Bad news, good news on job front

The Bronx remains far and away New York’s most unemployed county, but the borough picked up 12,000 new jobs over the last year, according to the latest State Department of Labor report.

Around 493,300 Bronxites currently have jobs, a 12,000 jump from the tally in August 2012, according to the report. The new jobs appear to have largely not displaced existing positions, as the unemployment rate has stayed steady at 12%, compared to 12.8% last year at this time.

The growing raw number of employed people in the Bronx is an encouraging sign for the borough, said Elena Volovelskaya, a state labor economist.

“The fact that more people are coming to the Bronx and the unemployment rate has not gone up is impressive,” she said.

Bronxites have lagged behind in employment for as long as such statistics have been kept, Volovelskaya said. The borough enjoyed a brief respite from the No.1 spot in April 2013, when tiny Hamilton County topped the unemployment rate list.

But Hamilton, with a population of under 5,000 and an extremely seasonal economy, is statistical chump change compared to the Bronx. In the winter, the jobs in the chilly Upstate town evaporate, causing volatile upticks in the unemployment rate, said Anthony Hayden, a State labor economist in the region.

Then in the summer the area is flooded with visitors, and nearly the entire workforce finds a job. Case in point —the latest DOL statistics have Hamilton going from worst to first, now ranked as the best county for employment in the State, with only 4.2% unemployment.

In the Bronx, the unemployment problem is more consistent. Healthcare and retail remain the borough’s largest hirers, while an inability to speak English and an embattled education system remain the borough’s major roadblocks, Volovelskaya said.

But a laundry list of retail developments in the pipeline has economists and politicians hoping that the borough’s unemployment rate can continue to sink. The 12% of unemployed Bronxites remains over 3% more than the citywide rate of 8.6%, according to the DOL’s report. The next most unemployed county behind the Bronx is Brooklyn, or Kings County, which ranked at 9.6%.

City officials broke ground last week on a $35 two-building complex in the Hub that promises to bring 200 permanent jobs to the borough. A plan to convert the vacant Kingsbridge Armory into a massive ice skating rink calls for 200 local jobs, and the grocery delivery company FreshDirect has promised hundreds of Bronxite jobs as a result of its relocation to Port Morris, which is partly funded by $87 million in subsidies from the city’s Industrial Development Corporation.

“The business development and new retail projects are a good sign. They just have to continue with the work they have been doing,” Volovelskaya said.

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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