THE DIVISION between the well-to-do and the poor in Washington is going to become even more apparent in the future, according to a report on the area's economy issued by the Greater Washington Research Center. The report, written by Prof. Edwin T. Haefele of the University of Pennsylvania, says that white-collar jobs in the city are on the rise and will continue to be as the size of the government and the number of law firms, trade associations and lobbying groups continues to grow. The down side of this encouraging picture is that there may be no comparable growth in jobs for blue-collar workers. In fact, Prof. Haefele says the city will lose blue-collar and lower-level white-collar jobs. There may even be a downturn in the number of small professional firms, he suggests, as office space in the city is occupied by larger, wealthier firms.
The report predicts that the job market for teenagers will also be drastically reduced, that there will be a shortage of entry-level jobs and summer jobs, the kind of positions that could lead a young person to something better in the company after high school or college. Even for graduates, the prospects are that there will be a premium on entry-level spots. Such a job shortage could mean that the 50 percent unemployment rate for black teen-agers would continue to climb. Black adults, too, would be hard hit, since most of the unskilled workers in the area are black.
This forecast for the city's economy is a recipe for social and political trouble. If the metropolitan area becomes a magnet for the elite, highly paid thinkers, professionals and politicians, then the poor would attract smaller and smaller shares of attention from local governments. No jurisdiction in the area, especially the District, is likely to be that eager or able to afford -- either financially or politically -- growing welfare rolls or burgeoning housing projects. Already, the voters' message is to cut government budgets. But if a dying blue-collar economy is in the offing, there will be additional strains on local politicians as the poor ask for more and others demand less government spending. And while a faltering economy may be colorblind, a shortage of unskilled jobs, affecting more blacks than whites, could create racial tensions as well as class conflicts.
Two ways out of this problem readily present themselves. Local governments can either encourage the poor and the unskilled to leave the area or they can try to attract new blue-collar industries. Prof. Haefele suggests that the federal government be asked to do more by creating entry-level jobs for unskilled workers, and that local school systems coordinate their curriculums with private industry to train young people for specific jobs available in the area. He also recommends that the Washington-Baltimore corridor be vigorously sold to industries as a prime place to locate.
But inadequate transporation and high gas prices still may cause difficulties for the unskilled worker who lives in the city. Metro's subway system will be important in this regard. Still, a concentrated search for other answers to the social and political problems involved is in order now -- before the consequences of these shifting work and living patterns become too costly and complicated to be dealt with effectively.