Looking For Work In Washington (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Looking for Work in Washington

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

13:21:55
Welcome back to "Metro Connection," I'm Sabri Ben-Achour in this week for Rebecca Sheir. Today, we're focusing on labor and work, why we do the jobs we do and how our jobs shape us. In a minute, we'll go inside a local barber shop where hairstylists have taken on second jobs as mentors. And we'll find out why a very old school job, that of the town crier, is hot again in one local community.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

13:22:15
But first, there is no way we can talk about work in this region without pointing out that a lot of people don’t have it. Earlier this week, hundreds of angry protestors looking for jobs swarmed around a construction site in Ward 8. District reporter, Patrick Madden was there.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

13:22:35
As Patrick went on to report, these people were upset that the St. Elizabeth's Hospital development wasn't hiring enough people from D.C. It's a big fight. The government says the developer is hiring D.C. residents, but the dispute highlights a larger problem. Here in the district, the unemployment rate is now the highest it's been since the 1980s, 10.8 percent. And in some parts of the city, it's more than double that.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

13:22:56
So to get a few answers on where our city is headed, I spoke with Benjamin Orr. He's an economist with the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program. We met next to some new developments at Minnesota Avenue and East Capitol Street Northeast in Ward 7. Can you paint a picture of Ward 7 for us from a perspective unemployment?

MR. BENJAMIN ORR

13:23:15
Sure. So Ward 7 has historically been one of the poorer wards in the city along with Ward 8 here across the Anacostia River. From the terms of employment, this has always been areas of highest unemployment, largest minority populations, lowest educational attainment. But the unemployment rate in the city, as a whole, for July of this year is 10.8 percent, which is higher than the national average, much higher than the rest of the region that we live in here.

MR. BENJAMIN ORR

13:23:50
Ward 7 is, based on some calculations I've done, at 22 percent unemployment rate, which is actually now higher than the unemployment rate in Ward 8, which is at about 20 percent. This is practically depression era levels of unemployment.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:24:09
In Ward 3, Orr says, unemployment is 4 percent.

ORR

13:24:12
That's a significant divide. That's a completely different reality for those two wards.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:24:19
This, Orr says, is despite the fact that there are more jobs than people in the district. But many of those jobs, tied in some way to the federal government, require a lot of education and are very competitive. So basically there are two cities here and the question is, how can one grow without pushing the other out?

ORR

13:24:34
We are now entering a new phase of the District's life where blacks are no longer the majority in the district. Household income is rising significantly. There is a movement into the District by more affluent households, whites or Asian or Hispanic households. And the issue is, as the district grows and changes, who's being left behind? And it's the folks in areas like we're standing in here today, near the corner of Minnesota and Benning Road, that are the ones that are being left behind.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:25:14
Hence the scene in front of St. Elizabeth's the other day. But how do you create a job? Well, where we are standing, there's a new building. It belongs to the department of employment services, appropriately enough. Orr says, building projects like this in areas like this can help some.

ORR

13:25:29
The jobs with the department of employment services in their building behind us here, those people have to go to lunch. Those people have to run errands in the middle of the day and be able to spend money in local -- here in the community, even if they don't necessarily live nearby.

ORR

13:25:43
That's going to be a particular concern in Ward 8 as the St. Elizabeth's campus is developed by the federal department of homeland security, whether or not their employees are going to be able to leave that campus and patronize local businesses, which, I think, needs to happen, but it's not clear whether or not that will.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:26:02
Orr says in the long term, the way to create a job is by doing things that take a lot longer than, say, a mayoral term to work out, improving education, making public transportation as accessible as possible, spending money on affordable housing and making sure job training programs actually train people in useful ways.

ORR

13:26:20
I think, in a lot of ways, I actually am encouraged. There is a fair amount of development, at least, planned in this area. And as the District continues to grow, hopefully that'll provide a more stable tax base to be able to support the services that are needed. I think also -- I see a lot of engagement from citizens in Ward 7 and Ward 8 around the future of their community, which is always an encouraging sign.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:26:53
And that was Ben Orr of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, talking with me outside the District's department of employment services, earlier this week.
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