changed. “The new people did not want of the old workers anymore,” he says. “They installed strict measures that made us uncomfortable and did not make sense.” So he quit. Twenty of his colleagues left their job too. Seth arrived in New York from Accra, Ghana, in 2011, after winning the Green Card lottery. His certification as a mathematics teacher is not recognized in the United States, so he went back to school, at Lehman College, to update his degree. “Hopefully, I will graduate in 2016,” he says while fiddling with his Toy Story keychain—a colleague’s present. “But right now I need something that will pay the bills.”
On one the few other taken seats sits Melanie Brown, a young woman born and raised in the Bronx, with long, curly hair and a nice smile. “I was working at American Girl, the fancy doll store on the 5th Avenue, and I loved the job,” she says. But when she dyed her hair red, her employers did not appreciate it. “So I dyed it blonde, but it came up pink… After that, one late arrival one morning, and I got fired,” she explains. She is looking for a similar job, but limited in time: in January 2015, Melanie will enter a two-year degree in business at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.