The Bronx has one of the highest unemployment rates in the U.S., so why are some experts hailing success?

Posted at 7:19 PM, May 03, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-03 19:48:03-04

THE BRONX (PIX11) — Newly released figures show that more people are finding work nationwide, but in New York City, that picture is different.  The unemployment rate in the city is higher than that of the rest of the country, and the biggest reason for that is the jobs situation in the Bronx.  Despite that, though, experts on employment figures say there’s a reason to acknowledge success in the city’s northernmost borough.

First, a look at national employment figures, released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  They showed 165,000 new jobs added to the national economy in March, reducing the unemployment rate to 7.5%.

New York City’s March unemployment rate, compiled by the New York State Department of Labor, was 8.5%, down from 9.2% in February, but still higher than the national average.  March is the latest period for which any unemployment statistics are available.

However, the unemployment rate in the Bronx alone is 11.5%, so much higher than the national and city averages, that when the borough’s figure is removed from  New York City’s overall equation, the city’s unemployment rate tumbles to close to the national average:  7.875%.

In fact, the Bronx’s rate is so high, that PIX11 followed through on the math involved in calculating the figure and randomly stopped people to see if they were out of work, and looking for employment.  The first person questioned, Phillip Simmons, 18, solidly fit that description.

He said that he was still in high school, but that he was also seeking a job. “I looked at Target, I applied for Footlocker.  They ain’t called me back yet,” he said, adding that he’d contacted the retailers one to two weeks earlier, with no response.

His prospects, however, are statistically better than many other Bronx residents, as Ken Small, development director of the jobs and services organization BronxWorks pointed out.

“The work force here in the Bronx tends to be less educated,” Small said, “and another factor is that much of the population, up to half of it at this point, tends not to have English as its first language.”  He told PIX11 News that for many potential employers, English proficiency is key for an applicant to go from job seeker to employee.

But Small pointed out that the Bronx’s 11.5% unemployment figure is actually a drop from a year ago, when it was 13.2%, as well as a lowering from February of this year, when it was 12.5%.

Small acknowledged that the figures are not rosy.  However, he said, “there’s a certain kind of hope, a certain kind of optimism, a certain sense that despite the fact that things are kind of difficult, that they can get better.  If you had come here to interview me 30 years ago, you wouldn’t have gotten that sense.”

He said that the steady growth of development in the Bronx, including the recently announced Kingsbridge Armory Ice Complex — the largest ice sports center in the world, as well as growth in the retail and health care sectors, had improved the Bronx’s finances steadily over the last three decades.

Small added, “there used to be a sense that the bottom had fallen out,” and nobody knew where it would land.  “That’s no longer the case,” he said.