September 4, 2011

USA: Hope, Fear and Insomnia: Journey of a Jobless Man

4NEW YORK, NY / The New York Times / September 4, 2011

By Jennifer Gonnerman

On June 25, 2010, Frederick Deare punched out for the last time from his job driving a forklift at the Old London factory in the Bronx. That summer, everyone at the plant was being laid off: the oven operators, the assembly-line packers, the forklift drivers, the sanitation workers. Total jobs lost: 228. Old London, the snack manufacturer that invented the Cheez Doodle, was moving its operations to North Carolina. At 53, Mr. Deare, known as Freddy or Teddy Bear to his co-workers, would have to find a new job.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when the sound of factory whistles could be heard throughout the five boroughs.

In the Bronx, there were Farberware, the pot manufacturer, which employed 700 people before shutting down its plant in 1996; Everlast, the boxing glove maker, which closed its operation in 2003; and Stella D’oro, the cookie-and-breadstick bakery that moved to Ohio in 2009. A. L. Bazzini Company, the peanut factory that supplies snacks to Yankee Stadium, will soon be leaving the city, too.

Frederick Deare, now 54, was laid off from his job at the Old London factory in the Bronx last summer. Michael Kirby Smith for The New York Times

A century ago, about 40 percent of New York City workers held manufacturing jobs, according to “Working-Class New York,” by Joshua B. Freeman. As Labor Day rolls around again, that portion has shrunk to less than 4 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. And when Mr. Deare received his pink slip, he joined a growing army of the unemployed in a borough that has been hit hard by the nation’s financial turmoil. The Bronx has an unemployment rate of 12 percent, the highest in the state. For African-American men like Mr. Deare, the city’s unemployment rate is even more disturbing: nearly 20 percent.

If getting a job is hard enough for a white-collar worker armed with a college degree, then the challenge was even steeper for Mr. Deare, who has only a G.E.D., lost 15 years to drug addiction and did a brief stint in prison. He had reinvented himself at Old London, reporting to work day after day for a decade; by the end, he was earning $16.61 an hour with health insurance. How does someone with his background find a job in the new economy? Mr. Deare was about to find out.

In those first weeks after he was laid off, Mr. Deare found that he liked staying home — hanging out with his fiancée, Annette Amaro; eating her cooking; zoning out in front of the television. With low rent and his three children all grown, Mr. Deare was in better financial shape than many of his former co-workers. And it helped that he had received a severance check of nearly $5,000.

As the end of summer neared, he threw himself into job-hunting. He put in applications everywhere he could think of, including Target and FedEx. He contacted his former union to see if it could help. He asked everyone he knew with a job to look out for him. The effort turned out to be an exercise in rejection. Nobody offered to hire him; they didn’t even bother calling back.

To keep up his spirits, he called each morning into a 6 o’clock prayer line run by his daughter, a minister in Massachusetts. Callers shared their worries, then prayed together; some mornings, Mr. Deare revealed his job woes.

“The hardest part for him is not working, not being in the game,” Ms. Amaro said. “He’s not a sit-around kind of guy.”

That fall, her mother came through with the best lead: somebody had told her there might be an opening at one of the meat markets at Hunts Point in the Bronx. Unsure which market needed help, Mr. Deare visited five or six. Most wouldn’t even let him fill out an application — “Sorry, we’re not hiring” — but he managed to leave his résumé at one place. When he returned the following week, he talked his way into a job.

He started in October, working the midnight-to-8 a.m. shift. The job required spending all night in frigid temperatures, moving in and out of freezers and refrigerators, lifting 70-pound boxes. “I’m 53 years old, and this is some strenuous work,” he said. “Everybody else is 23.”

When he got home in the morning, he would slide into a warm bath. The position paid $15 an hour, but if he could hold on to it for a few months, he would move up to $18 an hour, with benefits and a spot in the union.

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