The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute recently released a report stating Black Washingtonians suffer higher rates of unemployment than residents of other races and the jobless gap has widened since the Great Recession.
An institute report shows that Black Washingtonians
have a higher unemployment rate than White residents.
The institute’s report DC’s Black-White Employment Gap Continues to Widen, that became public on March 1, was authored by policy analyst Linnea Lassiter, who said despite the city’s economic growth and overall drop in unemployment since 2010, recovery from the Great Recession has been uneven, particularly among African Americans. Black D.C. residents continue to experience elevated rates of joblessness and are the only racial/ethnic group whose unemployment rate is worse than it was in 2007. In 2016, 13.4 percent of Black workers in the District were without a job compared with 9.5 percent in 2007. White and Latino workers have bounced back from the recession, with just 1.6 percent of White residents and 3.6 percent of Latino adults classified as unemployed in 2016.
“These findings underscore the fact that D.C. economic growth has left many Black people and those without a college degree behind,” Lassiter said.
The report says that even Blacks with bachelor’s degrees or above are affected. Black college graduates have a higher likelihood of being unemployed than other residents who have a bachelor’s degree or higher. It also says that unemployment rate among Black college graduates was 5.7 percent in 2016 while non-Blacks similarly situated were 1.9 percent unemployed.
Lassiter said that while Black-White unemployment can be attributed to disparities in education, there are other factors that come into play such as systemic racism and employment discrimination. Lassiter said more needs to be done to help Blacks and low-income residents to get employment and stay employed. “D.C. should invest in more job training and adult education programs to ensure that all residents benefit from the city’s growing job market,” she said.
The racial employment gap becomes stark when the report’s data is broken down by wards. Wards 7 and 8 have the highest concentration of Blacks by percentages in the District and their jobless rates are 10.9 and 13.3 percent, respectively. On the other hand, the city’s Whitest wards, 3 and 2, have the lowest unemployment statistics with 4.0 and 4.3 percent, respectively.
Anthony Wright has been a political activist in the District most of his adult life. The racial gap between Blacks and Whites is no surprise to him. “I am Black,” Wright told the AFRO. “Blacks don’t make the type of money that Whites do. I know there has always been a disparity and probably always will.”
Gregg Rhett, former president of the Eastland Gardens Civic Association in the Kenilworth-Parkside neighborhood in Ward 7, told the AFRO that the racial employment gap “is not unique to the District and that D.C. is a microcosm of what has happened nationally.”
“Black communities across the country never recovered from the recession,” Rhett said. “The situation you have here in D.C. is that you have a mayor who talks about so many construction cranes are in the city but if you go to those sites, there aren’t a lot of D.C. residents working on them. The city gives millions of dollars to developers and there is no enforcement of laws that mandate that residents get first consideration for jobs and certified business enterprises in the city get contract work.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and the D.C. Council are aware that many residents are jobless, particularly those living east of the Anacostia River. Gary Butler, who unsuccessfully ran for the Ward 7 D.C. Council seat in 2016 in the general election, told the AFRO elected officials in the city don’t understand the depth of the problem. “The council members don’t see the true reality of things,” Butler said. “It is hard for people to find a job and small businesses are having a difficult time operating. It seems that once people get on the council, they become associated with a different group of people and sort of lose touch with people who are hurting.”
“A top priority for Mayor Bowser has been creating pathways into the middle class for all District residents, particularly communities of color,” Kevin Harries, director of communications for Mayor Bowser told the AFRO through email. “The Mayor has taken a multi-faceted approach to address the skills gap between African Americans and Whites, including a concerted effort to take city resources directly into the communities where there is the most need.”
Even so, Wright said he agrees with Butler that the city’s elected leaders know about the racial employment gap but believes some council members don’t want the problem solved. “There are seven White members of the Council and why are they inclined to do anything?” he said. “What’s going to push them to close the racial employment gap when it works to their advantage?”