City’s Jobless Rate Continues to Rise Faster Than Job Creation Rate

Updated 5:45 p.m. New York City keeps on adding jobs but not fast enough to stop its unemployment rate from rising.

That was the seemingly contradictory message delivered on Thursday in the latest report from the New York State Department of Labor. It showed that the city’s unemployment rate rose to a 20-month high of 9.6 percent in February, up from 9.3 percent in January.

But it also said private-sector employers in the city added more than 25,000 jobs last month, about 50 percent more than the norm in February. Counting that gain, the city added 65,200 jobs over the past 12 months, an increase of 2 percent, the Labor Department said. That was only slightly lower than the 2.1 percent increase in the number of private-sector jobs in the country over the same period.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg chose to emphasize the job gains, saying, “Our investments in the city’s growing industries — like the technology sector and film and television production — are now paying off, but we still have a lot more work to do to improve opportunities for all New Yorkers.”

So far this year, the city’s unemployment rate has been climbing while the national rate has been falling. The city’s rate is its highest since June 2010, said Elena Volovelsky, an economist with the Labor Department.

Ms. Volovelsky said there were several possible reasons for the divergence in the numbers on employment and unemployment, a constant one being that they are derived from separate surveys of employers and city residents. Another reason, she said, could be that many of the jobs being created are going to people who commute to work from outside the city.

“We saw a lot of gains in professional and business services, a sector that pays high salaries and attracts workers who come in from outside the city,” Ms. Volovelsky said. (Professional and business services include law and accounting firms and agencies that provide temporary workers.)

Indeed, about two-thirds of all of the private-sector jobs that have been added in the city in the last year have come in two sectors: professional and business services and leisure and hospitality, which includes hotels, museums and restaurants.

James Parrott, an economist with the Fiscal Policy Institute, a liberal research organization, said he thought a more likely explanation was that a significant number of New Yorkers who had been freelancing or working as consultants had found permanent jobs with the sort of companies surveyed every month by the Labor Department. Those transitions would add to the jobs count but would not reduce the unemployment rate.

Mr. Parrott said the city’s job market appeared to be healthy, but added: “I don’t think it’s quite as glowing as the mayor might want people to believe it is. Unemployment is still very high and there are challenges for many people who have been unemployed for a long time.”

The share of adults in the city who were working was at a two-year low, 54.1 percent, which is a full 2.5 percentage points lower than it was four years ago, before the financial crisis hit.

Statewide, the unemployment rate rose to 8.5 percent, from 8.3 percent in January. More than 806,000 state residents were unemployed in February, though only 55 percent of them were receiving unemployment benefits.

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Woman Grazed as Officer’s Gun Discharges in Raid a Floor Away

A police bullet or fragment apparently grazed a woman’s arm as she slept inside a second-floor apartment in Brooklyn on Thursday after a plainclothes New York City officer’s gun discharged during a drug raid at an apartment a floor above, the authorities said.

Hours later, the woman returned to her home at 3003 Clarendon Road, in the Flatbush neighborhood. Just before noon, she got out of a marked police car with a man and several Community Affairs Unit officers, dressed in blue windbreakers, who helped steady her as she made her way inside.

Officials did not immediately identify the woman, who was believed to be in her 20s.

Dressed in a puffy winter coat, the woman did not appear harmed and said nothing to reporters assembled on the sidewalk.

It was six hours earlier, officials said, that plainclothes officers working as part of the Police Department’s narcotics unit made their way into an apartment at the back of the top floor of the three-story, beige brick building off Nostrand Avenue. The first officer to enter was carrying a ballistic shield in one hand and a gun in the other, according to a police spokesman.

The gun went off about 6:15 a.m., said the spokesman, who said the bullet went straight through the floor and into the apartment below, where the woman was asleep. It was not clear what caused the gun to fire.

Noises from the raid awoke Cerissa Hayes, 35, who lives with her two children in an apartment across the hall. First she heard her neighbor’s door being “busted in,” she said. Then she heard shouts of “Police!” Seconds later, she said, there was gunfire.

“I was asleep and they just barged in and I heard a shot,” she said. “You here that coming in. You hear a big bang like that; I thought it was my apartment.”

The police could not say specifically where on the woman’s arm she was injured or describe if what hit her was part of the bullet or perhaps wood or plaster fragments from the damage the bullet caused passing through the floor and ceiling.

Paramedics from the Fire Department took the woman to a nearby hospital, an official said. No one else appeared to be injured.

The police spokesman said two people were arrested as part of the raid and some drugs were recovered. The names of the people were not immediately released.

Outside the building, a woman, Yameeka Clark, identified one of the suspects as Erneso Ortiz. Ms. Clark said she was the godmother of two of his children.

Ms. Clark, 33, said she saw the commotion as she dropped off her own children for school and she worried someone had died.

When she saw officers swarming the location where Mr. Ortiz lives, she called her friend Natasha Barnett, who she said was the mother of two young children – a boy and girl – with Mr. Ortiz.

“I rather somebody is in jail for a little bit rather than somebody is dead,” Ms. Clark said.

The police did not immediately identify what drugs had been confiscated or the quantity.

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Immigrant Released From Rikers 4 Years After Her Baby’s Death

A Rikers Island corrections officer looked confused on Wednesday morning when a group of Chinese immigrants – trailed by a crush of reporters from local Chinese news outlets – arrived to pick up an inmate who had been in the jail for four years.

“Four years, really?” the guard said, leaning back and wiping his hand over his face skeptically, perhaps because Rikers Island is primarily intended for short stays, with most inmates staying no more than three months.

But Li Ying, 26, a Chinese immigrant who is charged in connection with the shaken baby death of her daughter Annie, has remained in the jail since her arrest in March 2008. She is awaiting trial along with her common-law husband Li Hangbin, who is also charged in the case, which was the subject of an article in The New York Times in January.

Ms. Li was released on bail from Rikers Island on Wednesday, after a Queens judge reduced her bail on Tuesday from $250,000 to a $10,000 bond.

The Lis, who are scheduled to be tried together in a Queens courtroom – a date has not been set — were arrested on manslaughter charges on October 22, 2007. Prosecutors say Mr. Li, 27, inflicted horrific injuries upon Annie. He is charged with second-degree murder, and if convicted, faces 25 years to life. He remains in jail.

Ms. Li is charged with second-degree manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child, accused of failing to promptly call 911 when Annie became unconscious. Her charges carry a maximum 15-year sentence.

The Lis say that they called 911 immediately after the 2-month-old Annie lost consciousness while being fed. She was rushed to a hospital and died there five days later.

After a five-month investigation, the Lis were arrested and have remained on Rikers Island while their trial has been delayed because of language differences, changes in lawyers and extensive court hearings.

In the past year, prosecutors have several times offered Ms. Li a chance to be set free if she pleads guilty to the charges. She has refused the plea deals, she said, because she is adamant about proving her innocence in court.

The case has generated intense interest in the Chinese immigrant community in Flushing, where the Lis lived with Annie. Michael Chu, a Flushing travel agent and local activist, helped raise money and awareness for the couple. He used some of the contributions to pay Ms. Li’s bail.

According to the charges, Annie most likely died from the trauma of shaken baby syndrome, which occurs when a baby is repeatedly and violently shaken, causing brain damage. Her injuries included a massive skull fracture from two “non-accidental” blows that also caused brain damage, hemorrhaging and eye injuries, as well as two broken legs and a fractured rib that had not fully healed, according to prosecutors.

The Lis’ lawyers argue that Annie’s autopsy showed no fractures to Annie’s spinal cord and neck, and they say they hope to prove that the child suffered from osteoporosis imperfecta, a condition that can cause weak bones.

When Ms. Li was arrested, she was pregnant with a second daughter. She gave birth to the child while incarcerated and named her Nianni, whose name in Chinese means “Remember Annie.” Nianni has remained in the care of a friend of the Lis’, Zhou Meizhen, 59, who has been taking Nianni regularly to visit Ms. Li in jail.

After her release on Wednesday, Ms. Li was taken by Mr. Chu and Ms. Zhou to pick up Nianni, who is now 3, at a Flushing day care center. Then they headed to Mr. Chu’s travel agency in Flushing, which has become a headquarters for supporters of the Lis who believe the couple’s poverty, lack of connections and unfamiliarity with the United States justice system made them vulnerable targets for prosecutors.

Regarding the supporters, Ms. Li said, “I don’t know what I would do without them — I am so touched by how much everyone has done to help me.”

She called her mother in China and sat with Nianni on her lap and ate a traditional Fujian meal of rice noodles topped with two hard-boiled eggs, a dish meant to symbolize overcoming hardships.

Ms. Li said she would begin working immediately at a nail salon to help support Nianni and pay her debts. Tears came to her eyes when she said she hoped to visit Annie’s body, which is buried in a small pine box in a mass grave on Hart Island.

Asked why it took so long to get her bail reduced, she said, “It’s not fair — why did they take until now to look into my case?”

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A Word From Our Sponsor On Who Needs Workers Compensation Insurance

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Elevator Worker Fatally Electrocuted in Midtown

An elevator worker was fatally electrocuted in a commercial building in Midtown Manhattan on Wednesday night, the authorities said.

The man, who was 39, was killed at around 9:30 p.m. while working at 1290 Avenue of the Americas, between 51st and 52nd Streets, a Fire Department spokesman said. Among the businesses housed in the building are a Chase bank, a Duane Reade store and Ann Taylor Loft, the women’s clothing store.

The victim’s name was not immediately released.

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Claim of Fraud as Votes Are Counted in Brooklyn Special Election

What began as a pleasant day of official vote-counting in the undecided special election for state senator in south Brooklyn devolved into claims of fraud and disenfranchisement from both campaigns on Wednesday afternoon.

In other words: nothing new.

On Wednesday morning, at the city’s Board of Election’s headquarters in Brooklyn, the Republican candidate, David Storobin, 33, a lawyer, led the Democratic candidate, Councilman Lewis A. Fidler, by 119 votes.

By the end of the day, when about a third of the roughly 1,500 absentee ballots and affidavits were counted, Mr. Storobin’s lead was down to 37.

The counting will continue on Thursday, and most likely on Friday, when lawyers for both campaigns are expected to appear in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn so that a judge can review the ballots in dispute, including 151 from Wednesday.

The candidates had already taken a contentious, if not ugly, approach in the campaign for the 27th District. Now, their representatives are continuing the trend.

“We have identified significant patterns of fraud, including a good number of people who sent in absentee-ballot applications who stated they were permanently disabled but then showed up to vote,” Kalman Yeger, Mr. Fidler’s campaign manager, said.

Lawyers for Mr. Fidler’s campaign said they had identified 177 people who had filled out applications for absentee ballots claiming permanent disability, ballots that were collected by the same woman.

“These votes are being targeted ethnically for exclusion so it can go to court,” David Simpson, a spokesman for Mr. Storobin, said. “We believe every vote should be counted the same way.”

The machine totals last week showed that Mr. Storobin, who was born in the Soviet Union, had a slight edge in primarily Russian-American neighborhoods like Brighton Beach and Gravesend. His campaign considered that a moral victory, considering that Gregory Davidzon, a power broker with a popular Russian radio show, had endorsed Mr. Fidler, originally considered the front runner.

“It’s the height of ridiculousness to say that there’s any effort to disenfranchise anybody,” Mr. Yeger said.

Proving a voter’s disability before a judge could be a difficult task, however, and it is possible that testimony from private investigators hired by Mr. Fidler’s campaign will seek to determine the authenticity of the absentee ballots.

“It is shocking that the lies from the Storobin campaign continue a week after the election,” Mr. Yeger said.

Mr. Storobin’s campaign was just as outraged. “David Storobin made a concerted effort in this historic election to empower Russian-American voters and better include them in the democratic process,” Mr. Simpson said in a statement. “It is wrong for the Fidler campaign, now that they are losing an election, to try and subvert the democratic process by specifically excluding voters from the Russian areas of the district, many of whom are participating for the first time.”

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Tortilla Factory Owner Arrested Over Business Practices

The owner of a Brooklyn tortilla factory where a worker died after falling into a mixing machine has been arrested on charges of underpaying employees, falsifying business records and violating workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance laws, the authorities said on Wednesday.

The owner, Erasmo Ponce, faces 26 felony counts and 23 misdemeanor counts, according to a complaint filed in Brooklyn Criminal Court by Eric T. Schneiderman, the state’s attorney general. Mr. Ponce surrendered to the authorities on Tuesday and was arraigned and released without bail, his lawyer said.

Mr. Ponce, a Mexican immigrant, declined to comment on the charges, but his lawyer, Manuel Portela, said he did not think the case merited criminal prosecution.

“We’ve been trying to resolve this case on an administrative level,” Mr. Portela said, adding that his client “wants to resolve it and move forward in a way that is fair and equitable.”

Mr. Ponce’s company, Tortilleria Chinantla, has been operating under the investigative glare of state and federal officials since Jan. 24, 2011, when Juan Baten, a Guatemalan worker at his tortilla factory in Bushwick, died after falling into a large machine used to mix tortilla dough. Mr. Baten was crushed in the machine’s churning mechanism.

Several days later, state officials shut down the factory after discovering that the company had been operating without workers’ compensation insurance for nearly a year.

The state eventually allowed the factory to reopen, but in July 2011, the federal government cited the company for workplace safety violations carrying fines of more than $62,000. The most serious violation, deemed “willful,” involved the failure of the company to install a barrier on the mixer to prevent employees from coming into contact with its fast-moving machinery.

Ted Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which conducted that investigation, said Wednesday that the tortilla company had contested the citations and penalties and that the case was still pending.

Mr. Baten’s death and the ensuing investigations have darkened the reputation of Mr. Ponce, whose life had followed the classic trajectory of the striving, up-by-the-bootstraps immigrant.

Mr. Ponce was poor when he moved to the United States from Mexico in 1989 and, after a few years of doing manual labor and saving money, he started a small tortilla-making vending business in New York. Within a decade the company grew into a national enterprise with revenue of several million dollars a year.

His success made him one of the wealthiest and most influential members of the city’s growing Mexican diaspora, and he burnished his reputation by donating to various social and political causes in the New York region and in Mexico.

While he declined to speak on Wednesday about the new set of charges against him, Mr. Ponce chatted enthusiastically about a ceremony he was hosting on Saturday to christen a new mural on his factory’s facade. It depicts a workers laboring in a cornfield, he said, and has been popular with the neighbors.

“I am working well with the community,” he said.

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