DCentric » Division of Labor http://dcentric.wamu.org Race, Class, The District. Wed, 16 May 2012 20:20:35 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Copyright © WAMU Five Takeaways from ‘Division of Labor’ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/five-takeaways-from-division-of-labor/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/five-takeaways-from-division-of-labor/#comments Mon, 12 Dec 2011 20:21:38 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=12882 Continue reading ]]> 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.

http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/five-takeaways-from-division-of-labor/feed/ 0
Division of Labor: Your Take http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/division-of-labor-your-take/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/division-of-labor-your-take/#comments Fri, 09 Dec 2011 17:07:28 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=12867 Continue reading ]]>

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.

http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/division-of-labor-your-take/feed/ 0
Division of Labor: Bright Futures http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/division-of-labor-bright-futures/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/division-of-labor-bright-futures/#comments Fri, 09 Dec 2011 11:00:53 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=12817 Continue reading ]]>

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.

Most SEED students come from Wards 5, 7 and 8, areas with D.C.’s highest unemployment rates. Being from neighborhoods where there is so much joblessness “can jade [students’] perspectives on what opportunities really exist for them,” said Keven Cotton, SEED’s director of external opportunities and internships. To combat this attitude, Cotton said, students should be exposed to new experiences through internships, field trips and study abroad programs.

Anscia Brown, 17, is a senior at SEED and from Ward 7. She said her family has always expected for to go to college.

SEED students each lunch in the school's cafeteria, decorated with college paraphernalia . The school's mission is to prepare students for college.

The majority of D.C.’s available jobs require higher education. Even though it’s easier to get a job with a college degree, the recession has made it difficult for everyone to find work. The unemployment rate for college-educated blacks and Latinos is higher than it is for whites.

“I have a plan, but the way the world is going today, I don’t know if it’s still going to be effective by the time I graduate,” Brown said.

Marcus Murphy, 18, is a SEED senior who wants to become a lawyer. But Murphy, who grew up in Ward 8, has a backup plan: helping run a trash collection business his late-grandfather started. “Do I want to do that, trash? No. But it’s a job, and it’s an option,” he said.

Read More:                                   

Explaining D.C.’s Unemployment Disparities

The Gap Between Skills and Jobs

Out of Prison, Out of Work

Immigration and D.C. Unemployment


Sticking around D.C. may offer these students better job opportunities than elsewhere given the District’s job market is one of the best in the country. But many of Cotton’s students don’t see a future for themselves in D.C.

“[Students] tend to focus on graduating and leaving D.C. It’s ironic because you have so many people who flock to D.C. because of the opportunities,” Cotton said.

Violent crime is high in many of these neighborhoods. For students, that can impact “their view of what’s expected of them, or even their chances of survival,” he said. “A lot of students, they feel D.C. for youth can be dangerous. If you can get out, that’s what you do.”

Then there are students who want to leave because they want to experience something different, Cotton added.

“I’ve been here for a very long time, and I think there’s more to the world than Washington, D.C.,” Murphy said.

Brown agreed. “There’s nothing wrong with D.C. I just want to explore the world.”

This post has been updated to reflect newly-released SEED statistics.

http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/division-of-labor-bright-futures/feed/ 2
Division of Labor: Immigration and D.C. Unemployment http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/division-of-labor-immigration-and-d-c-unemployment/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/division-of-labor-immigration-and-d-c-unemployment/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2011 11:00:59 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=12444 Continue reading ]]> 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.”

The Numbers and the Jobs

Entry-level jobs and positions not requiring advanced degrees aren’t abundant in D.C. Audrey Singer of the Brookings Institution said it’s unclear whether recent immigrants have made it more difficult for native-born citizens to find low-wage work.

“It sort of depends on who you talk to,” she said. “There’s a big debate going on… I think the evidence points to the fact that [nationally] in low-wage jobs, there has been competition” between U.S. born workers and immigrants.

It’s hard to say what impact immigrants have had in D.C. Since the 1980s, communities such as Ward 8 have consistently faced nearly double the unemployment rate than that of D.C. as a whole. The number of immigrants in D.C. has increased in the past 10 years by about 11 percent with most hailing from Latin American, according to Census figures.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates there were about 25,000 undocumented immigrants in D.C. in 2009, making up 4.1 percent of the city’s population and 6.1 percent of the workforce.

What’s Race Got To Do With It?

The national debate over immigration often becomes intertwined with race. Typically anti-immigrant sentiments are depicted as coming from whites, and they’re typically targeted at Latinos. In D.C., that’s not the case. Most of D.C.’s immigrants are Latino, and most of those living in communities with very high unemployment are black.

“This is a classic example of divide and conquer” in that blacks and Latinos are pitted against one another rather than working together on issues that affect both communities, said Pedro Cruz. He is a Georgetown University graduate student running a language exchange program between Georgetown students and day laborers.

Read More:                                   

Explaining D.C.’s Unemployment Disparities

The Gap Between Skills and Jobs

Out of Prison, Out of Work

Immigration and D.C. Unemployment


Cruz also used to be a union organizer advocating for day laborers in the Home Depot parking lot. He said many of the subcontractors who would come by to hire men for work would claim “that they want to hire African Americans to do construction work, but that they can’t pass drug tests or have the liability issues. Those are the excuses I’d hear,” Cruz said.

Arturo Griffiths is a community organizer working with day laborers on behalf of DC Jobs with Justice, a coalition of pro-labor groups. He is black and from Latin America, so he hears “it from both sides.” He noted there is frustration toward immigrant workers from some African Americans. But such sentiments aren’t as widespread as in some neighboring communities, such as in Prince William County, Va., which passed a tough immigration enforcement law in 2007.

Leo Alexander, a D.C. activist who unsuccessfully ran for mayor, has been very vocal in his opposition to illegal immigration.

“Nobody wants to deal with it because they look at this black population as being undereducated, and for whatever reason just think they don’t want to work, but that’s not the case,” Alexander said. “They have worked those jobs for generations, prior to this new influx [of immigrants], and they want those jobs back. They just don’t want to do it for illegal immigrant wages.”

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

A group of African American day laborers speak with community organizer Arturo Griffiths outside of Home Depot's parking lot. Most day laborers assembled are Latino immigrants, but not all.

John Henry, 60, who has been coming to the Home Depot parking lot for about five years, doesn’t attribute his lack of a steady job to the immigrants’ presence.

“You can’t get bent out of shape and blame people,” said Henry, an African-American native Washingtonian. “That’s scapegoating.”

“The idea that immigrants are taking the jobs is very much related to who’s doing the hiring,” Singer said. Such arguments “make the immigrants sound very active in the process, and that’s not really what’s happening.”

Employer preferences toward immigrants can be the result of many factors; networks funnel immigrants into certain professions and they become redefined as “immigrant jobs.” It also may have less to do with race than one would think; nationally, Hispanic immigrants have a lower unemployment rate than U.S.-born Hispanics, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies said employers might prefer hiring immigrant workers because there’s a perception that they’d be willing to endure poor working conditions or work for less than U.S. born workers.

“Companies and individuals are looking to make money, and they’re trying to make money with low-wage workers,” Griffiths said. “[These immigrants] are people who have to do whatever to survive.”

D.C. Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Lang said most D.C. employers are fair and just “want to hire the best person for the job.” But, she added, “I will never discount that there is some stereotyping gets done.”

Hard for Everyone

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

A day laborer waits for work in the parking lot of Home Depot. A construction site looms in the background, a sign of continuing development in D.C.

Before 2009, Ben Jamen would recall days when nearly 150 men would be in the Home Depot parking lot and most would find work. The 28-year-old now comes to the site about once a month for temporary jobs, and has noticed a considerable slow down.

Matute agreed. “It was a lot different” a few years ago, he said. “Things were very good. I worked regularly.”

Coming to the Home Depot parking lot and hoping to get a job, day after day, isn’t anyone’s dream, really. Many said they come to the site because they see few alternatives.

“The Americans who don’t work, it’s because they don’t want to do this work,” Matute said. “They have papers, know English. They can go to companies and get jobs.”

Immigrant day laborers don’t always get paid for the work they complete. Wage theft is a big problem, Griffiths said, and he often finds himself trying to recoup back pay on behalf of workers.

Some workers have aspirations beyond the parking lot, such as Hernandez: the 22-year-old wants to go back to school, improve his English and become a lawyer.

“I’d like to be in college,” he said, as cars drove past him. “I don’t want to be standing here.”

http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/division-of-labor-immigration-and-d-c-unemployment/feed/ 3
Division of Labor: Out of Prison, Out of Work http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/division-of-labor-out-of-prison-out-of-work/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/division-of-labor-out-of-prison-out-of-work/#comments Wed, 07 Dec 2011 12:00:35 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=12411 Continue reading ]]> 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.”

Getting Hired with a Criminal Record

Some former inmates who get jobs are hired because individual employers want to help them. That was the case for Courtney Stewart, who was released in 1985. An ex-cop gave him a job in a restaurant, but he was still trying to overcome drug addiction and other issues, Stewart said.

“I solved my income problem, but then I had to look at all this other stuff,” he said. “Jail is like college; you learn so many bad things to do while you’re there, so you pick up a lot of bad habits. It took me some time to get all that stuff out of my system.”

Stewart eventually cleaned up and began helping other former inmates. He hires the formerly imprisoned for his cleaning business and runs the Reentry Network for Returning Citizens. He said getting a former inmate a job is part of the solution; Stewart’s organization takes a “holistic approach,” and offers mentoring and other services.

“They have a greater understanding of the value of a job.

Stewart said many of former inmates he works with spend nine months to two years searching for jobs before getting hired. The hospitality, transportation and construction industries are most likely to hire people with criminal records, according to the Court Excellence report and nonprofit organizers such as Curtin.

But a majority of D.C.’s jobs aren’t in those industries, and even getting a restaurant or construction job through formal channels can be difficult for former offenders. That’s why John Henry, a native Washingtonian with a criminal record, spends his mornings searching for temporary work alongside immigrant day laborers in the Northeast D.C. Home Depot parking lot. Getting hired for a day to put up dry wall doesn’t require a background check.

Many employers in the city have no written policy on hiring former inmates, but they should, according to the Court Excellence report.

Curtin has had positive experiences with his staff; about half are former inmates. “They have a greater understanding of the value of a job,” he said.

Can City Policy Help?

One way to tackle high unemployment among former inmates is by banning hiring bias. Ward 8 City Councilman Marion Barry is exploring reviving a past proposal to prohibit employers from asking about past convictions before a job offer has been made.

“The idea of the criminal justice system is they send you to jail for rehabilitation and punishment, and once you have served your time, it seems to me, your debt has been paid to society,” Barry told The Washington Post.

But not everyone agrees with that approach. The Court Excellence report recommends issuing certificates of good standing to former inmates who complete the terms of their incarceration. Such a certificate could be useful in job searches.

“For ex-offenders, there are some circumstances where discrimination is appropriate. You don’t want to have a convicted rapist to be the maintenance guy in an apartment building,” Mendelson said, adding that there are instances in which former inmates are good hires for businesses.

Some advocate for a more nuanced approach to hiring: For instance, employers often ask whether an applicant has been convicted of a felony without asking the nature of the crime.

“It doesn’t get into violent and non-violent,” said Peter Willner, one of the report’s authors. “[Employers] are using it as a screening mechanism.”

“There are some circumstances where discrimination is appropriate. You don’t want to have a convicted rapist to be the maintenance guy in an apartment building.”

Employers are often hesitant to hire former inmates because of the liability, D.C. Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Lang said. A business could be sued for negligent hiring if something happens involving an employee with a criminal record. If the city allowed businesses to have liability protection, that would help level playing field between those with and without criminal records, the Court Excellence report recommends.

Stewart said he understands why employers are wary about hiring people with criminal records.

“Most people don’t want to take that risk, but they don’t understand that risk,” he said. “It varies [from] individual to individual.”

The Next Generation

Finding employment for former offenders who are parents can be one way of preventing their children from falling into a life of crime. Curtin recalled the story of one of his employees who had been imprisoned for 23 years. His father had been incarcerated as well, and his mother was a drug addict.

Read More:                                   

Explaining D.C.’s Unemployment Disparities

The Gap Between Skills and Jobs

Out of Prison, Out of Work

Immigration and D.C. Unemployment


“When he was 10 he had an expectation that if, if he was alive at 21, he’d be in prison,” Curtin recalled. Now, he works for D.C. Central Kitchen and supports his family on his wages.

In Burrell’s case, many of the people he grew up around were involved with crime. People recognized him on the street because of his father.

“Growing up, I got introduced to all of the major drug dealers in the neighborhood,” he said. “That was the norm.”

Now Burrell does administrative work and teaches classes as Southeast Ministry, a Ward 8 nonprofit, where he’s creating a new kind of norm. But the path to good, steady employment hasn’t been easy.

“The only times I got employed is if they sought me out, if it was through somebody I knew [who] got me in the door,” he said. Otherwise, “I don’t see somebody just hiring me.”

http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/division-of-labor-out-of-prison-out-of-work/feed/ 4
Five Steps To Take If You’re Unemployed http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/five-steps-to-take-if-youre-unemployed-2/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/five-steps-to-take-if-youre-unemployed-2/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2011 16:00:27 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=12684 Continue reading ]]>

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:

File for unemployment and look into other available resources.

If you’re recently unemployed, first find out if you qualify for unemployment compensation. You can apply online or in person at three career centers run by the D.C. Department of Employment Services. They are located in the Northwest, Northeast and Southeast quadrants of the city.

Even if you don’t qualify for unemployment compensation, consider visiting one of the career centers. They provide career counseling, resume writing help, job placement services and more. The city has five satellite centers, in addition to the three main offices. Find more information on locations and hours here.

Assess yourself.

Before you begin hunting for jobs, conduct a self-assessment, says career counselor Melissa Fireman, CEO of Washington Career Services.

“It’s for them to really understand themselves. ‘Who am I? Why do I like to work? Where do I want to work?’ It’s just gaining clarity. If they don’t know those answers, then it’s very hard for them to present themselves,” Fireman says. Having answers to those questions will help you to identify how you’re different from other job seekers. It will also make you appear more confident.

The self-assessment process can also help you figure out where you want to be in the future. List your credentials and then look up what’s needed to qualify for your dream job using the U.S. Department of Labor’s website O*NET.

Get online.

Read More:                                   

Division of Labor

Explaining D.C.’s Unemployment Disparities

The Gap Between Skills and Jobs


These days, not having an email account can  hurt your chances of being hired. Employers are increasingly asking job candidates to apply online.

Learning how to search for jobs online is also an important step, Fireman says. Many companies are now posting job listings directly on their websites, so don’t limit yourself to just searching career websites.

If you don’t have computer access, visit a D.C. Public Library, but plan carefully, as you’re limited to 70 minutes of use at a time, depending if people are waiting. There are also numerous resources for help writing resumes and cover letters.

Network as much as possible.

Fireman recommends reaching out to 10 to 20 networking contacts a week, either online or in person. Contact old friends, former colleagues and community organizers.

Treat your job search as a job.

Develop a routine in which you’re searching for a job every day, Fireman says.

“This needs to be your main priority,” she says. “It requires as much as your health or your family.”

If you’ve been unemployed for a long time and can afford to do so, consider volunteering in a field related to the job you want, Fireman advises.

Finally, try to be positive, even though it can be difficult. “Think of it as an adventure, an opportunity,” Fireman says. “People who are hiring want to see positive, upbeat potential employees.”


http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/five-steps-to-take-if-youre-unemployed-2/feed/ 2
Division of Labor: The Gap Between Skills and Jobs http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/division-of-labor-the-gap-between-skills-and-jobs/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/division-of-labor-the-gap-between-skills-and-jobs/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2011 11:00:36 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=12389 Continue reading ]]> 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.

Credentials Are In Demand

While other parts of the country have manufacturing and other industries to rely on, D.C.’s biggest industry is the federal government. Landing a federal job often requires high levels of education.

“D.C. is a service economy. We don’t have a boatload of entry-level jobs in the District,” D.C. Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Lang said.

Number of Jobs in D.C. By Industry (Source: D.C. Department of Employment Services)

According to D.C. labor statistics, 65 percent of job openings listed online in November required a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and less than 14 percent required a minimum of a high school diploma. The professionals that are most in demand are computer programmers, registered nurses and market analysts.

The Impact of City Policy

The District has approximately 700,000 jobs and about 600,000 residents. But non-District residents fill many jobs, from senior to entry-level positions. That means D.C. loses out on income and other taxes.

The city has a First Source law requiring developers who receive public money to hire D.C. residents to fill 51 percent of new jobs. But audits have shown that contractors seldom meet the standards and rarely are punished for it. The law needs to be revamped, said City Councilman Michael Brown (At-Large), chair of the council’s Housing and Workforce Development Committee.

The updated First Source law, which is scheduled for a final vote Tuesday, includes increased reporting provisions, fines for non-compliance and a workforce representative who will connect job training graduates with employers.

Brown said he hopes the changes will make a dent in unemployment. “But keep in mind, this revamped bill is not any kind of silver bullet,” he added. “There are several other pieces to job creation that have to occur.” Those include an improved economy and better training for new industries, he said.

There’s only so much city officials can do at the moment when it comes to private businesses not receiving any public money. Mayor Vincent Gray, for instance, launched the One City One Hire initiative to encourage businesses to hire at least one unemployed D.C. resident. By the end of November, 204 employers had signed up for the program and 502 people had been hired through it.

Still, more than 36,000 D.C residents remain unemployed, making the citywide unemployment rate 11 percent.

Could Walmart Help?

One solution, Lang said, is to bring more businesses into D.C. offering jobs that don’t require college degrees. Some of the chronically unemployed “aren’t going to be the next lobbyist or IT professional or accountant. We need to come to that realization,” Lang said.

Read More:                                   

Explaining D.C.’s Unemployment Disparities

The Gap Between Skills and Jobs

Out of Prison, Out of Work

Immigration and D.C. Unemployment


The promise of jobs is one reason why Walmart’s entry into the District is so appealing to lawmakers such as Councilwoman Yvette Alexander (Ward 7).

“A lot of people are criticizing retail establishments like Walmart coming in, but that’s exactly what we need in a place like Washington, D.C., to attract those kinds of businesses to get everyone employed,” Councilwoman Alexander said.

Unions and others are protesting the discount retailer opening in D.C., taking issue with the company’s checkered past in its treatment of workers, Walmart’s impact on small businesses and the possible low wages offered.

A Walmart job may not be enough to climb out of poverty, particularly in the District where the cost of living is rising.

Marina Streznewski of DC Jobs Council said the entry-level jobs that do exist in the District “don’t pay family-sustaining wages. They’re not designed to.”

Raising a New Crop of Professionals

Raymond Bell sees a different solution. He runs the H.O.P.E. Project, a program that trains residents mostly east of the Anacostia River to become IT professionals in a series of free courses.

“There are more than enough jobs,” he said. “But most of the people who are unemployed are low-skilled, and there’s only so many low-skilled jobs.”

A number of job training programs operate in the District. D.C. has an on-the-job training initiative, and many nonprofits offer training in everything from construction to working in the hospitality industry.

Bell small program runs on volunteers and he said he provides most of the funding. It’s had some successes. One of his graduates went from working in a liquor store to getting an IT job at the Navy Yard, making $42,000 a year. Bell believes schools aren’t teaching young people skills to be good communicators and act professionally in the workplace. He said he wants to address both problems.

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

More than 100 people assembled in Ward 8 to hear Raymond Bell, right, talk about his job training program.

Young people in D.C. “are competing against kids who may come here to go to school from Middle America. And those kids don’t go home anymore. They stay here because there aren’t jobs back in those parts of the country,” Bell said. “You have kids with a degree in English from George Washington [University] going against someone with a high school diploma from Ballou [Senior High School].”

Keyana Holley, 20, attended a recent information session on Bell’s program because “it sounded like a good opportunity.” The Ward 8 resident works as a hair stylist.

“What I do now is what I want to fall back on,” she said. “I feel like I want more.”

The H.O.P.E. Project may seem helpful for people like Holley, but it’s not an option for everyone. More than 100 people attended the information session. There were only four slots open.

Preparing Kids and Adults

Aside from basic reading and writing skills, there’s a very large digital divide in the District, where people living in low-income communities lack access to high-speed Internet. Many companies direct prospective hires to apply for jobs online. Community organizers say the out-of-work people they serve often need assistance with online job applications.

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

Students take notes during an adult education class at Southeast Ministry.

One way to combat the skills gap is to focus on training individuals when they’re young and ensuring their schools are wired. But many adults still need help, said Valarie Ashley of Southeast Ministry. About 20 percent of District adults are functionally illiterate, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“It’s almost like we want to forget them or brush them aside and act like we can start fresh with children,” she said. “The slice of the world I see is one where there’s a big problem with people lacking literacy skills and numeracy skills. We’re talking about people coming in with a fifth- or sixth-grade reading level. They’re not going to get a GED quickly or easily.”

Moon knows her path to becoming a medical assistant won’t be short and will require more schooling beyond earning a GED certificate. But her children are her motivation.

“I have two kids who look up to me and watch me. I just don’t want to be sitting at home while they’re at school,” Moon said. “I just keep coming here [to class] because it’s something I want. I want my GED.”

http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/division-of-labor-the-gap-between-skills-and-jobs/feed/ 4
Division of Labor: Examining D.C.’s Unemployment Disparity http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/division-of-labor-digging-into-d-c-s-unemployment-disparities/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/division-of-labor-digging-into-d-c-s-unemployment-disparities/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2011 11:00:05 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=12326 Continue reading ]]> 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?

The Face of D.C.’s Unemployed

D.C. is divided into eight wards, and those areas with the highest concentrations of low-income and African American residents also face the highest unemployment rates. Conversely, those with the highest concentrations of wealthy and white residents have the lowest unemployment rates.

Unemployment and Racial Make-up of D.C. Wards

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, D.C. Department of Employment Services, 2002 Ward boundaries. Map created by Seth Liss, DCentric editor, and Brendan Sweeney, Kojo Nnamdi Show producer.

Many of those struggling with unemployment lack higher education or even high school diplomas. Incarceration is another significant factor. About 60,000 D.C. residents – 10 percent of the city’s population — have criminal records. A recent Council for Court Excellence study suggests about half of D.C.’s ex-offenders may be unemployed.

Community Effects of High Unemployment

Large-scale joblessness affects everyone in the community, not just the unemployed and their families. Businesses are less likely to open in areas where people don’t have as much disposable income. Social service agencies spend more public money to support the unemployed. Young people have fewer working adults to look to for success stories.

D.C. Councilwoman Yvette Alexander represents Ward 7, where unemployment was about 18 percent in September. She said the community feels the high unemployment rate in a number of ways, from poverty to “socioeconomic-based crime” such as shoplifting and small-time drug dealing. That can create a cycle of crime.

Tim Sloan / Getty Images

A mural celebrating "One City" east of the Anacostia River, where unemployment and violent crime is high. Nearby is police tape from a crime scene.

Veney sees the effects of unemployment in his community, too. Ward 8, where unemployment is about 26 percent, leads the city in violent crimes, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.

I see a lot of crime going on. It’s a lot of bad things,” he said. “My main concern, my fear, is for the kids because they don’t deserve a lot of the things going on.”

LIFT-DC, the nonprofit Veney visited on a recent afternoon for job search help, has a branch in Ward 8. The organization helps connect people to jobs, affordable housing and financial assistance.

“What I see in Ward 8 is a very resilient community, a very hopeful community,” LIFT-DC Executive Director Raël Nelson James said. “But it’s a community that is often ignored.”

“What I see in Ward 8 is a very resilient community, a very hopeful community. But it’s a community that is often ignored.”

The fact that other parts of D.C. have been somewhat buffered from the downturn can exacerbate the problem. Sometimes “people feel discouraged and angry” when they see economic success in neighboring communities but not for themselves, said Valarie Ashley of Southeast Ministry, another nonprofit in Ward 8 that offers adult education and job training. “It’s one of the things, frankly in our classes, that we have to help people manage because they can get so hung up in their anger.”

Ashley said that more people are coming to her organization for help in recent months. Joblessness isn’t a new problem for many of these neighborhoods, and some people have had to deal with poverty in their families for generations. But the recession has made matters worse.

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

Residents read over information from the D.C. Department of Employment Services during a Ward 8 jobs town hall. More than 100 people attended.

“Communities that typically struggle, if you look at recession times, they struggle even worse,” said Dan Brannen, executive director of Covenant House, a D.C. nonprofit serving homeless and at-risk youth. “Things get harder because competition gets harder. When employers aren’t hiring, that’s the double whammy.”

Such dim prospects and chronic unemployment in Veney’s community hasn’t put a damper on his job search: “I think it’s going to be real great for me. I can’t speak for every one and every person, but I can speak for myself.”

Read all “Division of Labor” stories here.

http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/12/division-of-labor-digging-into-d-c-s-unemployment-disparities/feed/ 3