MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We move now from leaving a job to finding a new one or trying to, anyway. The District's unemployment rate is about 9.6 percent. That's the latest from the Department of Labor Statistics, but as Courtney Collins tells us, those figures don't necessarily tell the whole story when it comes to the city's neighborhoods.
MS. COURTNEY COLLINS
Wilfredo Martinez stands quietly outside his house on Eclogue Street in Ward 1, just north of downtown D.C. Of all the District's wards, his has the lowest rate of unemployment, but Martinez is having a terrible time finding work. He was forced to leave his job due to an injury and in the weeks since, it's been the same thing over and over again.
MR. WILFREDO MARTINEZ
Because I've been looking for a job and have put in applications in different places and I haven't been called. There's a lot of people don't have no job.
Martinez would love to find work as a painter. Frankly, he'd jump at anything that doesn't require very heavy lifting. But he says with so many people out of work, you're just a face in the crowd unless you have an in.
They place -- in the empty space that they have, they place their friends, you know what I mean? Oh, you need two people? Oh, I got two friends. They don't have no job right now. I will bring them tomorrow. So you come in with them and fill application for nothing because they aren't going to call you. They already have somebody.
Only one block away, the city's Department of Employment Services or DOES, has a huge hi-tech van idling at Banneker Field, just waiting to help job seekers like Martinez. Inside, it's got a dozen city computers you can use to search for jobs. While some people do come by to get a little information, the one-stop mobile center is mostly empty. Acting director of DOES, Lisa Mallory, says people may not know it, but there are a lot of opportunities in the city.
MS. LISA MALLORY
We do have over 700,000 jobs in the District of Columbia.
Mallory says those jobs aren't just federal positions. With employers like Wal-Mart coming to town, the retail sector is growing. Mallory also highlights the development that has sprung up around Nationals Park and the plethora of restaurants along the H Street corridor and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Private sector businesses with the community-based organizations, with the hospitals and the universities because we have many of those here as well.
With so many jobs across so many sectors, it might seem things are looking up for District job seekers. Unfortunately, the story isn't that straightforward.
The unemployment rate within the District of Columbia will range anywhere from 2.4 percent, which is Ward 1, to 24 percent or the latest number, 23.6. it's gone a little bit more a day, so we have a huge disparity amongst the wards.
Mallory says the frustration Martinez feels is not uncommon in the District. She says many people coming into DOES are chronically out of work and no longer legible for unemployment benefits and in a city with so many qualified applicants, she says competition for jobs in all sectors has increased.
From the pool, you can see people coming through our doors that have a challenge, have not received their GED to individuals that may have a master's degree or multiple master's degrees and a Ph.D., but all of them are struggling.
And the basic skills needed to get even an entry-level job are different than they used to be.
The level of literacy required for a good, sustaining, well-paying jobs is getting higher and higher. It used to be the 6th grade level. I was told by our partners at the Community College of the District of Columbia that it can actually be 9th or 11th grade literacy requirements right now and we have individuals at the 3rd grade level.
And that fact may be why many people such as Howard University student, Keisha Myrick, feel that many D.C. jobs just aren't obtainable, even if there are a lot of them being advertised.
MS. KEISHA MYRICK
They don't say that certain jobs you won't be able to get. They just say, there's a lot of jobs out there in D.C. because it's the city and people, they're, like, since it's the city, then of course, there would be jobs. But that's not really the case.
DOES is determined to turn that perception around. Mallory says the agency can help people with job-hunting, mock interviews and basic math and literacy courses. Staffers want discouraged job seekers to know the hand of employment support is outstretched. And while there's no guarantee everything will work perfectly for everyone, they say the first step is simply reaching back. I'm Courtney Collins.
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