More than one in four workers in the West Farms neighborhood is out of work.
They were store clerks, hotel housekeepers, waitresses, cooks, for-hire drivers, security officers and maintenance workers before the coronavirus snatched away their livelihoods. Even before the outbreak, most were barely getting by on meager paychecks and scant savings.
Now their hopes for better lives are slipping away as they fall behind on rent, ration food and rack up credit card debt. Unemployment in this poor and largely Latino enclave of 19,000 in the Bronx was in double digits before the outbreak.
It has gotten far worse.
With an unemployment rate of 26 percent in September, West Farms has become an epicenter of New York’s economic crisis, one of the hardest hit urban communities in the country and emblematic of the pandemic’s uneven toll.
Though no corner of the city has escaped the fallout, the mass job losses have been concentrated in mostly Black and Latino pockets outside Manhattan that have long lagged economically behind the rest of the city. Communities like West Farms have also suffered disproportionately from the coronavirus itself, with higher rates of people becoming ill.
Meliza Mercedes, 26, was scouring apartment listings before the outbreak, hoping to finally give her 3-year-old daughter, Aubrey, a home of her own. A couple of times, she spotted a nice two-bedroom apartment in the Bronx for under $2,000 a month.
Ms. Mercedes, who stays with her mother in West Farms, had saved about $3,000 by living frugally. She rarely went out and almost never bought herself new clothes. But then came the pandemic, which closed nonessential businesses in March. She lost her job as a store detective at Macy’s in Herald Square and her $550 weekly paycheck. Her savings were soon gone, too.
“I cry about it because I’ve been trying to get my own place,” she said.
Similar stories of hardship and loss are repeated countless times across West Farms. At the corner bodega where neighbors talk about how there is no work and no way to pay the bills. At the local elementary school, Public School 67, which now doubles as a food pantry, giving out 400 grab-and-go meals with sandwiches and fruit every day.
Amanda Adedokun, a single mother, lost her babysitting jobs and can no longer support her own children. Eddie Suárez is a commercial landlord who built a storefront nearly three decades ago, but with a tenant missing rent payments, he struggles to pay his own bills. And Yalikhan Traore, a West African immigrant who worked in a beauty supply store, had to reinvent herself as a delivery driver to adapt to the new pandemic reality.
New York City’s economic crisis is among the worst in the nation, with unemployment at 13.2 percent in October, nearly double the national rate. But within the city, the pain varies vastly. Manhattan’s unemployment rate is 10.3 percent, but in the Bronx, the city’s poorest borough, it is 17.5 percent — the highest in the state.
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