In the neighborhood surrounding Camp Simms in Southeast Washington on a summer morning, tidy yards separate low apartment buildings, kids run around and old men sit on deck chairs watching them.
Eight miles up the road near Cheverly, in Prince George's County, is a neighborhood with the same neat apartment buildings, the same enthusiastic kids, and according to the U.S. Census, similar demographics.
But there is one big difference. In the Prince George's County neighborhood, 5.7 percent of the workforce was unemployed, according to the 2000 Census. In the D.C. neighborhood, unemployment was 23.1 percent.
The District is in an economic boom. It has added almost 50,000 jobs since 2000, more than making up for the jobs it lost in the 1990s. More than $6 billion worth of real estate development has occurred in the past four years. The District's treasury is, by 1990s standards at least, on firm ground.
But 7.1 percent of District residents who wanted a job in June could not find one, about the same as five years ago. That is higher than the nation as a whole and stands in even sharper contrast to nearby suburbs; only 2 percent of Arlington residents were unemployed in June.
"To be honest, the success you would anticipate with a construction crane on every street corner is eluding us," said Gregory P. Irish, director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services. "The District is creating jobs, but it's not benefiting folks who are in the impoverished communities in the city."
Charles W. McMillion, president of economic consulting firm MBG Information Services in the District, said: "There are these hard-core pockets of unemployment in neighborhoods that are still struggling. The boom that has occurred downtown just hasn't spread throughout the District in the way we would all like it to."
Some neighborhoods, mostly in Northeast and Southeast, have struggled with double-digit unemployment for decades despite government and private programs that have tried to help residents get jobs.
The problem in the District has proven particularly intractable, say economists and people who work with the unemployed, because the hurdles that Washington's jobless face defy mere economics. Those problems include weak schools and the lack of role models with careers. Residents who do find steady work often move to the suburbs or other parts of the District.
"Getting a job is really scary when it's not something you've done before," said Lacey Shaw, 23, who lives on Mississippi Avenue SE near Camp Simms. Her efforts to get and keep a job this summer illustrate the problems residents of these neighborhoods face.
Part of the problem, economists say, is that there is an imbalance between the kinds of jobs being created by the District's economic growth and the skills held by the city's unemployed, who disproportionately have only entry-level skills and no education beyond high school.
The new office buildings being built downtown generally house jobs for lawyers, consultants and others with advanced degrees. Meanwhile, people involved in marketing the District to employers say, companies put the kinds of facilities that hire large numbers of entry-level workers, such as distribution facilities and call centers, in rural places with cheaper real estate and lower prevailing wages.
A study commissioned by the Department of Employment Services last year forecast that 32 percent of the jobs that would be created in the District from 2000 to 2010 would require no formal education beyond high school, compared with a forecast of 57 percent nationally.
But an absence of jobs for entry-level workers does not completely explain Washington's employment problem, say economists and people who work with the unemployed. "A lack of jobs really just isn't the problem we face," said Monica C. Simpkins, vice president for training and employment services at Goodwill of Greater Washington, which prepares disadvantaged job-seekers to join the workforce.
There are signs that the problem goes well beyond employers discriminating against the overwhelmingly black residents of some D.C. neighborhoods. Nationally, blacks have a higher rate of joblessness than people of other races, 12 percent in July compared with 5.7 percent across the nation as a whole. Experts attribute some of that to racism. But many overwhelmingly African American neighborhoods in the District have unemployment rates many times that for blacks nationwide.
The more substantial problem, Simpkins and others who work with the unemployed said, is an entrenched culture in a few District neighborhoods that has changed little in recent years. Children grow up with friends, family and neighbors who don't work, and thus they never learn how to apply for a job or plot a career. They attend troubled public schools where they do not learn the basics. And by the time they are adults, the routine of waking up early and showing up at a job is foreign to them.
This problem is exacerbated, say some people who have studied the region's economic shifts, by the fact that residents of troubled D.C. neighborhoods who find successful careers and might set examples for others often move to Prince George's County or other suburbs in search of an affordable house and better public schools. "There's some self-selection occurring," said Alice M. Rivlin, director of the Greater Washington Research Program at the Brookings Institution, explaining why joblessness is lower in Prince George's than the District.
"There are all of these contributing factors," said Harry J. Holzer, a Georgetown University public policy professor and Urban Institute researcher who studies low-wage labor markets. "It's a mix of not having the right skills, physical distance from the jobs, having weak networks in place to know what jobs are out there."
John A. Boardman, executive secretary-treasurer of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union Local 25, said that during the months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when hotels could not hire enough workers, he went with several hotel managers to Benning Terrace in Southeast to recruit.
It was a rainy night, he said, but 160 people lined up looking for jobs. "As I talked to people, it was clear that a lot of these were people who genuinely wanted to work and were interested enough to wait out in the rain just to put in an application." he said. "But a lot of them just had no idea how to apply for a job or where to go. There's people who genuinely want to improve themselves but have no friggin' clue how to do it."
An increasing number of D.C. hotel jobs appear to be held by people who live outside the city, according to Local 25. In the 1970s, nearly 80 percent of hotel union members lived in the District, compared with about 60 percent now.
More of the District's jobs are going to people who live outside the city, according to the 2000 Census. In 1990, 67.6 percent of District jobs were held by residents of the suburbs; by 2000, 71.6 percent were.
People like Shaw are struggling to fight the trend.
Shaw, who lives with her mother, set off for work on a Saturday in June just as the sun was rising. Wearing black polyester pants and a gray security guard uniform shirt, she walked slowly to the bus stop at the corner of 18th Street SE and Trenton Place. She was setting off for her first day of paid work ever, manning the front desk at a retirement home in Northwest.
She was too nervous to sleep much the night before, and when her alarm blared at 5:45 a.m., it was so startling she thought she was imagining it. She had made a ham and cheese sandwich to tide her over during a 12-hour workday, but did not pack it. "I'm too nervous to eat," she said.
She leaned on a low fence next to the bus stop, a mix of anxiety and exhaustion on her face. It was not yet 7 o'clock and her feet already hurt from the hand-me-down black shoes her uncle gave her.
"They gave us the uniform, but the shoes would've cost $50," said Shaw. It was not an investment she wanted to make for a job that pays $9 an hour.
The bus came at 7:20, three minutes late.
Shaw's neighborhood, Shipley Terrace -- and her own difficulties in entering the labor force -- show the problems the District faces in trying to find more jobs for its residents.
The 23 percent unemployment rate in the neighborhood around her only captures part of the problem. That number counts only adults looking for work unsuccessfully as unemployed. Many more have dropped out of the labor force entirely, because they no longer want a job or have given up hope of finding one. Only 51.9 percent of neighborhood residents were in the labor force in 2000, compared with 63.9 percent nationwide.
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.
"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."
In several categories D.C. schools are worse than the public schools in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Atlanta, according to a U.S. Education Department study.
The result in the Shipley Terrace area is that the longer students stay in the neighborhood public schools, the further they fall behind the national average. In the Stanford Achievement Test, second-graders at Green Elementary scored just below the national average in 2002, about the 39th percentile, based on statistics from GreatSchools Inc., which compiles information about schools. Sixth-graders at Hart Middle School scored at the 27th percentile. Tenth-graders at Ballou High School scored at only the 19th percentile in reading, meaning that the average student there scored better than 19 percent of students nationally.
"Job training can't make up for 12 years of not having a good education," said Irish, the District employment services director.
As Shaw came up the escalator of the Georgia Avenue Metro stop at 7:55 that Saturday morning, the bus that was to dump her off at her new workplace was just pulling away. The next bus showed up 40 minutes later.
She had left her house at 6:50 a.m. and showed up at her workplace, about seven miles away, at 8:45. She sat at the front desk of the retirement home, walking around the building every hour for the next 12, in shoes that squeezed her feet. Shaw got home that night, 18 hours after she first walked out her front door, and earned $108 before taxes for her efforts.
A few weeks later, she still had the job and she talked about how proud she and her family were: "I hear it from my Mom every day that she's proud of me. And I hear it from my sister, and that keeps me going."
But then on a morning in late July, after Lacey Shaw had spent the night with her mother in the hospital, she called her bosses to tell them she was running behind. She said no one called her back to tell her whether to come in a couple of hours late or not come in at all that day. She stayed home waiting for the call, but the security company had expected her to come in. After six weeks, Shaw was fired from her first job.
"I didn't ask enough questions at orientation," she said last week. "What we should do if something like this happens, that sort of thing."
So last week, she began interviewing for an administrative-assistant job and jobs at other security companies. She borrowed money from her sister to pay the Metro fare to the interviews and set out to other neighborhoods, again.