IN A MAY 28 editorial we presented statistics that illustrated the degree of estrangement of D.C. residents from the D.C. job market. The data, drawn from a report prepared by the D.C. Department of Employment Services, showed that city residents fill less than a third of the city's 672,400 jobs; that during a period of growth in jobs, unemployment among city residents actually increased; that there is a serious mismatch between skill demands in the workplace and the job readiness of many District residents; and that joblessness in the city is heavily concentrated in communities where crime, the unskilled and many youth come together. We asked if the city had an answer. We report this week that it does. Now the question is whether the city's answer is enough or if it is really what is needed.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams's response comes in the form of the Way to Work Amendment Act of 2005, a $20.4 million program designed to increase job opportunities for residents seeking work. The program would provide year-round educational and job readiness training for "hard-to-serve youth," especially those needing academic help and on-the-job training. It would also concentrate on the chronically unemployed and hard-to-serve adult residents, including seniors and ex-offenders living in "hot spots" and areas of high joblessness. The Department of Employment Services would administer these programs funded by city revenue and by $24 million in new fees and assessments levied on D.C. businesses. In addition, the Williams administration would require specific wage levels, or a so-called living wage, for employees of D.C. contractors and subcontractors. At the heart of the administration's proposal is the belief that D.C. businesses have been receiving enrichment from the city and its government; that without businesses being required to provide money and job opportunities for city residents, D.C. unemployment will continue to grow; and that the Department of Employment Services is the city agency to prepare residents for training and job opportunities and to administer the new multimillion-dollar program.
Is the Williams administration on solid ground? We don't believe it is. The growth the District is experiencing is the result of business investment, without which the city would not have places such as MCI Center and new restaurants, shops and hotels producing tax revenue. What's more, the goal of connecting District residents with available jobs cannot be achieved through mandates when the potential workers do not have the job readiness or interpersonal skills that make a fit possible. In addition, it is not at all clear that the Department of Employment Services has the ability, capacity or track record to satisfactorily address workplace development issues such as the lack of skills, literacy and other aspects of job readiness. Breaking down barriers to well-paid jobs and preparing District residents for jobs are and should be overarching goals of city leaders. But the Williams administration's "Way to Work" legislation, scheduled for a public hearing before the D.C. Council on Friday, is neither the only nor the most productive approach to the unemployment problem in the District.
We will take up the issue of alternative approaches next week.