The Greater Washington Board of Trade yesterday released a series of recommendations for reducing unemployment in the area, including calls to increase accessibility to jobs, reduce hiring discrimination and establish new programs for putting people to work.
A task force assembled by the Board of Trade and made up of business executives and officials of groups concerned about unemployment made a general call for greater cooperation between local jurisdictions and between the public and private sectors to find jobs for area residents.
The seven-page report by the task force is based on no new basic research but draws on efforts of other organizations that have studied the unemployment problem. The issue has drawn increased attention in recent months as a result of reports of a labor shortage in the suburbs, particularly Fairfax County, at the same time that the jobless rate remains high in the District. In April, the last month for which figures are available, unemployment in the District was 8 percent.
Earlier this month, Mayor Marion Barry announced a plan to solve this problem by training city residents for suburban jobs and providing transportation to employment sites in the outlying counties, among other proposals.
The Board of Trade task force focused on some of the same issues. Mass transportation from residential areas of high unemployment to new areas of employment concentration "is often circuitous, costly, time-consuming and infrequent," the report stated.
To combat the problem, the report urged readjustments of public transportation routes, rates and schedules to better link these areas, as well as cooperative efforts between government and businesses to provide incentives to mass transportation users in areas of high unemployment.
In another controversial area, the task force urged the private sector to intensify efforts to assure equal opportunity in job hiring, although it did not fully endorse recent findings showing that racial discrimination has prevented many blacks from obtaining jobs in professional areas.
While the report acknowledged allegations that skilled and well-educated minority job applicants sometimes encounter difficulty in job-hunting because of lingering discrimination, the Board of Trade report also noted that employers respond that "sometimes perceived or actual inability or unwillingness to perform are the reason those with credentials are not hired, or do not succeed."
George Grier, coauthor of a recent study on employment in the area, said that such a finding was puzzling, given the large numbers of black males with college and advanced degrees who cannot obtain jobs in the area. "If that's a problem that employers can document, I'd really like to see the evidence," he said, asserting that this contradicted his own findings.
Susan Pepper, spokeswoman for the Board of Trade, said that there was not enough "hard-core data" to support the allegation of discrimination and that the board would like to expand research on the subject.
The task force, headed by Washington lawyer Thompson Powers, also found that the area has too few and inadequate job-training programs in areas of high unemployment and that some jurisdictions devote too few resources to attracting labor-intensive enterprises.
The director of the District's Department of Employment Services, Matthew Shannon, said the report underscores what government officials have known for a long time, but that it adds weight to efforts to curb unemployment. "We would hope that the employer community would listen to their own voices," he said.