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Around the same time that people were lining up around the block at Union Temple Baptist Church for Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry‘s turkey giveaway, Mayor Vince Gray‘s office sent out a news releasing boasting that the District’s unemployment rate has dropped to 8.5 percent, the lowest it’s been since January 2009.
Gray ran for mayor in 2010 on a jobs platform, so even though the sliding unemployment rate is due in large part to forces beyond Hizzonner’s direct control, he’s probably entitled to a quick victory lap.
“I’m proud that our efforts to put District residents back to work continue to pay off,” Gray said in a news release, before using the unemployment data as a chance to chide the D.C. Council for not approving his tech startup tax break. “It’s more important than ever for the Council to pass the final part of the Technology Sector Enhancement Act and ensure that we can compete with our neighbors to retain and grow our burgeoning tech industry.”
The city’s unemployment rate has been dropping steadily since August 2011, when it was at 10.5 percent. The city’s insanely fast growth rate can probably take credit for much of that decline, as it appears that many of the city’s newcomers are employed. Take this month’s .2 percent drop in the unemployment rate. That drop is almost entirely due to the city’s labor force growing by 3,089 people in a single month. Meanwhile, the number of unemployed barely shifted, from 30,908 to 30,770.
Since August 2011, D.C.’s labor force has grown by 18,000, bringing it to 360,000. That’s the biggest it’s been in at least 35 years. Meanwhile, the number of unemployed residents has dropped by 5,060.
The growth of the city’s labor force hasn’t been spread evenly throughout the city, though. Barry’s Ward 8 saw its labor force grow by 667 in the last year. Compare that to the ritzy Ward 3, which saw its labor force grow by 3,576. Unemployment rates have fallen in each of the city’s wards in the last year, but they are still north of 20 percent in Ward 8 and nearly 15 percent in neighboring Ward 7.
Gray’s well aware of the unemployment problems east of the Anacostia River, and noted in his news release that there’s still plenty of work left to be done. But that’s not enough for Barry, who said it was “insulting” for the mayor to tout the city’s new unemployment rate when there is still so much need in Ward 8.
“You tell that to the people out there in that line,” Barry told LL while passing out turkeys. “I told Mayor Gray that: Don’t you use those numbers.”
“He ought to be crying like I’m crying about it and raising hell about it and trying do something about it,” Barry added.
Moments earlier he’d been telling LL about the motivation behind his annual turkey giveaway: “I’m a Christian. I’m taught that Jesus and God want us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, counsel those who are in prison, and that’s what I’m doing.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery