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D.C. Slow To Reduce Its Ranks Of Jobless

To some longtime neighborhood residents, that is the result of being ignored by the kind of businesses that would create jobs. Plans have been made to turn Camp Simms, an abandoned National Guard camp, now a derelict slice of land surrounded by barbed wire, into a complex with a Giant Food and other retail stores. Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. first promised such improvements in 1984 but Camp Simms is still empty.

There is little other commercial development in the area, so almost anyone in Shipley Terrace who wants a job must go downtown or to the suburbs.

Map Percentage of residents unemployed in 2000
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Metro Business: Coverage of Washington area businesses and the local economy.
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"The jobs that people are qualified for we don't have here anymore," said R. Calvin Lockridge, a longtime Ward 8 resident and neighborhood commissioner. "The food-worker jobs in the schools, the custodians, all those jobs are gone. You've got to go somewhere else to find any job at all."

Before getting her job as a security guard, Shaw was hardly idle. She supported herself watching her sister's young children and also spent time helping her single mother, who worked before she got sick. Her mother pushed the girls to excel and her sister had the determination and smarts to complete law school at the University of the District of Columbia.

At a class she took from Goodwill Industries, meant to help people enter the workforce, she learned how to use a computer and a few other specific skills. But the overwhelming emphasis was on the basics of holding down a job. Instructors stressed over and over again the importance of showing up on time, calling in if sick and showing enthusiasm.

At 7:41 a.m. as she sat on the Metro car on her first day of work, Shaw checked her watch -- there was no way she was going to be late and so she had allowed plenty of time before her 9 o'clock start time.

The biggest hurdle she faced entering the job market, Shaw said, was one of confidence. Once a couple of years ago, she applied for a different security guard job. She got the job. But when the company said she had to come in and take a one-day training course, at the end of which would be a test, she never showed up. Tests scared her.

"I just didn't think I could do it," she said.

Her experience reflects a more widespread problem in the District, people who work with the unemployed said. Shaw said her confidence began improving in high school when she briefly attended public school in Prince George's County. She had never been a very good reader, and there she was paired with tutors and pushed to sit down with other students and teachers regularly to read together. When she moved back to the District for her senior year, she did not get that kind of tutoring, she said.

"P.G. County has made a concerted effort to put people to work and train them to do something," Lockridge said. "We haven't made the commitment to do anything about this side of town."

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