Photo by Jim Barker on Flickr.
More than 1 in 4 workers in Ward 8 are unemployed, the result of an alarming increase in the rate of joblessness that is now one of the highest of any community in the nation. The only thing more alarming is the apparent invisibility of the black unemployed to the rest of the city.
The DC Council has not held a single hearing about it all year. I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to testify with ideas about unemployment, and participate in a public discourse on the topic, as have surely many other individuals and organizations, but there has been no such forum.
This discourse is also not happening in the media. A search of the Washington Post archives over the past 12 months returns zero articles on the topic of unemployment in Ward 8 or east of the Anacostia River. There was a single article on unemployment amongst blacks nationally in the past 12 months.
Have the black unemployed become invisible to the employed in DC? Where is the outrage? Where is the search for causes and solutions?
On Wednesday, the Post reported the latest jobless numbers from July: 5.9% of the region-wide workforce lacks a job, a rate that is “well below the national rate of 9.1 percent”. This represented an increase, according to the article, from the June rate of 5.8% due to a “steep decline” in the public sector which is “facing turmoil.”
A similar report appeared about June unemployment. Joblessness in Ward 8 continued its increased from 16.9% in June 2008 to 28.2% in June 2011.
And the turmoil doesn’t end there. Black teenage unemployment nationally is 40% according to the Labor Department, and is no doubt that or higher in the District, whose overall teen jobless rate is the highest in the nation at a whopping 50.1%. The jobless spike along with the housing crisis has destroyed black wealth, which has fallen from 1/7 that of whites in 1995 to 1/11 in 2004 and 1/19 in 2009 according to the Pew Research Center.
Unfortunately, the Post article on these statistics gave little attention to the issue of black unemployment. The only articles discussing the issue in the Post have mentioned it in the context of how it may affect President Obama’s chances at re-election.
A Post blogger on media issues, Erik Wemple, who previously covered the District at TBD.com and the City Paper, posted recently on “How to measure the coverage of black issues.” Wemple concludes:
Who’s right? Has the coverage dipped or increased? Alas, even with Internet search engines and news archiving services, ascertaining volume trends over such a large coverage area is an undertaking fraught with practical and methodological problems.
Mayor Gray and President Obama will both announce new measures today to address unemployment. Leaders and journalists should ask the questions: What are the causes of the spike in crisis-level unemployment in DC? Do the proposals of the Mayor and the President to reduce joblessness address those causes? Why has the Council passed over 300 pieces of legislation this year and nothing on unemployment?
Do jobless citizens east of the Anacostia River need to riot, like in London, for us to see them? Or will the rest of the city finally notice the tragedy happening in slow motion before us and start debating its causes and solutions?