One in five residents in the District of Columbia lives in poverty and many earn less than $11 an hour on their jobs. As a result of the recession, the gap between the haves and the have-nots has widened, which has only led to increased instances of abject poverty among the city’s 600,000 residents.

Those are some of the findings of a newly-released report that was up for discussion during a recent forum addressing poverty in the nation’s capital.

The event, which was sponsored by advocacy organization Defeat Poverty DC (DPDC), was held at the True Reformer Building in Northwest Washington and attracted nearly 200 people. Each was concerned with eradicating – or at least alleviating – the burden of poverty. And, with this being an election year, the attendees were taking the City Council to task.

“What we’re trying to do is work to heighten the public’s awareness about the seriousness of the problem,” said Michael Edwards, an administrator for the District-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which helped coordinate the forum. “The new statistics that we’re talking about that over the course of the last year, we’ve seen the largest increase in poverty that we’ve seen in the past 15 years.”

Edwards said while many people already know poverty to be a persistent problem in the District, his organization and about 45 others have joined DPDC’s campaign with the goal of putting pressure on government officials to identify specific ways to address the issue  – particularly as it relates to wards 7 and 8, where the majority of African-American residents deal with hardships on a daily basis.

“We think it’s time that poverty in D.C. be at the forefront of discussions for people running for office,” Edwards said.

“As candidates are out their talking to constituents, we think it’s important for people to hear that they do care,” he continued. “With the recession and current budget problems, nobody expects to defeat poverty this year or next year or even the next year, but it’s about beginning to map out a path our elected leaders so they can begin steering us in the direction for defeating poverty .”

According to DC Fiscal Policy Institute, the District is home to 106,500 District impoverished persons. And last year alone, some 11,000 new residents fell prey to poverty – which represents the largest single-year increase since 1995.

Neither Ward 7 Councilwoman Yvette Alexander nor Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry, returned the AFRO’s requests for comment by press time. But Ron Moten, cofounder of the community advocacy group Peaceaholics, said poverty in the city is a deep-rooted issue that has only gotten worse over the past 20 years.

“For one thing, we haven’t been producing individuals who are self-sufficient to even get a lower-level government job,” the Ward 7 resident said. 

“Then, the opportunity for entrepreneurship for African Americans and minorities in this city has not escalated to the level that it should. Meaning, there are more opportunities for people who live outside the city than for those who live here.”

Moten added that a lot of  beneficial programs and projects established for residents are mostly unbeknown to the city’s poor. “Or they can’t conceptualize how to take advantage of what’s being offered,” he said.

The activist said lawmakers from these wards have not been as responsive to residents’ needs as they should be.

“I think the mayor gets a lot of blame that he shouldn’t,” said Moten.  “In Ward 8, we all know that if a young person is killed there will be no from there to come forward. But if these kinds of things happen in Ward 1, Jim Graham would be all over the place bringing the attention needed.” 

Moten further stated that residents of impoverished communities have yet to understand the importance of citizenship.  Most, he said, have a tendency to blame societal ills on racism.

“But I don’t because I know the reasons Caucasians or rich Black people in Georgetown get what they want,” Moten said. “There are certain things they are not going to tolerate,  and they are going to fight for what they know they deserve.”