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Despite the District’s robust economic progress this decade, black residents and those who lack a college degree haven’t benefited as much as their white and more-educated peers have, according to a study published today by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.
Additionally, the city’s overall unemployment rate of 6.4 percent as of 2016 remains higher than before the recession in 2007 when it was 5.6 percent. While last year’s rate is down from over 9 percent in 2010, DCFPI says this suggests that residents have not fully recovered from the economic downturn. And because unemployment among white and Hispanic residents is lower now than it was in 2007—at 1.7 and 3.5 percent, in turn—the chasm between those groups and black residents has only grown since the recession.
“For me, what’s problematic is that other racial and ethnic groups appear to have bounced back, and black people have not really recovered,” says DCFPI’s Linnea Lassiter, who authored the report. “It’s a symptom of a larger systemic problem based on race.”
Lassiter’s research also indicates that educational attainment in itself doesn’t explain employment outcomes. Even among the city’s black residents who have bachelor’s degrees, the joblessness rate was three times higher than that of their white peers: 5.7 percent versus 1.9 percent. Moreover, D.C.’s black college graduates were more likely to be unemployed in 2016 than before the recession.
DCFPI relied on data from the Current Population Survey, a U.S. Census Bureau product, to conduct the study. One finding it had is that across racial groups, long-term unemployment—not having a job for 27 weeks or longer—has become more common since the recession. As of 2016, 42 percent of District residents who lost their jobs became long-term unemployed, up from 18 percent in 2007. Lassiter calls this trend “concerning.” Studies show the longer someone is jobless, the more likely their family will be impoverished.
Why these disparities? As D.C.’s economy has boomed, the city has attracted high-skilled, single college grads, and there are fewer employment options for the non-college-educated. The gaps map onto the District’s wards too. Lassiter says that although the rate of unemployment has decreased east of the river since 2014, it has not dropped as quickly as the rate in D.C.’s western wards. One factor could be that gentrification and development are driving longtime residents to farther-flung areas in Northeast and Southeast.
“The types of industries growing in this economy are industries where black people are typically underrepresented,” Lassiter notes. “Part of that is unequal access to quality education, and part of that is employer discrimination based on race, among other things.”
Given these trends, DCFPI advocates for more District funding of job training, adult education, and transportation subsidies for low-income people. Another policy is paid family leave, which would ease the burden of caring for kids and relatives, the group says.