Still looking

Residents reflect on the unemployed, underemployed in Jersey City

Dewayne Bryant, a Jersey City resident who works the overnight shift at a local 24-hour McDonald’s, is ready for a change. He has been on the job for nearly three years.
“I’m looking for something else,” he said, while waiting for one of the cooks to make a fresh batch of fries. “I’m looking retail, sales, anything really.”
Unlike some young men in his Greenville neighborhood, the 23-year-old has a high school diploma, no felony record, and a solid work history. Still, he said it has been challenging to find work that pays more than minimum wage that will enable him to earn enough money to move out of his mother’s apartment into a place he might share with a roommate or his girlfriend.
“Working here, I don’t really get no skills that I can take anywhere other than another McDonald’s or Burger King,” said Bryant. He estimates he has applied for 30 or more jobs since June and has received no interest from prospective employers.
When asked if he has considered vocational school or an associate’s degree, he said, “Well, yeah, kinda. But then, no, not really ’cause that takes money…I’m not really sure what I’m going to do.”
A short time later, a friend of Bryant’s who would only give his name as Jon Jon admitted he was in a worse position than his buddy. After dropping out of Dickinson High School years ago, Jon Jon never got his GED, has only done odd jobs, and is currently unemployed.
“I don’t waste my time. There ain’t nothin’ out there,” Jon Jon stated when asked what kind of jobs he’s looking for.
Last week, reported that Jersey City topped a list of 20 municipalities that experienced he greatest increase in the number of well educated adults between 2000 and 2011. But the report masked an uglier statistic reported that same week by Crain’s: With unemployment in Hudson County at 10.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, finding work in New Jersey’s urban counties is tougher than in more suburban areas.
The state unemployment rate was 8.7 percent in June, higher than the national average of 7.6 percent.

High unemployment numbers

As the city attempts to deal with a spate of violent crime and gun violence, many residents have called on the administration of Mayor Steven Fulop to expand recreational activities for young people, especially teens, so that they have something to keep them occupied when they are not in school.
But other residents say the real answer to street violence will be found in better education, training programs and jobs for young adults like Jon Jon and Bryant.
“You got some kids out here, they’re not all into trouble just yet. But the window to getting to them, to getting them on some kind of productive path is real short,” said a Bruce Smart, a McDonald’s customer who works in information and technology in the city. “We gotta get to them before they become idle, just hanging out on the street doing nothing, wasting their lives.”
As Smart spoke, another customer, Rosalie Johnson, nodded in agreement. “I got one son in the military now and my daughter’s in school in Delaware. But not everybody got those options. I told my kids to get out of Jersey City. I always told them that ’cause I saw there wasn’t a lot out here for them unless they did something to get some skills so they could work in Newark or the city.”
On Sept. 9, former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey will begin his new post as the director of Jersey City’s Employment and Training Commission, a position where he will be tasked with trying to help people like Jon Jon and Bryant get the skills they need to find work that allows them to advance in a vocation.
“On the one hand, there’s a lot of opportunity in Jersey City, you see it in Ward E,” said Johnson. “But it isn’t like that everywhere. What I’d like to see is the city somehow get these companies that come here, that want to do business here, have training programs for our youth so they aren’t just stuck sitting on some street corner or stuck working in McDonald’s for the rest of their lives.”

E-mail E. Assata Wright at

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