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Columbia Spectator Staff

While the steep uptick in unemployment rates is felt nationwide, Harlem is grasping for signs of hope in a time when layoffs are common and the only certainty is an uncertain future. According to the New York State Department of Labor, the citywide unemployment rate rose from 5.3 percent to 7.3 percent from January 2008 to January 2009. Neighborhood statistics are not yet available for 2009, but Harlem's unemployment rate is typically double the city's average, reaching 18.7 percent in Community Districts 9 and 10 and 17.1 percent in District 11 in 2008. And while job seekers can turn to nonprofit organizations for help finding work, these organizations are struggling to meet the overwhelming demand for their services. For communities hit hard by the recession, there is little good news in the short term. "The pace of job losses will continue to increase at least into spring," James Brown, labor market analyst for the state's Department of Labor, said. He added that Harlem is uniquely vulnerable to the continually deepening recession. "Unemployment rates are of course closely tied to other factors, such as education and language barriers, and in regions where there are less high school diplomas, for example, the unemployment rates will inevitably be higher." William Franc Perry III, chair of Community Board 10, noted that "All ages and every segment of the population is being affected, whether it is young people out of college, office workers, maintenance staff, or taxicab drivers." Perry said he has witnessed the downturn firsthand, adding that "more and more people are coming to the community board office with résumés, looking for jobs." Jill Poklemba, director of communications and development at STRIVE, a nonprofit unemployment program based in East Harlem, said that her clients are facing challenges they have not seen in the past. "We have always served the hardest to employ incarcerated, disconnected youth, all those with barriers to work. Now, the competition for entry-level jobs is stiffer. They are competing against overqualified workers who have lost their jobs," she explained. Nonetheless, Poklemba said that a focus on vocational training, specifically in the emerging green sector, helps their clients stand out in such a competitive job market. "We are teaching them to think outside of the box, out of their comfort zone, how they can make themselves more employable," Poklemba said, emphasizing the "hard skills training" offered in their new programs that provide opportunities in such industries as green construction and technology. Still, organizations like STRIVE are forced to face the recession alongside their unemployed clients. "No neighborhood was expecting this, and a lot of agencies are nonprofits and are not well equipped," Perry said, adding that his board is likely to face budget cuts. For Community Board 9, Chair Pat Jones said that the first step has been to host discussions that "bring the buyers and sellers together," citing progress at several recent meetings designed to help Harlem residents understand the dynamics of city employment and stimulus money. Brown predicted that federal funds invested in city construction would recharge the job market, though he added that as a "lagging indicator," the employment citywide may continue to drop for the foreseeable future. In the midst of these alarming developments, New Yorkers are falling back on their communities for support. "We will do what we have traditionally done in Harlem, which is to come together across socioeconomic lines. We are a creative and thriving neighborhood, and we are going to survive," Perry said.

unemployment Economy Pat Jones Harlem Employment
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