“Ma’am, can I get another Coke, please?” said a loyal customer of Matthew’s Pizza to a waitress who is just as loyal to her place of employment. Shelby Correlli, with her brown eyes and recently dyed red hair, noded at the customer and headed back into the kitchen. She has been working at this Eastern Avenue pizzeria since she was in high school, and it’s the only job she’s ever had. Being on her feet for at least six hours a shift while running back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room carrying heavy, hot trays of pizza make Correlli re-think her current occupation.
“As much as I love my job and my friends here, it’s about time I work somewhere else,” Correlli said. “I live, breathe and love Baltimore City, so when my cousins told me of this great employment office downtown, I knew I had to give it a call,” she said.
Due to the recent hike in unemployment rates, it is common for some Baltimore City residents like Correlli to reach out to third party organizations.
The Mergis Group has been matching people with the perfect job for over 30 years. This recruiter firm specializes in finding employees for companies in fields such as engineering, human resources and accounting and finance. There are over 35 offices throughout the United States, and three are located in Maryland.
Jamie Reese, a recruiter at the Mergis Group, finds people either temporary or permanent employment throughout Baltimore. Reese said companies that need immediate, temporary employees will sometimes permanently hire the employee.
“For some people it’s easier to go through a recruiter firm than sending out a resume because everyone does that,” she said. “Since we build a relationship with the person, companies can trust us when we select people for them.”
Correlli was referred to Reese, and went to the East Baltimore Street office in the summer of 2013. Together they reviewed her resume and talked about her field of interest. At that time, Correlli wanted to work in the medical field.
“When we met, I thought I wanted to be a nurse. It makes me feel good when I can help people,” Correlli said. “Since that meeting I’ve taken a break from college and am now thinking about going into law.”
It’s now November and nothing has resulted from that meeting. No job opportunities, no calls, no leads. Once she completes some prelaw classes, Correlli may resubmit her resume to Reese in hopes of finding steady employment in a law office.
“Even though I still don’t have a better and more satisfying job, it’s okay for now,” Correlli said. “I’m just glad that I finally found a career that I want to go to school for.”
Correlli is just one of thousands in Baltimore City struggling to find a job.
Baltimore City, as well as counties in the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland, has one of the highest unemployment rates. According to the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, the labor force in Baltimore City is nearly 280,000, while the number of people employed is about 250,000. This leaves roughly 30,000 unemployed, which is an unemployment rate of about 10.2 percent. All of these are numbers are current as of August 2013.
Dr. John Bullock, a political science professor at Towson University who ran for Baltimore City Council in 2011, said Baltimore’s high unemployment can be traced back to the history of industrialization in Baltimore. In the 1950s and 1960s, there were government programs that provided opportunities for people to build newer facilities, yet there was not much land available in the city for them to build. Therefore, companies began moving out of the city and into surrounding areas.
“People were able to leave high school in the 1950s and 1960s and get a job working at Bethlehem Steel,” said Bullock. “Those manufacturing and industrial jobs are no longer here.”
Another factor of a high unemployment rate, according to Bullock, is a gap in terms of education.
“The Baltimore City school system is challenged, and many city residents have not finished school or who have had an inadequate education,” Bullock said.
The last factor in high unemployment is the impact of the criminal justice system. Bullock said there is a large amount of people who have criminal records, blocking them from having certain jobs.
“We see a higher percentage of people lacking education, and a higher percentage of people who have criminal infractions that impede their employment prospects,” Bullock said.
In Maryland, according to STATESTAT on Maryland.gov, more than three million Marylanders are eligible to work, as of August 2013. These workers are classified as the civilian labor force, which means they are at least 16 years old, are not serving in the military and who are not institutionalized. However, STATESTAT says Maryland has a total employment number of about 2,900,000 as of August 2013. This leaves about 220,000 people unemployed, yet the number of jobs accounted for in Maryland is a little more than 2,600,000, according to the same site.
Maryland’s unemployment rate continues to stand below the national average. STATESTAT says the national unemployment rate is marked at 7.3 percent, while Maryland’s stands at 7 percent.
Bullock said a reason for Maryland’s low unemployment rate is due to a higher percentage of Marylanders who have a college degree or an advanced degree. According to Maryland’s Higher Education Commission, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in 1995 was nearly 20,000. In 2005, the number raised to about 25,000, making a 25 percent increase in the amount of awards given. As for master’s degrees awarded in the same two years, there is a 44 percent increase, from nearly 9,000 to about 13,000.
STATESTAT goes as far back as January 2003, showing that the unemployment rate for Maryland has consistently been below the national average. However, there are 134,000,000 more jobs nationally then there are just in Maryland.
The city has multiple programs that work together to provide the unemployed with opportunities to start the job hunt. The Mayor’s Office of Employment Development (MOED) strives to direct workforce development in the city for both employers and job seekers to enhance and promote the local economy. It is also a part of Maryland Jobs Now, which is a network of high-performing workforce organizations that invest in employment and training strategies and services for Marylanders.
Patricia Morfe, Director of Performance and Planning of the MOED and Towson University alumna, reports directly to the cabinet at the Mayor’s Office, and provides all data and information for grants that the city can access. She also collects and then produces the data that comes from career centers that the city funds.
The MOED strives to decrease unemployment rates by providing training in multiple areas of the job process to those who voluntarily seek its services.
There are multiple one-stop career centers across the state and five in the city. These centers are designed to assist any Marylander, including: youth, former convicts, high school and college dropouts, food stamp participants, and veterans to receive the tools and knowledge to pursue a job.
Northwest One-Stop Career Center is just one center to give people the tools to create a resume and become employed.
“You have to get your information out there. We give people the tools they need,” Morfe said.
The Northwest Career Center provides resume workshops, academic assessment testing, a digital learning lab, an expungement workshop, interviewing technique workshops, writing workshops, counseling sessions and even more services for those seeking jobs.
“Those types of training programs where you’re actually learning a skill…that’s one of the things that are so needed,” Bullock said.
The career centers in the city saw 10,000 new individuals in 2012. However, there are 20,000-30,000 individuals who return to use the services and help provided by these centers.
According to the percentages Morfe has found, about 60 percent of individuals are able to gain employment for 30 days after they have successfully taken advantage of the career centers.
At the Northwest One-Stop Career Center located in the Mondawmin Mall on Liberty Heights Avenue, Cynthia Dugger sits at her cubicle. She is the Operations Supervisor and her job involves overseeing every aspect of the center.
She sits down at her desk after an hour long meeting and reviews her notes. Looking puzzled, she then glances to her computer and begins the daily task of responding to emails. It is just seconds until her office phone rings.
“Hello, how may I help you?” She pauses and listens to the caller on the other line. “No, you would need to come into the center so we can better assist you with the task,” she responds. She hangs up the phone and continues with her work. She is interrupted once again by one of the receptionists from the front desk asking for assistance with processing a young gentleman’s information into the computer system.
“Something is always going on here. People are always in and out,” she says.
Outside her office, there are two large computer stations for job hunters to access Internet, resources, learn computer skills and software programs. One is the shape of a circle with about 10 computers and the other area is a classroom style with rows of tables with computer monitors on each. All of the computers are filled with focused individuals.
The mid-morning brings no sign of relief for Dugger. She has lots to do with managing the flow of the office and makes sure every guest receives the desired assistance. Everyday is something new, but after her experienced gained in social services, Dugger finds her job rewarding.
“It’s nice to encourage folks to succeed,” Dugger said. “We are also trying to build up the community and support local businesses.”
An international company is providing more employment options for Baltimore residents.
Amazon will open a fulfillment center in Southeast Baltimore in 2014, which will employ about 1,000 people full-time. According to various Baltimore Sun articles, this center could potentially hire up to 2,600 people, and that number could expand. The typical worker will make between $11.50 to $12.50 per hour, which is about 30 percent more than the average retail worker makes. Therefore, workers making this amount will make about $25,000 a year.
Although Amazon plans to hire locally, Bullock said its oftentimes people from surrounding counties that get the jobs.
“It’s been a question in front of the city council thats been shot down a few times whether there should be a local hiring requirement,” Bullock said. “That’s something that community activists have put that forward, but right now there’s nothing in place that mandates businesses to hire locally.”
Amazon also offers a number of benefits to its full-time employees, such as health care options, saving plans and relocation assistance. Other benefits include accumulating vacation time per each pay period, paid personal time and discount programs.
Due to this new plant opening, Marylanders will have to pay a 6 percent sales tax when they purchase from Amazon.com. Whether or not their purchase ships from the Baltimore plant, Marylanders are still required to pay the tax because Amazon has a physical presence in the state. This additional sales tax may boost the state’s tax revenue. In 2011, the Maryland Comptroller’s Office estimated that Maryland loses about $200 million yearly due to online purchases.
The plant will be built at the site of the former General Motors plant, located on Broening Highway.
Programs like the Career Centers and the Mergis Group may help reduce Baltimore City unemployment rates. Amazon however, will create jobs but not necessarily for city residents. Dr. Bullock believes one of the challenges is job training.
“A lot of people would like to see residents employed, but do they have the skills that match the jobs? Jobs have left the city, and the ones that are here now require higher levels of education and training,” Bullock said.
This is not always the case for hard working individuals who have a college degree. Sitting at home on her family room couch, Sabrina Moroz opens her laptop screen. She is focused on searching for her first full time job position. She has been conducting job searches and sending in resume after resume since the Baltimore native returned home from Ithaca, New York.
In July, after she quit a summer part time job where she was working full time hours, her drive became even more evident. Searching for a job became her full time job.
After four years at Cornell University, Moroz has obtained a Bachelor of Science in Biological Engineering. The major has two concentrated tracks – either an environmental area or a biomedical engineering area. Moroz took classes her first two years in the environmental side but decided instead to focus on the biomedical engineering side to finish out her college career.
“I can go either way between those two topics,” Moroz said. “I wanted to be in a field where I could learn multiple things and I have found there is always something new to learn.”
With an advanced education, a professional resume and consistent work experience Moroz struggles to connect with any employer. She sends her resume in daily to multiple companies, organizations and businesses hoping for a response. Since June Moroz has applied to over 60 jobs.
“I’m not going to stop until I have a job. I can’t do much more than I already am until I find an opportunity and someone who wants me,” Moroz said.
After six months of unemployment, Moroz’s hard work and dedication finally paid off on Friday, Nov. 15, when she was offered a job position at Pessin Katz Law Firm in Towson.
“I am really happy to be out of the house and be working again,” Moroz said. “The job search is very discouraging, but I’m glad I stuck it out and found a job where I am qualified.”
Although some people are lucky enough to acquire jobs, the unemployment rate does not necessarily reflect the true amount of unemployment. Bullock said the unemployment rate only captures those who are in the labor market.
“What we have in Baltimore are people who are chronically unemployed and have been unemployed for years who are not reflected in those numbers,” he said. “If you look at the real numbers, its about 50 percent or even 40 percent of Baltimore residents are unemployed. It’s even larger than the statistic reflects.”