(Photo collage by Melissa Bunni Elian for The Brooklyn Ink)
The latest national employment numbers came out July 8, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employers added 287,000 new jobs in June, reassuring economists that Brexit-related anxieties have not hurt the U.S. economy as much as was feared. Meanwhile, the national unemployment rate rose to 4.9 percent, up from 4.7 the previous month. But while national and regional economies have their own numbers and trend lines, people everywhere tend to measure things by their own individual situations. So to get a Brooklyn snapshot, we went around and asked: How you doing?
Andrea Wilson, 24, works in Williamsburg as a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier, but lives at home with her parents in East New York to try to save money.
“I want to be able to buy my own home, maybe an apartment somewhere in the city, without having to worry about anything. I’m saving a pretty decent amount every paycheck, living at home, so I would say another year before I can make a down payment on a place.”
Hervin Vargas, 35, is an NYPD police officer, based in DUMBO for the past seven years. Born and raised in New York, Vargas toyed with the idea of moving out West for a while. He and his family have decided to stay in the city. But that doesn’t mean it has always been easy.
“Economically, I have my reservations. We’ve been in disputes with the mayor about our contracts. In fact, the last contract that we signed didn’t even meet the standard cost of living. It’s hard for a cop living in New York City.”
Gabby Sokan, 19, is a political economy student who was banking on working all summer at WP Store, a high end Italian fashion shop on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens. But the store is closing after just two years in the area. As a seasonal employee, she won’t be hired in WP’s new SoHo location, so Sokan will have to work during the school year, which she had been hoping to avoid.
“I’m just going to be unemployed, which sucks. There is nothing I can do about it now. No one will hire me to work for one month.”
—Melissa Bunni Elian
Jason Rodriguez, 32, and Joe Adeyemi, 30, are longtime friends who live in Coney Island’s Bernard Haber public housing complex. Both reported feeling financially insecure, despite having worked an exhausting string of menial jobs, but said they hoped to one day save up enough money to purchase land upstate. Rodriguez, originally from the Dominican Republic, said the living conditions in Bernard Haber are substandard, and recalled mounds of debris piled on the beach outside after Hurricane Sandy.
Rodriguez: “They brought all the garbage over here for months, like we were nobody.”
Adeyemi said he worked as a dishwasher at a senior living facility on the Upper West Side, where he tried to unionize his workplace. His union, United Healthcare Workers East, sent him on speaking engagements in Puerto Rico, Pennsylvania, Chicago, and elsewhere before he was fired, he said, ostensibly for taking a cigarette break.
Adeyemi: “Since I was 19, 20, I’ve been doing nothing but fucking manual labor, and I got nothing to show for it but arthritis and shit. That’s capitalism, though. That’s what it is—it’s a fucking trap. They sell you a dream.”
Ralph Jawed, 52, has been an owner of Fort Greene’s South Portland Market since 1977. He is dismayed by the slow business and the high rents at commercial spaces on Lafayette Ave., which range between $8,000 to $140,000 dollars, according to the bodega owner.
“When you walk down the streets, do you see any deli grocery store or a tobacco shop anywhere? A tobacco shop? You only see big markets and malls opening up now, you know? That’s it. Everything’s gone. You’re not going to see any more bodegas.”
Stanley Boyd owns a seafood restaurant in Crown Heights called Git-It-N-Git (“Because there’s no place to sit”). For 17 years, he set up shop seven blocks down from his current place on 1299 Bergen St., where the neighborhood is flourishing—a big reason behind his relocation a year and a half ago.
“Follow the money…if business is good, we stay open. My pockets are happy….but it takes a while for the money to turn over, for you to turn profit. So far, I’m doing OK.”
Martha Hurtado, 26, is a lawyer living in Bushwick.
“Law jobs vary a lot, from NGOs to corporate jobs, particularly in New York City. I’m doing alright within my field. I’m an immigration defense attorney, so it’s not the most glamorous job, but I make enough to live comfortably.”
Rabbi Barat Ellman, 57, was holding a cup from Park Slope’s local coffee shop as she approached the growing line in front of the neighborhood’s first Chipotle. Ellman, a Rabbi at East Midwood Jewish Center and a professor at Fordham University, has lived in Park Slope for more than 20 years. On the eve of the burrito restaurant’s opening day, she said she was realizing that more and more large corporations are striking ground in the neighborhood.
“There are a lot of closed businesses and a lot of vacant places. Small businesses can’t afford the rent. Rent can only be managed by big chains.”
Matthew Kennedy, 22, who works in Williamsburg at a thrift store but lives in Queens, holds down two jobs so he can pay his rent of $600 a month.
“When I first moved here I thought I only needed one job and one of my coworkers was like no, everybody here has two jobs. I was just able to survive on $10 an hour that first year.”
“You can’t have everything with a baby. But he has everything he needs. As long as my income is good enough for me to pay the rent and my bills, I’m cool.”
Kate Morgan, 22, is an aspiring copywriter, working as a nanny in the Upper East Side to pay her bills.
“It’s tough, but I’m saving up for a weekend in Washington, D.C., in a couple months so I can visit my college roommate. I set aside a few bucks here or there and ride my bike instead of taking the subway when I can. And I practice my grammar by correcting mistakes on graffiti!”
Glenn Phillips, 48, doesn’t live in Gowanus, but he has a child who goes to school in the area. He’s seen many changes there over the years, including development around the canal.
“Years ago, I never could have imagined sitting by the Gowanus Canal reading a book. That was a pipe dream. There’s a lot of development but people are also getting priced out.”
Emma Zbiral Teller, 27, lives in Ditmas Park and is a filmmaker. She says she has to constantly hustle for work.
“It’s hard. I’m a freelancer. I always have to have other jobs under the table. I’m not making enough to live here. It’s kind of insane. I’m not living in a system that appreciates what I do. But that’s my choice.”
Rakeem Hope, 23, works as a barista at the Trade Union Café on Malcolm X Blvd. in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which has only been open for about two months. Hope has lived in Bed-Stuy for most of his upbringing, but recently moved to an apartment in the East New York neighborhood.
“I’m a certified welder and I’m still looking for work, so I’m doing this on the side.”
Clair Morey and Sam Branden, both 24, share, according to Branden, a “really really really small apartment” in Windsor Terrace. They’re artists— she’s an oil and acrylic abstract painter, and he’s an assemblage painter, sewing together clothing and making his own canvases. She worked as an artist’s assistant and other jobs for a time and he works in an art store in Bushwick.
Clair: “I’ve had like a million jobs in the past year and a half that I’ve lived here….But I’m moving back to Ohio, actually, in a month. If I could save money then I would definitely think about staying, but it’s just too expensive here. Plus it’s not my favorite place to be.”
Sam: “The store that I work at now in Bushwick, on Broadway, opened up last September, and it was a chance for me to run the show a little bit more, so I transferred to that one. And yeah, it’s, like, easy, so as long as you’re competent and you work hard…. It’s just been steady so I can paint, do my stuff.”
George Gray, a drummer who performs at Brooklyn Brewhouse and other venues in Downtown Brooklyn during the week, finds that the changes in the area are good for his art.
“Musicians from all around the world now come in every week on Wednesday, perform Thursday, and leave on Friday…there are now people from all over.”
Luther Zinnerman, 77, is a retired corrections officer.
“The rich get richer and the poorer get poorer. But me? I’m 50-50. That’s not bad. It’s better than 60-40.”