Mayor Marion Barry's year-old regional employment program has placed more than 2,000 District of Columbia residents in suburban jobs.
So far, 7,034 prospective workers have been referred to suburban employers as a result of meetings with industry groups, special arrangements between D.C. and Virginia employment services, and a center to help people arrange transportation to suburban jobs. A total of 2,271 District residents have received jobs, according to the city's Department of Employment Services.
District officials said that, at the request of employers, they referred several job applicants for each position. The officials said they had no data as to how many of the workers are still employed.
The city has spent more than $30,000 to transport job applicants to suburban interviews and to help new workers pay their first few weeks of subway and bus fares, said Alease Taylor, who manages the regional jobs program for the Department of Employment Services.
But the pool of likely city recruits for suburban jobs is shrinking. The unemployment rate in the District has dropped from 8.4 percent at the time of the program's inception to 6.5 percent in April, the lowest in 12 years and a rate that many economists consider to be virtually full employment for a big city. Those without jobs are the hard-core unemployed who are unlikely to join the work force, experts said.
Although Fairfax County has more available jobs, District officials said that more extensive public transportation has made Montgomery County more attractive to job seekers. Most of the jobs filled under the mayor's program -- 1,444 -- were in Montgomery County, while the other 827 jobs were in Northern Virginia, which experts estimate has at least 12,000 unfilled jobs.
Carolyn Jones, associate director of the D.C. job services office, said she expects the number of District residents accepting jobs in Virginia to increase now that Metro's Orange Line has been extended to Vienna.
John F. Herrity, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said he is pleased with Barry's program. "We have jobs that were going begging that are being filled," he said.
Of the 85 people who work for Joy Cheeseman, the operations manager for TeleCheck Mid-Atlantic in Chevy Chase, 90 percent are District residents, drawn from public job agencies. "These people, for the job that they do and the pressure that they are under, they're great," Cheeseman said of the workers she has hired.
The Kauffman Group, a Northern Virginia construction firm that employs 50 workers who commute daily from Pennsylvania, is making a special effort to recruit more people from the District.
In an effort to make suburban jobs more accessible to District residents, Kauffman pays $350 a month in van lease fees and gas to help transport 12 District residents to the company's central construction site in Fairfax County. In about a month, the company plans to provide the down payment for one of those workers to purchase a van and take over the transportation service.
Other suburban employers said they have had trouble finding skilled workers in Washington.
"There's lots of good young men down in the District," said Al Bachman, president of Johnny B. Quick contractors in Hyattsville. "But without training, I can't use them."
Thierry Noyelle, senior research scholar in manpower economics at Columbia University, said urban economies have become increasingly skill-oriented. He said that if cities are to make substantial dents in their unemployment rates, they must reduce dropout rates and encourage young people to seek more training.
Ken Weeden, in charge of hiring for Kauffman, is a supporter of Barry's regional hiring plan. But he said that keeping District workers can be difficult. Of the 31 persons hired from the District, he said, about 15 had to be let go, primarily because of poor attendance.
Some employers said they tend to view the District's jobless as unenthusiastic people who have grandiose ideas about the kinds of jobs they should get and how much they should be paid.
Some of the workers complained that low starting pay -- many of the jobs are at or slightly above minimum wage -- and time spent commuting make working in the suburbs unattractive. Others said the benefits overshadow the disadvantages.
"It is better than no job at all," said Allen N. Douglas III, a Southeast Washington resident who has worked for the Kauffman Group for nine months and who gets up at 5:30 a.m. to drive the commuter van to the suburbs. "I'm trying to learn all I can so maybe I can start my own business."
Paula Holliday of Northeast Washington, who had been unemployed for seven months and had never worked outside the District, said she had "almost a fear" of working in Virginia because she expected heavy traffic and rough roads during bad winter weather.
But Holliday said she is delighted that she accepted a job as an executive assistant for an Alexandria consulting firm. Her annual salary is now $10,000 higher than the salary paid by her previous District job, and her commuting time has changed from an hour on a bus to a 20-minute car ride.