All politics is local in the most political city in America.


Report: Fixing Education Disparities Is a Public Safety Strategy

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Focusing on educational disparities in the District would help reduce crime, according to a report issued today by D.C. think tank Justice Policy Institute. According to the report, D.C.’s high school dropouts are more likely to have prison records. It went on to show that states that have increased the money they spend on higher education have also seen their violent crime rates decline.

The think tank, whose mission is to reduce the incarceration rate, recommends spending more money on parks, mentoring and schools and less money on courts and policing. They also recommend revising school policies to keep kids in school.

Researchers found the same stark disparities we’ve examined when it comes to education levels in D.C.’s wards; for instance, one-fifth of Ward 8 adults haven’t completed high school. But the report also breaks down formal education levels of D.C.’s adults by race. Nearly all white adults in D.C. — 99 percent of them — have a high school diploma or higher. For African Americans, 80 percent of adults have completed high school, while 57 percent of Hispanic adults have high school diplomas.

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Redeveloping Without Displacing: Affordable Housing Opens On Church Land

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

The Payton family tours its new home.

Tyisha and Antonio Payton were looking for a new home, something more spacious to accommodate their family than the two-bedroom, affordable housing apartment in Barry Farm they lived in.

Antonio Payton said he didn’t want to speak disparagingly of Barry Farm since “they housed us,” but said their former apartment was too small for his family. The appliances and apartment were outdated. And it didn’t feel like a safe environment where he could raise his three daughters.

On Tuesday, the family entered its new home at Matthews Memorial Terrace, a new $22 million, 99-unit affordable apartment complex built upon church land.

“This is a nice, secure building. It’s a whole different mindset,” Antonio Payton said. “I feel at peace here.”

It’s a unique project, built on land donated by Matthews Memorial Church at 2626 Martin Luther King Jr Ave, SE.

“This part of the city, and I live east of the river, has historically been ignored. It’s time for that to change, and it’s going to change because of developments like this,” Mayor Vincent Gray said at the Tuesday dedication of the building. “This development has been built with sensitivity to this community.”

The dedication ceremony was quite the celebration. It kicked off with a gospel choir, included some choked-back tears and plenty of praise and thanksgiving.

It’s been 28 years since the congregation first dreamed up the idea to use the land for housing. Bishop C. Matthew Hudson Jr., who took the helm of the church in 2006, said the project was a priority of his. The original intent was to provide seniors with homes near the church. He said “suburban flight” has taken many of his older congregants out of the community over the past few decades. “The church was preparing for that,” he said.

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Five Facts About Race, Class and D.C. Students

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Thomson Elementary School students listen during class. D.C.'s school-aged population doesn't exactly mirror its general population.

The D.C. school-aged population doesn’t necessarily reflect the changing demographics of the city. Here are five facts about race, class and D.C. students from a new study commissioned by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education and conducted by nonprofit IFF:

The school-aged population is disproportionately black.

Although nearly half of D.C. residents are black, about 70 percent of school-aged children are black.

The Hispanic student population comes close to reflecting the larger Hispanic population.

While a little more than 9 percent of D.C. residents are Hispanic, about 11 percent of school-aged children are Hispanic.

Whites are more likely to opt out of public schools.

The District’s white population has grown in recent decades, but its school-aged population hasn’t kept pace. While about 35 percent of D.C. residents are white, only 14 percent of D.C. school-aged children are white. The study also noted that whites are more likely than their black peers to opt out of public education in favor of private schools; 9 percent of DCPS students are white.

Students are disproportionately poor.

A DCPS or charter student is more likely to be living in poverty than the average District resident. About two-thirds of DCPS and 75 percent of charter school students receive free or reduced lunches; to qualify, a family of four has to make $41,348 or less a year. Only about 30 percent of D.C. households fall into the same income category.

Well-performing schools are found everywhere.

There’s a higher concentration of top performing schools in wealthier parts of town west of Rock Creek Park, but such schools also exist in low-income communities, according to the study.

State of the Union: DCentric Outtakes

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U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill.

President Barack Obama devoted much of Tuesday night’s State of the Union address to leveling class disparities between the middle class and the very rich.

He didn’t embrace the rhetoric of the Occupy Movement – namely that 99 percent of Americans are suffering while 1 percent hold the wealth. But the president did say that 98 percent of Americans make less than $250,000, and that their taxes shouldn’t go up. Raising taxes on the wealthy is an issue with local relevance; the D.C. Council in 2011 narrowly approved a tax hike on those making $350,000 or more a year.

President Obama pushed for a resurgence of American manufacturing to combat joblessness. He also said there are available jobs in the technology and science industries, but not many people are qualified to fill them. Such a “skills gap” exists in D.C., where many of the unemployed lack the credentials needed to fill available jobs. President Obama made a “national commitment to train 2 million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job.” That commitment may be easier said than done. D.C.’s job training programs have been fraught with problems and don’t always lead to jobs. There are current efforts underway to reform them so such programs are more effective.

Immigration also had a brief moment during the State of the Union address. Deportations have reached record levels under President Obama. He called for “comprehensive immigration reform” but failed to give specifics. He did, however, urge the passage of the DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for undocumented college students and soldiers.

The issue of race was barely mentioned, with President Obama focusing mostly on class issues, despite the fact that class disparities fall sharply along racial lines. For instance, the black unemployment rate is more than double the white unemployment rate. Here’s the most explicit mention of race, and it came as President Obama directly addressed members of Congress:

Those of us who’ve been sent here to serve can learn a thing or two from the service of our troops.  When you put on that uniform, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; Asian, Latino, Native American; conservative, liberal; rich, poor; gay, straight.  When you’re marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you, or the mission fails.  When you’re in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one nation, leaving no one behind.

Do you think race should have been more directly addressed? What are your thoughts on Tuesday night’s State of the Union address? You can read the entire speech here.

Examining D.C.’s Dropout Crisis

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One reason why some parts of D.C. have such high jobless rates is that many of the unemployed lack the skills and credentials to qualify for D.C.’s jobs. While most available jobs require a bachelor’s degree, 21 percent of people living in Ward 8 haven’t even completed high school.

Dropping out of high school has far-reaching effects on one’s life, family and community. WAMU 88.5′s Kavitha Cardoza reports on why people leave school in her examination of D.C.’s dropout crisis. In her first installment, she profiles a family with a history of dropping out:

The causes and consequences of dropping out are often intertwined. Low-income students are more likely to drop out, which means they can’t get jobs that pay well and continue lives of poverty.

Four generations of Walker’s and McMillan’s family haven’t graduated from high school. They have many of the risk factors for dropping out, including learning disabilities, teen pregnancy, and drug abuse. And it’s not clear whether or how the cycle could be broken.

The story, which you can read here, is the first of a nine-part series.

The Problem with Job Training in the District

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Unemployment in D.C. varies. In some parts of the District it’s 3 percent, while in others its 25 percent. The explanation to such high and uneven unemployment is complex, but one central reason is the majority of the available jobs in the District require skills and education that many of the unemployed lack. Job training is seen as a logical solution to this “skills gap.”

But job training programs have to be done right. WAMU 88.5′s Patrick Madden reports on problems with the District’s job training contracts. In one instance, the city was paying double per trainee than what nearby states paid. In another, the District gave a job training school $500,000 to train 70 people. The school, which is no longer running, is now embroiled in legal troubles; a private consulting firm has accused the school’s owner of misusing funds.

Such questionable contracts not only raise concerns over how the city uses its money, but also over the effectiveness of its job training system. DCentric has written about individuals who had trouble finding work after completing such job training programs.

Job training programs can be effective for some people, but such programs alone can’t reduce overarching unemployment disparities. For instance, 10 percent of D.C. residents have criminal records. For those individuals, no amount of job training can erase the challenge of getting hired with a past conviction.

You can listen to Madden’s full report here.

Unemployment Rates By College Majors

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Students wave to video cameras during the 2010 George Washington University commencement on the National Mall.

Your chances of getting a job depend greatly on your major. A Georgetown University study released Wednesday shows that unemployment rates among college graduates are highest for those who majored in architecture, arts and the liberal arts.

Some want to address D.C.’s high unemployment by getting more District youth to go to college; unemployment is 26 percent in Ward 8, where half of adults stopped their schooling at high school. That’s the impetus behind a new D.C. proposal requiring all District high school students to take a college admission exam. But these unemployment figures show that simply getting a college degree won’t be enough to prevent you from being unemployed. There’s also a racial disparity: young black college graduates face double the unemployment rate than white college graduates.

Here are the recent college graduates with the highest unemployment rates:

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‘If I Was A Poor Black Kid:’ Not That Simple

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“If I was a poor black kid,” technology writer Gene Marks writes on Forbes’ website, “I would first and most importantly work to make sure I got the best grades possible.”

So goes the line of thinking in a post entitled “If I Was A Poor Black Kid,” an attempt at helping solve poverty among low-income, black children. Marks writes that what’s most lacking is personal motivation, since opportunities do exist for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, such as scholarships and free or low-cost technological tools. Marks uses Philadelphia as an example and writes that inequality isn’t the nation’s biggest problem, “it’s ignorance:”

So many kids from West Philadelphia don’t even know these opportunities exist for them.  Many come from single-parent families whose mom or dad (or in many cases their grand mom) is working two jobs to survive and are just (understandably) too plain tired to do anything else in the few short hours they’re home.  Many have teachers who are overburdened and too stressed to find the time to help every kid that needs it.  Many of these kids don’t have the brains to figure this out themselves – like my kids.  Except that my kids are just lucky enough to have parents and a well-funded school system around to push them in the right direction.

Technology can help these kids.  But only if the kids want to be helped.  Yes, there is much inequality.  But the opportunity is still there in this country for those that are smart enough to go for it.

Personal motivation will always play a role in individual success. But assuming that children need to simply be “smart enough” to go after available opportunities glosses over a complicated picture. Children don’t operate independently of the environment or adults around them.

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Five Takeaways from ‘Division of Labor’

D.C.’s job market attracts people from around the country, yet sections of D.C. are facing Depression-era unemployment rates. DCentric examined the causes of the jobless disparity in a series of stories last week. If you missed “Division of Labor,” check out this breakdown of our five main takeaways:

The District is home to stark disparities.

The numbers speak for themselves: unemployment is almost 3 percent in Ward 3, and more than 26 percent in Ward 8; more than half of Ward 3 residents have post-bachelor’s degrees, while nearly half of Ward 8 residents only have high school diplomas.

Simply creating more jobs won’t be enough to reduce the disparity.

In D.C., the problem isn’t that there aren’t enough jobs. Many of the available jobs in the District are out of reach for those facing chronic unemployment because of the high qualifications they require.

Getting arrested creates a cycle of unemployment.

It’s much harder to get a job if you’ve been to prison, and that’s of particular pertinence in D.C., where one in 10 residents has a criminal record. A number of suggestions have been proposed to make it easier for former offenders to get hired, but the stigma of being a former felon is still difficult to overcome.

Evening out the divide may take decades, but some efforts can be made now.

The solution, some of you have noted, is improving education so D.C.’s young people will be able to compete for the professional jobs. But  improvements to education can take years to accomplish, and in the meantime, there are number of adults suffering from unemployment. D.C. agencies and nonprofit groups are focusing on helping adults in numerous ways, including offering job counseling, providing adult education oand specialized training programs. Although unemployment still remains high, these efforts provide valuable resources to the jobless.

People have hope.

Many of the unemployed interviewed for “Division of Labor” spoke with hope about their futures, despite documented disparities and dim prospects. Communities facing high unemployment are also home to motivated individuals, whether it’s the single mother going back to school to get her GED certificate or the teenager who’s preparing to go to college.

Division of Labor: Bright Futures

Image: Carrie Moskal / WAMU

"Division of Labor" is DCentric's examination of D.C.'s unemployment disparity.

This week, DCentric has been exploring unemployment disparities in the nation’s capital. D.C.’s job market attracts professionals from around the country, yet unemployment rates are as high as 26 percent east of the Anacostia River.

The outlook can be grim for young people growing up in these communities, but high joblessness hasn’t stopped some from planning for a future in which they are professionals.

Charnice Cunningham, 21, grew up in Ward 5, where unemployment is 14.7 percent. One of her childhood friends is in junior college, another dropped out of high school and a third is in prison.

“Some people make it. Some people don’t,” she said.

Cunningham is one of those who “made it.” She’s a senior at American University where she studies psychology, with plans to be a teacher or school counselor.

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

Charnice Cunningham, 21, on American University's campus. The psychology senior is from Ward 5, where unemployment is 14.7 percent.

She attributes much of her success to the support of her mother and attending the SEED School, a sixth through 12th-grade public charter boarding school in Ward 7. Students enter as sixth-graders and live on campus during the school week. The school’s mission is to get students to college, and that permeates the environment. Students meet with college counselors and make campus visits. University banners are plastered throughout the cafeteria’s walls. Each dorm room is named after a university. According to SEED, 94 percent of graduates go on to college.

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