About 200 Ward 8 residents checked in to a job fair on Dec. 2 before going into the southeast human resource building. It was part of a new strategy by Council member Marion S. Barry (D-Ward 8) to get 10,000 more southeast residents employed.

In partnership with the Department of Employment Services (DOES), Barry launched the “Get on Board, Get on the Bus, Get a Job” campaign with hopes of helping Ward 8 residents get past their skepticism about local job fairs and whether they actually result in jobs.

“Council member Barry understands the pain the community is suffering. He is working to alleviate the pain and holds DOES accountable for helping Ward 8 residents find suitable jobs,” said Jackie Lashley Ward, director of constituency outreach for Barry. “When we see people who have either lost hope or have no hope that jobs are available for African Americans, we aggressively find them jobs.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are approximately 56,000 registered businesses and well over 715,000 jobs in the District, yet, 31,000 city residents remain unemployed.

Ward 8 has the District’s highest average unemployment rate at 11 percent and a whopping actual unemployment rate of 26 percent among its 71,000 residents.
Barry said this is unconscionable.

“There is this stigma that everyone in Ward 8 is unemployable, lazy and doesn’t want to work. My office is here to prove that is not the case,” he said.

Ward said at Barry’s job fairs applicants are screened to make sure everything is in order, go through a skills assessment, attend a series of workshops with DOES, are matched with employers and the applications are regularly monitored.

“Residents tell us all the time that they’ve gone to dozens of job fairs but there is no follow-up to the applications submitted. People are becoming very discouraged,” Ward said. “They are tired of going to events that seem to make some politician look good. We wanted to make our job fairs meaningful to the people we serve.”

Last year, there was some success with residents finding jobs in construction, one of the booming industries in Ward 8. “Although construction jobs are very visible, it only represents 11 percent of employment opportunities,” Barry said.

The councilman said there are other areas that pay very well that Ward 8 residents qualify to work that are being explored such as retail trade, finance and insurance, legal services, education, health care, non-profit organizations, food service and other professional services.

“The government gives tax breaks, incentives and grants to many of these businesses and organizations. Now we want them to hire DC residents. My main focus is stable employment for Ward 8 residents,” Barry said.

As part of his focus on economic development, job growth and employment training, Mayor Vincent C. Gray recently launched a new hiring initiative called “One City • One Hire” with the goal of helping put unemployed District residents back to work.

One City • One Hire is an innovative strategy that will encourage Washington metropolitan area employers to commit to hire at least one unemployed District resident. It is designed to serve as a catalyst to jump-start the Mayor’s pledge to put unemployed District residents — in every ward of the city — back to work.

“This effort is the latest and most innovative part of our multi-pronged strategy to get District residents back to work,” said Mayor Gray. “One City • One Hire will encourage public-private partnerships that benefit our entire city and our region.”

The initiative is being launched with support from the DC Chamber of Commerce. It is modeled after Atlanta’s highly successful Hire One Atlanta jobs initiative, which achieved nearly 13,000 new hires within six months of its launch. One City • One Hire aims to get area employers to hire 10,000 unemployed District residents within the next year by offering tax-based employer incentives, wage subsidies, pre-employment training and work-readiness preparation programs.

“Can we force an employer to hire a Ward 8 resident? No, but we will keep trying. We have been able to succeed where others have failed. Just give us a chance to prove ourselves,” Ward said.


Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO