Division of Labor: Your Take

Image: Carrie Moskal / WAMU

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

This week, we explored why joblessness is so high in many low-income D.C. neighborhoods, despite the District’s seemingly “recession-proof” economy.

What statistic or story most surprised you? What’s the biggest challenge to reducing the disparity? What’s the most effective solution? Send us your thoughts, stories and ideas by leaving a comment below or sending an email. And on Monday, we’ll post five takeaways from our “Division of Labor” series.

DCentric will continue to follow joblessness in the District in the near future, so be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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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Division of Labor: Immigration and D.C. Unemployment

While much of the country struggles with job creation, D.C. is in the unique position of having more jobs than residents. So why are some D.C. neighborhoods facing Depression-era unemployment rates? DCentric examines how D.C.’s healthy economy has left out so many Washingtonians and what some are doing to close the unemployment gap. Fourth in a series.

Tim Sloan / AFP/Getty Images

Day laborers wander the parking lot of Home Depot looking for work on Jan. 29, 2009. Day laborers have gathered at the site for years.

Like they do on most mornings, Jose Matute and Allan Hernandez recently stood in the parking lot of Home Depot in Northeast D.C. Dozens of men, mostly Latinos, joined them. They were scattered throughout the parking lot, waiting for work.

A small SUV pulled up. About six men approached, and one got in. The other five returned to their spots, hoping a job would come their way.

“We work here because we have to work,” Matute, 29, said.

While construction has slowed nationwide, development marches on in a number of D.C. neighborhoods. Meanwhile, predominately African-American wards are facing Depression-era unemployment. There is a perception among some that immigrant workers are getting hired over non-immigrants in D.C., or that they’re willing to work for less, and that this is exacerbating high unemployment.

Image: Carrie Moskal / WAMU

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

“They’re hiring the Spanish and people from other countries,” said Ward 8 resident Sylvester Anderson. Three months ago, he completed a 14-week long construction-training program through the city and said he’s been unable to get a steady job since. He said he spends his weekdays going to construction sites to look for work applying for jobs online.

Valarie Ashley runs Southeast Ministry, a nonprofit that provides adult education and job training in Ward 8, which is 92 percent black. She said the issue of race comes up often in conversations with unemployed African Americans who say they go by work sites where most workers are Latino.

There is a “tension,” she said. “Whenever resources are diminished, people highlight differences. When all is well, people don’t pay as much attention.”

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Division of Labor: Out of Prison, Out of Work

While much of the country struggles with job creation, D.C. is in the unique position of having more jobs than residents. So why are some D.C. neighborhoods facing Depression-era unemployment rates? DCentric examines how D.C.’s healthy economy has left out so many Washingtonians and what some are doing to close the unemployment gap. Third in a series.

Michael Coghlan / Flickr

Like many young people, Clarence Burrell started following in his father’s footsteps.

The problem? His father was a well-known drug dealer who went to prison, Burrell said.

Burrell, 26, was arrested three times and served a total of nine months in prison for drug-related charges.

“I had been living hard for a long time,” the Ward 8 resident said recently. “I decided not to [keep going] down the route my father went down. I was always thinking about having better, doing better.”

He was released from prison more than five years ago and started looking for jobs. But Burrell, who has some college credits, said he couldn’t even get hired by fast food restaurants because of his criminal record.

Getting hired with a past conviction is a challenge faced by thousands in the nation’s capital. Almost half of the former inmates surveyed in a new Council for Court Excellence report are unemployed. Nearly 60,000 D.C. residents, about 10 percent of the population, have criminal records, making joblessness among former inmates a contributing factor to high unemployment.

Image: Carrie Moskal / DCentric

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

Half of the 8,000 people who return to D.C. from prison every year are back behind bars within three years. According to the Court Excellence report, having a job greatly reduces the chances that former inmates will recommit crimes.

“If we can reduce [the rate of returning to prison], we can increase public safety,” said At-large City Councilman Phil Mendelson, who chairs the Public Safety and the Judiciary committee.

There’s also a cost to the city. As of 2001, about $22,650 a year was spent per inmate incarcerated in a federal prison, which is where D.C. felons are kept.

“I hope we get past this idea of what seems to be the right thing to do. This is the smart thing to do,”  said Mike Curtin, who leads D.C. Central Kitchen, an employer of former inmates. “It’s about keeping an open mind and it’s about the future economic survival of our city.”

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Five Steps To Take If You’re Unemployed

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

This week, DCentric is examining D.C.’s unemployment disparity in the “Division of Labor” series. One major factor contributing to high unemployment rates in some D.C. neighborhoods is not having the right skill set.

But despite the obstacles to getting hired, there are some steps you can take if you’re on the job hunt. Here are five things to consider:

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Division of Labor: The Gap Between Skills and Jobs

While much of the country struggles with job creation, D.C. is in the unique position of having more jobs than residents. So why are some D.C. neighborhoods facing Depression-era unemployment rates? DCentric examines how D.C.’s healthy economy has left out so many Washingtonians and what some are doing to close the unemployment gap.

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

Melissa Moon, left, and Twana Deal, right, review math problems after their adult education class at Southeast Ministry with instructor Riley Grime, middle.

Melissa Moon, 42, used drugs as a high school sophomore and eventually dropped out. Twana Deal, 49, dropped out of high school after she got pregnant at age 17.

“If I knew then what I was going to go through, I would have gone to school pregnant,” Deal said. “But I was a teenager. I didn’t know better.”

Both women are now enrolled in adult education classes as they work toward earning GED degrees. On a recent afternoon, the two spent time after their class at Southeast Ministry, a nonprofit in their neighborhood, going over math word problems. Deal wants to open a child day care. Moon, who has a temporary part-time job, wants to become a medical assistant.

Image: Carrie Moskal / WAMU

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

“I don’t want to have [any] more problems. The medical field is growing and they need assistants,” Moon said.

In Ward 8, where Moon and Deal live, about half of adults over age 25 have finished high school but not college, and 21 percent haven’t finished high school, according to 2009 Census data. Ward 8 also has a 26 percent unemployment rate. On the other side of the Anacostia River, in Ward 3, unemployment is about 3 percent and more than half of residents have graduate or professional degrees.

Many of the available jobs in the District, the ones that attract people from around the country, require advanced degrees. This mismatch, or skills gap, means many of those born and raised within the District are increasingly being left out of its economic success.

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Division of Labor: Examining D.C.’s Unemployment Disparity

First in a series.

Karen Bleier / Getty Images

Hundreds of job seekers attended the D.C. Universities Job Fair for District Residents in July 2011, hoping to find work with one of nine District universities.

Gary Veney hasn’t had a steady job for about two years now. He takes odd jobs, such as painting or carpentry, whenever he can find them but he’s been looking for something more stable. So he recently stopped by a neighborhood nonprofit for help. He left with five copies of a typed-up resume, an email account and a plan to apply for as many jobs as possible.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get a perfect job, but anything can help in the meantime,” he said.

Veney doesn’t live in Detroit or Cleveland, places that have come to epitomize the recession, unemployment and struggling Americans. Veney lives in Washington, D.C., a prosperous city by multiple measures.

Unlike most cities, D.C.’s housing prices are rising, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index. Cranes stretch into the sky in some neighborhoods as workers erect new buildings. People from around the country continue to flock to the nation’s capital for work. And most importantly: D.C. has more jobs than residents.

Image: Carrie Moskal / WAMU

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

Yet, large sections of the city — including Ward 8, where Veney lives — are facing Depression-era unemployment rates. More than a quarter of residents in that part of town are out of work, according to the D.C. Department of Employment Services.

Job creation isn’t D.C.’s problem. The reasons for the disparity in unemployment are complex and interwoven.

DCentric will examine the causes and possible possible solutions in a series of stories starting this week: Who is unemployed? Can motivated people find jobs? What is the impact of criminal records on residents looking for work? Are immigrants making it harder for U.S.-born residents to get hired? And finally, how do college-bound D.C. youth view their communities and their futures?

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Poll: Will More Walmarts Be Good For D.C?

LeonShotMe / Flickr

Walmart plans to build two more stores in D.C., bringing the total to six, reports The Washington Post. The latest announcement includes stores in Fort Totten in Northeast and one east of the Anacostia River in Skyland.

The promise of new jobs and low prices has drawn support from D.C. officials and residents who say the new stores are a welcome boost to the local economy, particularly east of the river where unemployment is as high as 26 percent. (Two stores are planned for east of the river). Walmart’s D.C. stores will be smaller than their suburban, big box counterparts, and Walmart officials claim the six stores will generate 1,800 retail and 600 construction jobs.

But there are Walmart’s critics, who say D.C. residents don’t need more low-wage jobs. Also, the company has a murky history when it comes to fair treatment of workers. Others fear the chain’s low prices will hurt the District’s small and locally-owned businesses. Much of the anxiety over Walmart coming to town centers around the company’s refusal to sign a community benefits agreement, which would hold the company to its promises over things such as wages.

What do you think: Will Walmart be a benefit to D.C. residents? Take our poll below. You can even enter your own answer.

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Want To Create Jobs? Don’t Build New Houses

Cathy / Flickr

A slowdown of new home construction is sometimes cited as a reason behind high unemployment rates, but building a new house may not always be the best way to create jobs.

Emily Badger at The Atlantic Cities reports that redeveloping older homes actually produces more jobs than does building brand new houses:

This intuitively makes sense. Rehabilitating old buildings is more labor-intensive than new construction, since much of the cost of new construction goes literally to bricks and mortar. But we asked Heidi Garrett-Peltier, an economist with the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, for some data to back this up. She ran some estimates based on national 2009 data, the most recent numbers available. And it turns out that repairing existing residential buildings produces about 50 percent more jobs than building new ones.

It would seem that D.C. is prime for such job creation; more than half of the District’s houses were built before 1950. Plus, the D.C. wards with the most blighted and vacant properties — Wards 5, 7 and 8 — also have the city’s highest unemployment rates:

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Immigrants and D.C. Unemployment

Courtesy of Patrick Madden / WAMU 88.5

Esayas Ayele, right, getting hired by 7-Eleven representative Mark Crist at a city-sponsored One City, One Hire employment event.

D.C.’s unemployment is 11.1 percent, but it’s uneven. In some wards, it’s at 3 percent, while in others, it’s as high as 20 percent.

In response to D.C.’s unemployment divide, the District launched a campaign to boost hiring of the city’s residents. WAMU 88.5′s Patrick Madden reports from a city-sponsored hiring event for 7-Eleven on Monday, where the first hire was Esayas Ayele, a recent Ethiopian immigrant. Ayele told Mayor Vincent Gray, “I was a senior banker in my hometown with a degree in accounting. I am lucky, a very lucky guy.” As Madden reports, not everyone was happy as only 26 out of the 100 people there were hired:

Ayele feels lucky, but maybe not loved; nearby, Stephanie Taylor watches his hiring disapprovingly. She was turned down for one of the openings.

“I think this was a waste of time,” says Taylor. “If you just want to hire foreigners, you know, why would you have a jobs fair?”

Taylor’s frustration that immigrants get jobs over native born D.C. residents is nothing new; a similar sentiment is being echoed by those critical of Gray’s recent signing of an executive order that prevents police officers from questioning the immigration status of arrested individuals. Some are even going so far as to say that immigration should be curtailed or stopped until unemployment is down.