Unemployment Benefits Crisis Looms
By Aaron Short
Brooklyn’s unemployment numbers for the first half of the year are discouraging %u2013 over 10 percent of the population %u2013 and state labor workers warn that a crisis could be coming if unemployment benefits are not extended.
As of July 31, 122,400 Brooklyn residents, about 10.6 percent, were unemployed, according to the State Department of Labor.This represents a 40 percent increase from January, when only 86,000 were unemployed (7.7 percent).Those are higher than the city’s overall employment figures, which hovered just under 10 percent (9.8 percent), with 402,000 out of work, up from 7.3 percent in January.
A spokesperson with the Department of Labor did not have access to how many Brooklynites have been incurring unemployment insurance benefits and did not keep statistics on how many individuals have been visiting the agency’s walk-in clinics for workforce-related assistance, but employment counselors said they have noticed an increase in the number of people taking advantage of their services.
“We used to average 134 per day through the room. Last week’s average was 191, and all of last week 956 came in the past five days,” said Kahlil Rashid, a counselor with the New York State Department of Labor.“The mood is a little more depressed and they are a little more frustrated, because they are getting jobs a little more slowly than we would like.” But, Rashid said, “People are still determined.”
In the next eight weeks, State Labor officials warn that unemployment benefits could run out for thousands of Brooklynites unless the city and state act soon.According to DOL data, New York now rates 25th nationally, despite having one of the highest costs of living in the region.
Public Advocate candidate and Queens Councilmember (D-Sunnyside) Eric Gioia is urging the state legislature to pass legislation that indexes weekly unemployment benefits to inflation when they return to session in September.
“New York is long overdue for an increase in unemployment benefits,” said Gioia. “It’s easy to see that more needs to be done for unemployed New Yorkers when states where the cost of living is a fraction of New York City’s are receiving more in unemployment benefits.”
State Senator Daniel Squadron (D-Brooklyn Heights) is urging the state to access over $100 million in unused federal stimulus funds for state jobs programs, through the office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.
“With unemployment in New York City at a record high, it’s unacceptable to leave federal jobs dollars on the table. We’ve got to do everything we can to reverse this devastating job loss trend, fully funding wage subsidy and job training programs is a huge step in the right direction,” said Squadron.
Rashid hopes that Individual Training Grants (IGT) programs in Brooklyn can help retrain laid-off workers into new industries such as construction and technology, and that the state extends unemployment benefits, but acknowledged that those decisions were above his head.
“Individuals in the IGT program looked to be in a positive mind-set, and I’m getting good feedback from them. They’re enjoying it and getting information from it and determination from it,” said Rashid. “They believe in the very near future it will help them land a job.”