With the city’s 10 percent unemployment rate likened to a ticking time bomb, things can’t get much worse as 30,000 residents search for work. So when Mayor-elect Vincent Gray assumes the helm in January, one of the first objectives aligned with his economic development plan will be to help quell the District’s burgeoning unemployment problem.
Gray, who acknowledged during the mayoral campaign that joblessness had become a huge concern in the District, was not immediately available for comment. But he said in a statement that the current administration has failed when it comes to strategy focused on workforce development.
“The more people are out of work, the tougher it becomes for our local small business owners, a vital segment of our economy, to stay in business,” Gray said. “For the past three and a half years, the current administration has virtually ignored unemployment, doing little, if anything, to deal with this growing crisis …”
The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute reported in October that while joblessness surged in part last year for the District’s African-American residents, employment remained relatively steady for its White residents and those with a college degree. The agency also noted that since the recession launched three years ago, it has done its share contributing to a long-term decline in employment prospects for the city’s Black residents. To that end, two of the District’s poorest areas – Wards 7 and 8 – boast unemployment rates of 19 percent and 30 percent, respectively.
“The city’s high unemployment rate is obviously not going to turn around simply because the overall economy recovers, DCFPI Executive Director Ed Lazere, told the AFRO. “Our leaders have to make this a priority and have to make concerted efforts to address it,” he continued, “and given that the unemployment rates are highest for residents in isolated wards who often have limited jobs skills, it seems pretty logical that concerted efforts would help residents get access to skills – whether it’s through high school, a community college or other means.”
Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry, agreed. But he said the key to fighting joblessness – particularly in his district – is contingent upon attracting the ears of the private sector and federal government. “The city’s initiative has to be to become more involved with the private sector and the federal government,” Barry said. “There are 700,000 jobs in the District of Columbia and 340,000 of them are with the federal government. The rest are in the private sector, so we have to get the District government to start hiring more city residents because right now, 55 percent of the new hires are not D.C. residents.”
Lazere added that most residents on the city’s welfare to work rolls are paired with a provider or vendors who offer minimal services helping them find work.
He said anyone who has been out of the job market for a while or who does not possess skills to acquire a better job, usually end up with jobs that offer low wages and which oftentimes are temporary or part time. Neither situation does much to quell the District’s fight to reduce unemployment, he said.
“As a result and in many cases, Welfare-to-Work is really not an approach that meets the needs of public assistance recipients who could benefit from education or skills training,” Lazere said.
Meanwhile, according to the Department of Employment Services, D.C.’s unemployment outlook is not as bleak as it’s been in the past. The agency reported earlier this fall that the rate for September was down 0.1 percent from the revised August rate of 9.9 percent and that the number of jobs increased by 7,700 in September.