National News

100,000 New Jobs for New York: Will Enough Go to Poorer Workers?

Posted June 19, 2018 12:03 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK — Since graduating two years ago from a small private high school in Queens, Ya’seen Madyun has completed a culinary training program and has attended security training courses, all in the hopes of landing a job that pays anywhere near $50,000.

In January, Madyun, now 22, sought assistance at one of the city’s Workforce1 centers. He said he was directed toward an opening at a Family Dollar on New Lots Avenue in Brooklyn, a good 90-minute subway ride from his home in Far Rockaway, Queens. When he arrived, 15 people were already waiting to apply.

“I’m used to a line,” Madyun said, adding that he never heard back about the job. He knows many young people in his neighborhood who are in a similar situation. “They want a full-time job,” he said, “anything 9 to 5.”

It has been a year since Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a $1.5 billion New York Works program aimed at creating 100,000 jobs paying $50,000 or more over the next decade. The program is designed to tackle what the mayor calls an “affordability crisis” by creating jobs in fields such as technology and life sciences.

The city, which is preparing to release its first progress report on its effort, declined to share detailed data about the jobs it has created so far. But a coalition of labor and community groups says one obvious need has emerged: They say the city needs to do more to connect people in the city’s poorest neighborhoods to the new jobs.

“The make-or-break question in the mayor’s proposal is: Jobs for whom?” said Jesse Laymon, director of policy and advocacy for the New York City Employment and Training Coalition.

While unemployment in New York City is at historic lows — falling to 4.1 percent in April, the lowest since the figure began being tracked — it is far higher in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. In Brownsville, Brooklyn, the unemployment rate is at 14 percent, according to the most recent figures from the New York University Furman Center; in the University Heights and Fordham sections of the Bronx, unemployment is at 12.7 percent.

Firmly represented among the unemployed are a high percentage of young people who are neither working nor are in school, and who do not have the necessary skills to land the new jobs. According to the New York Works proposal, “2.2 million New Yorkers lack the education or training necessary to start on a pathway to a career” that would pay them $50,000 or more annually.

“We see certain industries growing in the city without a plan for communities who have been disenfranchised to have access to not only the jobs, but the training so that they can enter the pipeline for those jobs,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of the Alliance for a Greater New York.

A possible solution may lie in an existing job growth plan, which de Blasio proposed during his first year as mayor. The plan, Career Pathways, focused on providing New Yorkers with the necessary skills and education to obtain higher-wage jobs.

The 2014 proposal called on the city to spend $60 million per year on so-called bridge programs that would help people gain the remedial skills necessary to even enter job training programs by 2020. But last year, the city allocated roughly $7 million in the budget, with only a slight increase expected in this year’s spending plan. The Alliance for a Greater New York and New York Communities for Change are working on a joint report that will call on the city to fully fund Career Pathways.

Laymon, of the New York City Employment and Training Coalition, said it was near impossible for someone without “basic 12th-grade math” skills to jump from a retail job to a tech job.

“Career Pathways is about human capital, and how do you invest in people to give them the skills they need to do higher-wage work,” he said. “It’s a good plan that they have not implemented in four years.”

The city is also behind on meeting key objectives from the plan; although Career Pathways was to be the framework for the city’s workforce system, various city agencies are just now embedding the plan into their requests for proposals, city officials say.

Workforce providers were supposed to begin being reimbursed by the city on the quality of the jobs the providers connect people with, rather than being paid by the number of placements. That effort has also been delayed, because the city is just now implementing a system that can qualitatively measure data across its workforce programs.

James Patchett, president of the city’s Economic Development Corp., insisted that the jobs the city is creating will help low-income and underskilled New Yorkers.

Patchett cited an investment in the City University of New York to double the number of computer science faculty. Active negotiations are ongoing as part of a $30 million plan to make New York the center of the cybersecurity industry, which will help businesses locate here and will include boot camp-style training for potential employees. And the City Council is reviewing a plan to create a technology training center at Union Square with space for tech companies to grow and to access talent that will be trained in the same building.

“It’s a very aggressive plan and we are absolutely on track,” Patchett said in an interview. He also pointed to developments at the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where he and other city officials gathered last month to herald the renovation of half a million square feet of space. Technology and manufacturing firms are among those expected to fill the raw white space and to create 1,000 jobs paying $50,000 or more.

Over the last year, 130 jobs such as food manufacturer, electronics technician and warehouse manager have been created because of city investments at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, 80 of which were filled through the on-site Workforce1 Career Center. The expansion created 100 jobs, positions that align with the terminal’s starting median wage of $42,000, according to a city analysis of tenants.

Other successes include 950 jobs that have been created at the Brooklyn Navy Yard over the last year, with 300 filled through the employment center and 125 filled by residents of the New York City Housing Authority. At the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, 250 union jobs have been created.

Patchett acknowledged the “genuine concerns” about New York Works, admitting that “not every single job will be accessible to every single New Yorker.”

“We have to create jobs that are diverse and accessible to people with nontraditional backgrounds, but we also have to create jobs for the more skilled,” he said. Disrupting cycles of poverty is the biggest task facing U.S. cities, experts say.

“We have had such success in urban revival that New York City has become a place rich people from around the world want to live,” said Richard Florida, a professor and director of cities at the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “So now we have to deal with the hard problem of persistent poverty, which remains in largely minority neighborhoods.”

Laymon said increased investment in the Career Pathways plan might mean better funding for programs like Per Scholas, which offers free training in New York for its students — 90 percent of whom are minorities — in information technology.

Patchett said the city was focused on helping people who are underemployed and cannot get enough hours or a family with two children that earns $35,000 per year. The city wants to continue to attract entrepreneurial immigrants and other skilled people.

“Those people have to be supported,” he said.

Brian Deriel seems to be one of those New Yorkers. He could not find a job after graduating from City College in 2015 with a degree in business.

Deriel, 26, lives with his disabled parents, both immigrants from the Dominican Republic, in East New York, Brooklyn, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. He was “starting to feel useless” and questioned if he had “studied the wrong thing” in college.

After de Blasio announced his jobs plan, Deriel joined the city’s Tech Talent Pipeline, which promised graduates an internship, and learned web programming in the hopes of landing one of those jobs.

But in the six months since training ended, Deriel has not received an internship. He was told there were not enough partner companies to accommodate graduates, symptomatic of the city’s failure to enforce rules that companies who receive city subsidies hire New Yorkers, employment experts say.

“I learned a lot of skills, but the career development is lacking,” Deriel said of the program. “I need to get a job soon. Money is getting tight.”