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The Epidemic of Unemployment

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“A fair chance to do my part of work.”
~ Pernellia Hull

If you listen to the current administration you will hear that the job market is strong, with a 4.1 percent unemployment rate. It’s touted that “African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded.” In truth, it is a low number, but does it reflect the reality on the streets? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data released in February 2018, the Black American population has a staggering 86 percent higher unemployment rate than among White Americans. Factors including hiring discrimination and less educational access contribute to these numbers but there is another piece of the unemployment story dubbed, the missing workers.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, while 20 million jobs were created from 2010-2017, the participation rate continued to slide. This means that people were either under-employed or they actually gave up looking for work and were therefore not incorporated into the BLS unemployment data.The Aspen Institute estimates that almost 11 million people are not incorporated into the ‘lowest rates in unemployment history’; these are the ‘missing workers.’

NYUL finds the missing

Jeanine Conley, a shareholder in the Philadelphia and New York offices of Littler and chair of the New York Urban League (NYUL) board of directors sees the reality, “We definitely see many members of the community who haven’t had jobs for a long time and are still struggling and don’t know where to turn for help. Our goal is to be able to provide opportunities and training to the community and connect employers who are looking for people to skilled individuals who can actually take on those jobs.”

Young or old, the challenges of unemployment can be debilitating. “I was out of work for like eight years. And trying everything until eventually, I stopped looking.” Yvonne Smothers was working steadily until her fifties when she faced this unexpected gap of unemployment, “It was very depressing, very depressing, because you feel like you’re never going to find a position because now you’re too old.”

Smothers found the New York Urban League and signed up for their Job Readiness Program. Services include an employability assessment, training programs, access to job bulletins, internet and computer access for self-guided job search, as well as one on one counseling and resume reconstruction. Yvonne says she learned things that were game-changers in her approach to job interviews, “When I was applying for jobs before, I never really looked at the job description in such detail and prepared so precisely for what they were actually looking for in that position.” Yvonne adds that she practiced interviewing with the NYUL and a variety of professionals who gave her constructive criticism and advice which helped her reach her goals.

On the other end of the employment spectrum is the millennial. Janel Liddie, in her twenties, represents this demographic. While she was only out of work for a few months, she was struggling with family crises and personal health problems, but when she showed up at an NYUL job fair she felt the shift of opportunity and took full advantage of their services. “I participated in their training for customer service and retail operations in their Bronx location, and then I took and passed the National Retail Federation exam. So now, when I apply online or apply in person, I can mark that section where it asks for that certification; it made me much more qualified.”

Both women are currently employed, for Janel that extra training got her a job in retail; but Janel always wanted to transition into administrative assistant work, and through the help of the NYUL’s computer training class and job placement program, she got that office position. Janel now works as an administrative assistant at a pre-school in Upper Manhattan. Yvonne, the woman who thought she would never find work, at 62 is presently working for New York Urban League. As program coordinator Yvonne helps further the mission of the NYUL using the skills she learned. Her counsel to others, “You have to persevere” she continues, “I’d say come to the New York Urban League and you get into the Job Readiness Program, be patient but be persistent; things will turn around, you have to just not give up.”

Expanding employment opportunitities

NYUL is always looking to grow and with their Civil Rights 2.0 initiative they are raising half a million dollars dedicated to improving access to training and opportunities for their underserved community. Arva Rice, President of the NYUL explains, “It is our goal to engage a minimum of 10 new employer partners from among New York’s highest growing industries to provide African American adults more access to self-sufficient careers.” Additionally, Rice adds, “we want to create customized skills training modules around entry-to mid-level career tracks in high-growth industries to inform NYUL’s talent and career development network in the fields of Healthcare and Technologies.”

As NYUL looks to its neighbors for help meeting these lofty goals, we reflect on the women of the past who achieved more than seemed possible in their times. When asked what women in history inspired them, Yvonne and Janel both picked women who showed great strength of character and used the arts to share their message. “For me, Maya Angelou’s poems always inspired me,” says Janel Liddie, “I was in Junior High School when my teacher read Phenomenal Women to us and it gave me a sense of empowerment, not just as a woman, but as a black woman. It told me to just don’t let the world stop you from being you.” Yvonne Smothers spoke of famed singer Marian Anderson, “Her strength and perseverance, that no matter what you’re gonna make it.” She continues,”You know, I’ve been down so far; I’ve been down as far as you can get, but you don’t have to stay down. No matter how many times they tell you’re not good enough or you’re too old. You have to get up and keep moving forward no matter what anybody says you have to persevere.

And so the NYUL continues to preserve for all the phenomenal women of color in the community and they hope you will help them to move forward. For information about how you can give, go to our donation page or become a member.

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