“Addressing unemployment is hugely important to this administration,” said Gray, who made jobs a centerpiece of his 2010 campaign. He added: “We have a lot of work to do. It’s wonderful to have come from 11.2 [percent] to 8.5, but 8.5 is still too high.”
Gray expressed a hope that the city’s jobless rate would drop to, or even below, the national average — currently 7.7 percent — for the first time in recent memory.
Several employers appeared to praise the One City, One Hire program, which identifies and screens job seekers qualified for particular positions and passes the names on to hiring executives. The city is also paying some companies to cover training costs for D.C. resident employees.
A representative of MV Transportation, which operates the MetroAccess van system, said his company has hired 100 drivers and dispatchers to work out of a new facility in Northeast Washington. A 7-Eleven representative said at least 50 city residents have been hired to work in three new D.C. stores, with an additional 30 stores expected to open in the next three years.
Varsylvia James, a hiring manager at the city’s new Costco store in Fort Lincoln, said about 140 District residents have been hired there so far with the city’s help. Three, she said, are managers.
The city has “given us outstanding employees,” James said, who took note of a successful opening day that saw visits from Gray, Costco’s chief executive and Vice President Biden. “The pride that the employees showed that day was phenomenal.”
About 870 employers have signed up to participate in One City, One Hire, said Lisa M. Mallory, the city’s director of employment services. Among the 5,100, the city is also counting scores of residents hired by the D.C. government, but Gray said the “overwhelming majority” of hires were by private companies.
Although the city has long made efforts to help find jobs for those receiving unemployment insurance, many of those on the city rolls actually live outside the District. Mallory said the intensity of the city’s effort and the sole focus on unemployed D.C. residents is new. Where her department once placed about 2,000 unemployed residents yearly, that pace appears to have about doubled.
Most of the residents hired through the program are from wards 5, 7 and 8, which have the city’s highest jobless rates, Mallory said.
She could not offer a precise accounting of how many of the 5,100 hires were still in those jobs or still employed at all, but she said that the “retention rate is fairly higher than we normally see.”
Experts have been wary of connecting the lower city unemployment rate to government hiring programs, pointing to broader economic trends as more important. But Gray was not shy about doing so Wednesday. Falling joblessness, he said, is “a validation of the contribution this program is making.”
The city is also launching a new One City, One Hire app, which would enable job seekers to look for opportunities and employers to view qualified candidates over smartphones.
“It’s become a notable brand,” Gray said of the program. “I think if you say, ‘One City, One Hire’ across the city, many people know what we’re talking about, and we’re talking about jobs.”