Southern Dallas' Uncounted Workers

The feds say these people aren't in the labor force. That doesn't mean they're not working hard.

Southern Dallas' Uncounted Workers

Those of us who were not born rich — and those who were born rich but cursed with a work ethic anyway — have a sort of ongoing assumption about what it takes to survive. We may believe that if our resources ever dip below a certain line, we may not survive at all.

But among us are souls who do survive in spite of having no resources at all or at least what we might consider no resources. So how do they do it? How does one live on nothing, without a job, without assistance?

It's not an academic question. In this city's traditionally minority and poor southern hemisphere, a truly staggering number of people fall into a category described by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as "not in the labor force." That doesn't mean unemployed. Unemployment is a different category: Those are people who recently had jobs, lost those jobs and are looking for new ones.

Dreadlock, aka Nicholas Baleni Lake
Mark Graham
Dreadlock, aka Nicholas Baleni Lake
Mike Gilliland and his wife Paula Jean
Mark Graham
Mike Gilliland and his wife Paula Jean

People "not in the labor force" didn't have a job before — at least not in the usual sense — do not have a job now and are not looking for a job any time soon. The BLS defines them as "all persons in the civilian non-institutional population who are neither employed nor unemployed." Nationally 35 percent of all working age people are in this category. In Dallas County it's 40 percent.

I looked at 50 U.S. Census data reporting tracts in southern Dallas. Two have more than 60 percent of their total population in this category. Seventeen are above 50 percent. For all 50 of the tracts covering most of southern Dallas, the average number not in the labor force is 44 percent, accounting for a total number of 67,304 souls.

The two that are above 60 percent are closest to the location where the city plans to build an expensive private golf course that will cost more than $150,000 per member to join. The city hopes the new golf course will spur economic development and improve the employment picture in the area.

All of southern Dallas will be targeted by a new $2.5 million job training program spearheaded by City Council member Carolyn Davis. The program, paid for with highway money and tied to major highway projects in southern Dallas, will attempt to use major public works construction projects as channels to draw people into the labor force.

Clergy and neighborhood leaders familiar with southern Dallas were frank in telling me that a substantial number of the population outside the labor force are young people involved in criminal activity. Some may be on the dole, but the dole isn't what it used to be. In this day, the number of people able to survive on public assistance alone, even including federal disability pensions, is probably modest.

So who does that leave? And how do they live? On the theory that people not involved in crime and not on the dole probably are the best candidates for a program like Davis', I drove southern Dallas and looked for people I thought might fill my bill. The only interviews I am not using here are those with people I suspected were criminals.

That didn't leave a great many willing to talk to a stranger about why they did not have a job. And even among those who would talk, the circumstances precluded a certain amount of vetting and normal reportorial challenge. I wanted them to roll with their stories. Where I was able to get details about prison sentences and prior work experience, I have included it here. You may find holes or soft spots in some of these narratives where that detail and corroboration are missing.

I wanted to hear them sing their own sagas without too many interruptions. These then are people in their own words. I must ask you, the reader, to supply the grain of salt where appropriate.

The Man Loves His Work

Dreadlock's real name is Nicholas Baleni Lake. He is 62 years old and works for himself, washing cars for anyone who will pay him in the coin car wash at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Myrtle Street eight blocks west of Fair Park. Dreadlock says he minds his own business. He has tried other work and prefers the car washing business.

"Well, I done haul trash. I done a lot of odds and ends. This is something I enjoy and love doing. This here, washing cars, detailing cars, I enjoy this. I love it."

He works seven to eight hours a day. He pays his rent and food bills on a daily basis. He does 10 cars on a good day. He has washed cars for 20 years since coming to Dallas. He receives no assistance but is hoping that may change some day. "I'm fixing to apply for a check."

Dreadlock is a widower and father of 16 children. "It's been what I been doing all this time. I do what I do. I suffer before I would let them suffer.

"I was born in the Bronx. I got neglected by my mother at maybe 8, 9 years old. So I stayed on the streets for about a couple years, maybe three years, all alone out here in the wilderness with the lions, tigers and bats as they say. All the time I just said to myself, I got to make it. I got to go through this."

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I used to work with a "Wanda Joyce James" about 10-12 years ago parking cars. She would be the right age for this person you interviewed to be her and I know she lived in South Dallas. Curious. 


sounds like most of them are doing what they choose to do.  good for them.  


I am trying to figure out what JS has done here.  Supposedly a journalist is someone who reads the news releases of various gov't and private organizations and then paraphrases them in the articles they write.  Sort of glorified sock puppetry.  

In this case, JS has gone out, pounded the pavement and talked to people, asking questions along the way.  Very curious and interesting enough for me to come back for more of this.  Whatever it might be, I would like to see more.

Jim Schutze is a liar.  Ok, maybe in his old age he's just confused.  Either way, he's dead wrong.  The dole is more lucrative than ever.  Welfare spending has increased year over year for as long as I care to remember regardless of the condition of the economy.  Check out this pack of "takers" brawling over a place in line.  Notice the new high end basketball shoes, clothes and expensive cell phones.


I have empathy for these people, having struggled financially all my life, but I've always had a work ethic, instilled in me by my mom and I've worked off and on since I was 12. I've bee fired, laid off, quit; etc. but I've never given up and panhandled. However, there are those with such mental conditions and those who are not willing to give up their addictions in order to work. Then there are the scammers who are so good at conning people that you don't know you've been conned till it's too late. I used to fall for these people. The problem these days is you don't know who's scamming you and who really needs help.


Perhaps these folks should be speaking to students, unless the students want to get into the car detailing/box folding/drinking beers while your girlfriend works business, in that case they should speak to them seems all but one started on this road from is the lesson...Go to prison - Go to car wash??

TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

Interesting peek into that lifestyle. I know a few hustlers that "work" under the radar.

My wife and I often chuckle about how much energy one such friend expends avoiding "real" work and what he could accomplish if he directed that energy in a positive direction. But, hey, he's sticking it to the man, I guess.

JimSX topcommenter


I did. They were not forthcoming on this topic. But you raise a fair point. By the way, if you were washing cars with a rag and bucket, would you report your income? Just asking. 


@JimSX @cantkeepthetruthdown I wouldn't be washing cars with a rag and a bucket. I've done various low paying jobs when I was younger though. I reported. And collected.

So in a sense it's better that they don't file. It's a few bucks less of other people's money being taken. 

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