The U.S. government has Memphis on a list no city wants to be on.
Of all 49 metro areas with more than a million people, Memphis has the highest unemployment rate in the country at 9.5 percent.
More troublesome, Memphis was one of only nine metro areas to see its jobless rate go up. And it gets worse. Of all those cities, Memphis had the biggest jump year to year.
“You never can say that you’re pleased with that, it simply underscores that we’re doing the right things when we keep working to bring more jobs here,” said Memphis Mayor A C Wharton. “As you know, that has been my clarion call throughout: Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! And training folks for jobs it’s paying off, it’s going to take a while.”
It just seems like those jobs cost millions and are a long way from paying off for people who are out of work now.
The city has offered millions of dollars in incentives to companies such as International Paper, Electrolux, Barnhart Crane & Rigging and Old Dominion Freight line, with the promise of more jobs.
It’s a commitment that’s a long time coming for people who need jobs now.
“I’m not a stranger to work. If I had an opportunity, I wouldn’t let you down,’’ says 38-year-old Trevor Morrow, who was submitting an application or resume to any job he seemed eligible to do at the Tennessee Careers Center.
For six years, he worked in a cafeteria in Memphis City Schools: cashier, cafeteria monitor, and a stocker. No insurance. No sick day pay. No vacation. Not enough days’ pay to fill a car’s gas tank let alone support a family.
Still, it was a job. Morrow said things are worse because he makes ends meet, keeps the utilities on, food on the table by doing odds and ends jobs, cutting grass, painting, jobs that lead to no where but a bit of cash in hand.
It’s not how he imagined his life would turn out when he graduated nearly 20 years ago from Wooddale High School.
As a child, he never really dreamed of being anything in particular when he grew up — not a fireman, a doctor or a lawyer. He just wanted a career.
His dream was simple: he wanted to work all his life and retire, just like his parents did.
“My dream job would be at the county building doing something important,” Morrow said.
A few pods down, 36-year-old Latrish Brooks is figuring out the system, how to search for jobs she qualifies for, how to apply, how to write her resume. It was her third day of unemployment. She lost a janitorial job she held for nine years in Memphis City Schools.
“I really don`t want to be unemployed right now,” Brooks said. “I want to work. That’s what I’m used to doing. It’s what I like to do. I just want to work. I want to make my own money.”
Wharton said there are several job programs available that offer training or quick chances to earn income, such as cleaning up blighted homes. He said some people have been out of work for so long that they just give up.
“It’s going to take the whole community to go to folks who for whatever reasons have just played out,” Wharton said. “They’ve been looking for jobs for a year or year and a half. And understandably it’s human nature. You knock on doors long enough and the skin wears off your knuckles and you just fade out of the job market.”
As for the high unemployment rate, it may be something that statisticians and businessmen pay attention to, but it’s a different story inside the walls of the career center where people are relentlessly pursuing a job. Gail Taylor, area manager for the Tennessee Career Center in Memphis, said people have other things to focus on besides a statistic.
“In here, it`s just another day, because the rates go up and down from month to month,” Taylor said.