Packing a Punch: The Recession Hit African-American and Non-College Educated DC Residents Particularly Hard

by Ed Lazere and Max Brauer | October 13th, 2010 | PDF of this report

The Great Recession and its aftermath have left an impact on the District, though its harmful effects varied by race and level of education. While employment remained relatively steady for white DC residents and those with a college degree, unemployment surged in 2009 for Latino and African-American DC residents and for those with less than a four-year college education. 

The number of jobless workers living in the District more than doubled in a two-year period — from 19,000 in January 2008 to 40,000 in January 2010 — as the unemployment rate rose from 5.6 percent to 12.0 percent.  By January 2010, DC’s unemployment rate was the highest since such data were first collected in 1976.  DC’s unemployment rate has fallen since then, but still is at one of the highest levels on record. 

While unemployment in the District rose across virtually all demographic groups, some groups of District residents were hit especially hard by the recession, while others were largely insulated from its effects.  For some groups, employment conditions are now at the worst level in 30 years.

  • The unemployment rate jumped fastest for DC Latino workers, from 4.7 percent in 2008 to 8.4 percent in 2009, an increase of three-fourths.  The unemployment rate for African-American residents rose by roughly half — from 10.4 percent to 15.6 percent — the highest rate by race/ethnicity in the city.  For white residents, unemployment rose from 3 percent to 4.1 percent in this period.
  • In fact, unemployment among DC residents with a high school education in 2009 was nearly as high as for those without a high school education.  Unemployment reached 19 percent in 2009 for residents with a high school diploma or GED, far higher than at any point in last 30 years.  For residents without a high school diploma, unemployment reached 20.3 percent.  Meanwhile unemployment stood at 4.2 percent for those with a college degree.

Looking over a longer-term period, employment prospects have worsened noticeably over the past two decades for Black District residents and for residents with no post-secondary education. For these residents, job conditions have worsened even in periods when DC’s overall economy was growing.

  • Employment among African-American DC residents has fallen steadily since the late 1980s.  The employment rate fell from 62 percent in 1988 to 56 percent in 2000 and to 49.5 percent in 2009.  (The employment rate is the share of adults with a job.)  If employment had not fallen since the late 1980s, some 31,000 additional African-American residents would be working today.  Meanwhile, the employment rate for white residents has remained relatively steady.
  • The employment rate for DC adults with a high school diploma or GED and no post-secondary education is at the lowest level in 30 years.  Employment fell from 67 percent of adults in 1988 to 58 percent in 2000 and 48 percent in 2009.   If this rate had not fallen since the late 1980s, an additional 15,000 DC residents with a high school education would be working today.