Eye on Unemployment: Washington, D.C.

The highest-earning incomes average over $450,000. In contrast, the poorest D.C. households average less than $10,000. Employment gaps are similar.

Posted: 03/09/2012 06:08 PM EST

Washington, D.C. is one of the highest-earning cities in the nation. With the sight of senators, top lawyers and ambitious lobbyists, it may come as no surprise that the richest 5 percent of District households have an average income of $473,000, the highest among the 50 largest cities in the United States.

 

On the other side of the tracks, however, life isn’t so sunny. The poorest D.C. households, by contrast, have an average income of $9,100, making the gap between high- and low-income households in the District the third-highest among the 50 largest cities, according to a study released Thursday by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.

 

“Washington, D.C. is really a tale of two cities,” D.C. native Christine Hart-Wright tells BET.com. “On one side, we have people working and less than 4 percent unemployment, but in some communities with a high concentration of African-Americans, we have unemployment as high as 22 percent.”

 

The February national unemployment report released today shows the African-American unemployment rate remains perilously high at 14.1 percent, up from 13.6 percent in January, with the overall unemployment rate holding on at 8.3 percent.  

 

The gap between income levels in Washington, D.C. is a fact Hart-Wright did not need a study to prove. As the executive director of Strive D.C., a nonprofit helping to get the unemployed back to work, she services communities where income is low, and areas such as Ward 8, where more than one in four workers is unemployed. Ninety-nine percent of Strive D.C. participants are African-American.

 

The number of participants who travel to receive job assistance are staggering, but that hasn’t stopped the mission of the organization, which was started in 1999. Hart-Wright says she “wants to help people overcome their barriers” and receive employment. “There are still jobs in this area,” she says.

 

In an effort to tackle Black unemployment that stands at 20.3 percent in D.C., while white employment is 3.3 percent, Strive D.C. recruiters frequent barbershops, community fairs, schools and even parole and probation offices.

 

If someone never finished high school, they offer a fast-track GED program called Strive for Success to get people the education basics down to obtain a job. If someone needs a suit to wear to an interview, the organization’s Career Gear program provides appropriate clothing to more than 800 underserved job-seeking men in Washington, D.C. each year. Their job readiness program sets Strive D.C. apart during these post-recession hard times.

 

In 10 cycles each year, partakers start the program with a 3-week job readiness course. They receive career coaching and counseling to sort through their interests and skills, build their resume and receive interview skill help. The organization’s job recruiter then works with local and surrounding areas to help participants receive the opportunity for an interview. For the next two years, Strive D.C. offers career stability guidance and checks up on the participants to make sure they are still employed, and if not, why.

 

To date, about 60 to 70 of Strive D.C. graduates received employment while in the program or shortly thereafter. Seventy-five percent are still working two years later, according to their data.

 

It takes 39 weeks for a person who is actively pursuing a job to get employment, according to the Department of Labor. Most people get discouraged before 39 weeks, the equivalent of more than half  a year, Hart-Wright says.

 

If you are ready to start making a living and remove yourself from the no income category, however, she says to ask yourself one question: Are you willing to commit 40 hours a week, every week, to get a job?

 

Strive D.C.'s next job readiness cycle begins March 16.

 

For more information on Strive D.C. visit here.

 

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