Photo by bankbryan on Flickr.

The good news: Mayor Gray has announced in recent months several large projects that will create new jobs in DC. The bad news: while these projects make a small dent in DC’s unemployment rate, the reality is that only 28% of DC jobs go to DC residents. 

The new jobs are tied to projects like CityCenterDC and the Marriott Marquis convention center hotel, as well as to retail positions on the waterfront near Nationals Park and at an ink-jet manufacturing plant.

Given that several of these projects receive subsidies from the District, often in the form of tax holidays, one wonders if DC taxpayers are subsidizing jobs for commuters who don’t live in DC.

The use of DC funds to help non-residents get DC jobs doesn’t end there. Spending money on roads for commuters driving into DC just helps non-residents access DC jobs far more than it helps residents.

When District residents hold DC jobs, only 36.1% of them commute by car.  But when non-DC residents hold DC jobs, 61.3% of them commute by car, according to 2009 American Community Survey data.

As a result, a whopping 81% of those commuting by car to DC jobs are non-DC residents.

Are city leaders doing anything to prioritize DC residents’  access to DC jobs?  No.  The Transition Report of the Economic Development Committee for then Mayor-Elect Gray, led by Chamber of Commerce head Barbara Lang and former George Washington University president Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, had this recommendation:

Reduce the amount of time people spend driving into and out of the city. The District would stand to retain and attract more businesses that demand ease of access and improvements to quality of life by easing traffic congestion.


Why do we shoot ourselves in the foot like this?  It’s one thing to complain about taxation without representation, but when we spend our own locally raised tax money primarily to promote employment to those living in the suburbs, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

It’s time to end the old, ineffective approaches to fighting unemployment - more roads and more corporate tax holidays.  They don’t work anymore.  A major campaign to economically integrate our city is needed to reverse the decades-long trend that resulted in ever larger roads shuttling a larger percentage of DC’s jobholders in and out of the District.

The jobs that could employ a large portion of DC’s jobless are there, particularly in the leisure and hospitality sector, which is the second fastest growing sector in DC, adding 10,700 District jobs from 2001 to 2011. Educational and health services, the fastest growing sector, added 26,500 jobs in the same period. The new University of the District of Columbia Community College is furiously training residents for these growing health careers. 

Existing job growth is sufficient to provide opportunities for DC’s 34,600 unemployed, 8,824 of whom live in Ward 8 where 1 in 4 workers is jobless. Companies that would not locate in the District because the CEO doesn’t like driving from Potomac to DC are rarely part of these two sectors, and are thus not needed to address our unemployment crisis. 

Furthermore, the surging creative class in the District, whose spending is largely responsible for the growing service sectors, are attracted by public transit and public spaces.  That’s why their employers, like LivingSocial, are compelled to stay in the District.

We clearly don’t need to spend locally-raised tax money to buy more jobs, particularly when 72% of the jobs will go to suburban residents and the jobs city residents need are here and growing.  We must make it easier for DC residents than non-DC residents to access jobs in the city, while providing targeted training when needed for expanding job areas in DC.

And the local policies that promote employment for suburban residents over those who live in DC don’t end there.  DC has an 18% tax on parking garages, but with a loophole so large you could drive an SUV with Virginia plates through it.  Garages that provide free parking to employees rather than contracting through a commercial garage are somehow exempt from this DC tax.   

This self-defeating deference to suburban commuters is found in the design of streets across the city.  My residential street (33rd Street in Georgetown) is primarily used by Virginians crossing the Key Bridge to get to jobs in Upper Northwest.  Two of the most iconic streets in our city, M and Wisconsin in Georgetown, have become car sewers for suburban commuters during rush hour.  Unsurprisingly, most jobs in Georgetown, including the large percentage of leisure and hospitality positions, are held by Virginians.

Why do we allow this?  Let’s replace a lane on each side of M and Wisconsin with a dedicated transit lane or widened sidewalks, and push to get streetcar service into Georgetown to help DC residents access Georgetown jobs.  Let’s cut off my Georgetown residential street and others to through traffic.

If DC is to leverage the disrespect we get in Congress for real unity and action, we must start caring about and investing in our own residents first.  Let’s start by vastly improving public transportation and bicycling infrastructure to economically integrate our city.

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Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son.  Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America.