DCentric Examines Washington D.C.’s Unemployment Disparity

BY Saskia de Melker  December 6, 2011 at 6:36 PM EDT


Job seekers flock to speak to a university representative during a job fair in Washington, D.C.; Photo by Karen Bleier /Getty Images

Washington D.C. is a city that is prospering. Unlike many cities across the country, housing prices are on the rise and it is in the unique position of having more jobs than residents. The nation’s capital, many say, seems to be recession proof.

But there is also a great divide in the District. While professionals (many of whom commute from surrounding states) flock to the city for career opportunities, there are many parts of the city where unemployment is as high as 26 percent.

The DCentric blog, part of the ARGO Network and a product of WAMU Radio, is exploring the interaction between issues of race and class within the federal city. This week, DCentric takes a look at what’s behind the unemployment disparity with a special online series titled Division of Labor.

Hari Sreenivasan recently checked in with lead reporter Elahe Izadi to find out why D.C.’s economy has behind so many Washingtonians and what some are doing to close the unemployment gap.

There are a number of challenges that D.C. residents face in finding work. One major reason is a mismatch between the kinds of jobs and industries offered in D.C. and the credentials that people in communities with high unemployment have, Izadi said.

“For instance,” Izadi explains, the “federal government is about 30 percent of the industry in D.C. and a lot of those jobs require varying degrees of higher education, security clearance in some instances, and yet in Ward 8, about 20 percent of people don’t have a high school diploma.”

Another reason for the disparity is the incarceration rate. One in 10 D.C. residents has a criminal record, making it difficult to find employers willing to hire them. Another issue explored in Izadi’s reporting is a perception among some African-Americans that they are competing for jobs against local day laborers, many of whom are Latino.

The series also looks at initiatives to close the unemployment gap by, for example, offering job training and incentives to employers to hire D.C. residents.

The Division of Labor series runs through Saturday on WAMU’s DCentric blog.