‘I just give up’: As U.S. unemployment falls, life still hard for Philadelphians out of work

In Philadelphia, the unemployment rate has been declining, but it remains higher than the national rate of 5.3 percent.

While the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to an 18-year low, life remains difficult for the roughly 44,000 Philadelphians without jobs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May jobs report, the U.S. unemployment rate currently sits at 3.8 percent, or about 6.1 million Americans.

In Philadelphia, the unemployment rate has also been declining, but it remains higher than the national rate at 5.3 percent.

The city is full of employment opportunities, but many who are looking for work lack the specific training they need to acquire those jobs, said Nicki Woods with Pennsylvania CareerLink in Center City, which helps train and prepare job seekers.

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“Even though the unemployment rate might be low in Philadelphia,” said Woods, “it’s still a competitive market out there, and employers are using tools to weed people out, so that they can get the best people possible.”

Nationally, when compared with whites, Asians, and Latinos, African-Americans have the highest unemployment rate — 5.9 percent— though that is a significant improvement from April when the unemployment rate among African-Americans was 6.6 percent. In May, Asians had the lowest unemployment rate at 2.1 percent.

Tyquan McCray, 23, of North Philadelphia, said he has been looking for work for three years.  He has had some jobs — working in grocery stores and fast-food restaurants — but they didn’t satisfy him, so he is continuing his search at the CareerLink near City Hall.

While grabbing a bite to eat nearby, he said he wants a job that pays well and keeps him active. In the meantime, he’s been delivering food for UberEats to help with his day-to-day expenses.

During his search, McCray goes through periods where he gets discouraged by the lack of prospects and loses his motivation to keep looking.

“I always have my moments in each year where I feel like nothing is coming, and I just give up,” he said, until he once again finds himself getting “that mindset of wanting to work.”

Joshua Cobb, 27, of North Philadelphia, has been working temp jobs for six months, ever since the environmental service company he worked for in New Jersey lost a contract and, with it, his job. Pay from the temp jobs he’s found isn’t enough to support him and his family. Another hurdle in Cobb’s job search is that he has a criminal record — including a felony conviction — and he feels employers are hesitant to give him an opportunity.

Cobb also has facial tattoos, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue for him. He brings makeup with him to job interviews to cover them up.

“Some jobs, you don’t got to do it,” he said. “But I do it because I like my presentation. You make your first impression your best impression.”

WHYY is one of 19 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly

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