The greater Washington area seems to be on the road to economic recovery. The Brookings Institution reports that it’s one of three metro areas whose economic input returned to its pre-recession level in the second quarter of 2009. And the Washington Business Journal reports that IHS Global Insight–an economic forecasting firm–predicts that the area will get back to its pre-recession job level in 2011.
This is good news. But we must remember the area’s history of unevenly shared prosperity. We were recently reminded of this when the Washington Post reported that the District’s unemployment rate surged to 11.1% in August, while Virginia’s fell to 6.5% and Maryland’s stabilized at 7.2%.
The Post noted that “some employment experts attributed the disparity to the higher proportion in the District of undereducated employees.” We’ve got large disparities within the District–and for the same reason.
In 2007, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute reported that the District’s decade-long economic boom had not been widely shared. This could be seen in the low employment levels among African-Americans and residents without postsecondary training and in dramatically growing disparities between high-wage and low-wage workers.
Recently-released census data show that these trends continue. As DCFPI reports, the overall median income for D.C. households rose in 2008, but households led by someone without a high school degree saw their incomes drop by nearly 20%. And while the inflation-adjusted median income for white households grew by 20% from 2000 to 2008, black households’ median income rose by just 2%.
Clearly, improving all levels of education and training must be a central element of efforts to bridge this economic divide. As a joint report by DCFPI and DC Appleseed says, D.C. has a “high-skill, knowledge-based economy,” with strong credentials required for even low-skill jobs.
Nobody would say that the Fenty administration isn’t trying to improve primary and secondary education. But adult education and training need attention too.
According to Census Bureau estimates, in 2007, approximately 51% of D.C. residents 25 years or older had attained less than an associate’s degree. And a 2007 Brookings report estimated that between 51,000 and 61,000 low-income working-age residents were in need of workforce development services to compete in the District’s high-skill labor market.
The Great Recession has almost certainly increased the need for such services. Of course, it’s also reduced tax revenues, thus hampering the District government’s ability to fund them.
But there’s some heartening news. The District has received $10.7 million in workforce development funds from the economic stimulus package. It plans to use the money to train residents for jobs in growth industries, i.e., emerging “green” industries, health care and hospitality. In fact, many who receive “green” training may get work immediately on the $8.1 million weatherization initiative that ARRA has funded.
And despite budget challenges, D.C. policymakers have thus far kept $4.6 million of locally-funded adult job training in the Fiscal Year 2010 budget.
If you believe that adult job training should be a top priority, you have a chance to weigh in by testifying at the public oversight roundtable that the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development will hold on Thursday, October 1.
The roundtable will start at 11:00 a.m. in Room 412 of the John A. Wilson Building (1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW). You can also submit testimony for the record. For either option, you’ll need to contact Drew Hubbard at 202-727-8230 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This recession has taught us that we’re all affected by one another’s economic fortunes. Let’s each do our part to ensure that we learn from past mistakes and climb out of this economic morass together.
UPDATE: The Committee on Housing and Workforce Development roundtable has been postponed. No new date has as yet been announced.