The District’s rate of unemployment for the month of October was 11.9 percent, an increase of 0.9 percent from the previous month, according to a press release from the D.C. Department of Employment Services. D.C. officials report that they are actively working toward ensuring more employment opportunities in the District.
The statistics from October indicate signs of recovery as the number of jobs increased by 10,200 in October, according to a press release from the D.C. Department of Employment Services.
According to Harry Holzer, a labor economist and public policy professor at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute who served as chief economist for the U.S. Department of Labor under President Clinton, there are a number of reasons the unemployment rate in D.C. is particularly high in relation to the rest of the nation, which saw a drop from 10.2 to 10 percent unemployment in November. For example, the percentages of minorities, people of low socioeconomic status and less educated people are greater, and many jobs in the District are government-based, creating both a stable job market and a reduction in the number of blue-collar jobs available in the District as compared to other metropolitan areas.
“The District is actually creating jobs while unemployment goes up. Councilmember [Kwame] Brown [chairperson of the Committee on Economic Development] has been fighting for years to create comprehensive vocational education in the District to give adult residents the skills they need to compete in the job market,” Michael Price, press secretary to Councilmember Brown, said. “He authored the legislation [that] revitalized Phelps Vocational High School and legislation this year to create a $1.1 million adults’ jobs training program.”
The D.C. Council has mandated that jobs created due to stimulus funding be posted on the Department of Employment Services Web site. Other programs being implemented by the D.C. Council include the creation of more jobs in the energy sector, and requiring that the Department of Small and Local Business Development provides stabilization services to small businesses.
Although the District is taking proactive measures, these actions are insufficient without increased support from the federal government, Holzer said.
“The White House summit yielded a decent discussion. It presented a range of options. The administration is not doing all it can right now. Home weatherization is not enough. We need a real public jobs program that is targeted at the low-income population,” Holzer said. “The stimulus package needs to be bigger, and less needs to be for tax cuts, more needs to be for direct spending. The stimulus isn’t targeted enough on job creation.”
Holzer underscored that the federal administration is currently aiming to create 3 million jobs, but also expressed the need for the federal government to give more grants directly to state and local governments. Price agreed with this assessment, adding that more federal aid is needed for the District government to realize its goals.
“The District could always use more federal aid. One way that the District can increase its federal aid is by directing agencies to more proactively apply for federal grants and by more effectively connecting local businesses with federal programs,” Price said.
Holzer maintained that the federal government must do more to support job creation, despite the positive steps taken at the job creation summit.
“Unemployment will be high for a long time. Recovery is going on. There needs to be more job creation in 2010 and a stronger safety net. Direct relief would prevent layoffs. It is OK to create deficits in a recession – even when the economy recovers, these will still exist,” Holzer said.
According to Holzer, the decrease in the national unemployment rate is not indicative of a marked change.
“I think you cannot put too much weight on one month,” Holzer said. “I am less impressed by the monthly change, as people are leaving the labor force. It is more important to look at the percentage of the population who is unemployed. The labor market has not necessarily gotten better, people just stopped looking.”