The District’s 12 percent unemployment rate is alarmingly high even though the District has more jobs than unemployed residents and employment has grown significantly over the past decade. This discrepancy suggests that District residents too often lack the basic skills necessary to compete for jobs. A high school degree and basic literacy are often a minimum educational requisite in DC’s high skilled labor market. Sixteen percent of residents without a high school degree were unemployed in 2008 compared to 12 percent of high school graduates and 3 percent of college-educated residents. As many as 37 percent of DC’s adults lack basic literacy skills, meaning that they have trouble with tasks like finding an intersection on a map, filling out an application, or adding up the total on a receipt.
Additional circumstances may also hamper employment, including weak work histories, substance abuse, or a lack of fundamental soft skills like time management and communication skills. Twenty percent of the 50,000 low-income District residents in need of workforce development have not worked in at least five years—indicating that they likely have multiple barriers to work and will need intensive case management and supportive services to find steady employment.
Residents returning to the District from incarceration face tremendous barriers to work since a criminal record carries a strong stigma with employers. At any given time, DC is home to roughly 15,000 ex-offenders under federal supervision. On average, these residents read and write at a 7th grade level and 70 percent have a history of substance abuse.
WHAT IS BEING DONE NOW
Preparing residents for jobs and careers is one of the key ways the District of Columbia can shape
its future. Effectively using resources to help DC residents become literate, learn new job skills, sharpen existing ones and match them with employers is critical not only to economic development but to reducing unemployment, lifting families out of poverty, and lessening the income inequality gap.
The District’s largest job placement effort is its federally-mandated and funded One-Stop Career Centers. One-stops are supposed to provide residents with career counseling, resume and job search assistance, skills assessment, and referrals to training and social services. Recent research indicates that the one-stop system may not be equipped to provide intensive services to job seekers with very low skill levels or work readiness needs. Find Source
The largest investment of local funds for adults is the $12 million Transitional Employment Program (TEP), which provides basic education, job training, life skills, and job search assistance to residents with severe work barriers. The program has graduated 850 participants since its inception and has a waitlist.7 According to the city, TEP served 724 residents in 2009, and 201 of them obtained unsubsidized employment through the program. Find Source
The District also uses federal funds to support adult literacy and GED programs. There are roughly 80 providers with adult literacy programs in the city, however, many have long waiting lists. Adult basic education is more likely to increase employment and earnings of low-income adults when it is integrated with job training, and it is not clear how many existing DC programs teach basic reading, writing and math within the context of occupational training.