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D.C.'s Jobless Rate Masks Poverty Problems

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By Rebecca Sheir

Washington's latest unemployment figures are expected to come out today. Analysts say as the economy recovers from recession, employment could be looking up for D.C. as a whole.

But that isn't necessarily the case for all parts of the District.

Mitch Halaby, an executive recruiter in Washington, says he expects the new numbers to show D.C.s jobless rate has dropped below April's 11 percent, because the government-contract industry is booming.

"But we're also starting to see a lot of the organizations that withheld hiring when the recession began are starting to hire, like the nonprofits," he says. "That's very good news."

But not good news for everyone. That 11 percent rate masks how bad things are in some parts of the city.

"In poorer parts of town, particularly Ward 8, even before the recession, unemployment was at incredibly high levels," says Ed Lazere, with the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, which studies issues affecting low-income residents. "And it's still at a very high level, with probably more than one out of four people who are looking for work not able to find a job."

Lazere says that's because these people don't necessarily have the skills they need.

"We can't expect that simply having a recovering economy is going to do enough to help people in the poorest parts of town get included in the economy," he contends. "We really need to invest more in training and education to make sure they can take the jobs that we're creating here."

But even then, Lazere says, more needs to be done to improve pay and benefits. He says for every five jobs in the city, one doesn't pay enough to lift a family of four above the poverty line.

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