Who You Know: The Impact Of Networking On Unemployment | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Who You Know: The Impact Of Networking On Unemployment

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At a bus-stop in Anacostia in Southeast Washington, a group of job seekers trudges home after a long day -- the frustration etched on their faces. Some say jobs in D.C. are plentiful, but that doesn't mean they're accessible here.

One woman, wearing a blouse and skirt, appears to be dressed for work. But she shakes her head as she walks down the street.

"I'm dealing with the situation now that if you don't know someone at that company, it's hard to ever get into that company and ever get the opportunity to get to work with that company," she says.

As she walks by a boarded-up storefront, the woman says she's unemployed and has been job searching for months. She won't give her name, in fear of jeopardizing her chances of finding a job.

But she says these days, it's hard to even get a foot in the door for an interview.

"Now it's all about knowing someone that knows someone to even get a job," she says.

Just up the street, a man stands on a cracked sidewalk, complaining to a friend. He's been looking for a job for five months. He won't give his name either because he says he doesn't want to hurt his chances for a job.

But he laughs when asked about what some call a "large number" of jobs available in the D.C. area.

"Where they at? I mean that's what it seems like to me -- it's all about who you know to get in," he says.

Experts say the main problem is that many D.C. residents simply don't have the skills for the types of white-collar jobs available in the region.

But that's not the only contributing factor.

What is harder to quantify is the impact of connections on the job search in the D.C. region.

And that's a major complaint of many residents in Anacostia.

Though there is not much statistical data on the topic, Professor James Bennett at George Mason University says it's an aspect that should not be ignored.

"For one thing, people don't want to publicize this kind of information," he says.

Bennett says it's common sense that networking is the key to many jobs in DC including those in government, nonprofits, and especially politics.

But he says the end result is that many people -- qualified or not -- wind up wasting valuable time applying for open positions that have already been filled.

"All these people have job searches but half the time that's show and tell, the real candidate has been picked out long ago," he says, "but you have to go through the motions of government regulations, all this stuff's been going for a hundred years."

Especially in politics, where young adults can take unpaid internships which lead to good jobs while parents help them make ends meet. It's part of a larger network that some say excludes the less fortunate.

"They're the people at the top, the people that will get the jobs, course it goes on, it will always go on, and it's always the poor that get ripped off," he says.

One thing that exacerbates the problem is that D.C. residents are often forced to compete against a highly-qualified national pool of applicants, says Professor Bob Barnow, economist at George Washington University.

"People who live here and live in a poor area don't really have an advantage over someone who lives in a far away city in terms of getting a job," he says.

Barnow says it's a disparity that's rooted in the history of the city.

"I do think we have a long tradition of people coming from other areas to work in Washington and many of them like it very much so they stay," he says.

Barnow says it's part of an entrenched notion across the country -- D.C. is a transient city, and, for years, it's been an accepted and encouraged trend for people to leave their home states and come work in the nation's capitol for any number of jobs.

In fact, many view the diversity of the work force in D.C. as a trade-mark of the nation's capitol -- it's part of what makes the city great. But one of its greatest selling points could also be a major factor lurking behind the District's high unemployment rate especially in Wards 7 and 8 -- places that have historically been at a disadvantage when it comes to employment and social networking.

"Those are poor wards, they're isolated, and there's little doubt in my mind that there is racial discrimination," Barnow says.

And Barnow says it's not easy to overcome factors that have been in place for almost 200 years.

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