Nationally, the job market appears to be on the mend from the recent years-long recession that struck a devastating blow on the United States’ economy.
But for out-of -work residents in large urban areas such as Washington, D.C., trying to land a job amid this economic climate remains a tedious, arduous task.
At-large Councilman Michael Brown, the newly appointed chair of the DC City Council’s Committee on Housing and Workforce Development, commented in early May on the seriousness of unemployment in the District. This week, he made good on his promise to help turn things around, sponsoring a job fair at the Boys and Girls Club in Southeast Washington that attracted some 600 job seekers, his spokeswoman said.
“The councilman has always said, even before he assumed the committee post, that he wanted to do a job fair,” said Linda Wharton-Boyd. “His whole belief is that since the District employs a lot of contractors through contracts, there is a need to look at employing District residents first.”
Wharton said that the District, with an 11 percent rate of unemployment, boasts the highest level of unemployment in the District-Northern Virginia-Prince George’s and Montgomery counties area. According to the Department of Employment Services, the rate is down one-tenth of its percentage a couple months ago.
“This fair was put on because of the area’s high unemployment rate,” Wharton said. “We had more than 35 employers participate and all of them said it was so successful, they want it to be done again very soon.”
Wharton said that at least eight people were hired on the spot by Interlott Technologies, a research and investing information company, which partners with the D.C. Lottery.
Participants also included the National Guard, University of Phoenix, American Association of Retired Persons, and Metro.
But other attendees were not as lucky.
Cynthia Paige, 50, said she’s been out of work for several months and that she was, “quite frankly,” tired of looking. “It’s rough out here,” she said.
“I’m looking for any kind of work” from driving a truck to caring for the elderly, she added.
“You come to job fairs looking for a break, but most of the employers are not hiring on the spot,” Paige said. “You still have to go online to fill out the application, and to me that sucks.”
Carol Page, associate director the AARP office in the District, said the job crunch has been particularly difficult on residents ages 50 and older.
She said that about 25 seniors attended the job fair and that her organization is planning another, specifically for seniors, in October.
“We participated this week because AARP recognizes that the 50-plus job seeker requires a bit more than just being connected to employers,” Page said. “Many of them have not searched for a job in 20 or 30 years, and the job search process is quite different now.”
For the past year, the District’s unemployment numbers have fluctuated between 10 and nearly 12 percent – rates that have surpassed the national percentage for the same time frame.
And, since the recession launched two years ago, African Americans have had the toughest go landing work. According to Brown’s office, the highest concentrations of joblessness among the District’s majority Black residents have been in Wards 7 and 8, where the level has reached 19 percent and 28 percent, respectively.