A Big Week For DC Workers

This was a significant week for DC workers. On Wednesday, Mayor Gray signed the minimum wage bill into law, and barring an objection from Congress, the city’s lowest paid workers will see an increase from $8.25 to $9.50 an hour in July. There will be $1 increases the next two Julys, bringing the minimum wage to $11.50, and it will be adjusted for the cost of living annually thereafter.

Two other discussions impacting DC workers also occurred this week to much less fanfare. Two bills focused on how to get DC’s unemployed and underemployed workers into sustainable employment were considered by the Council, and the District’s Workforce Investment Council tentatively approved a new business plan for its busiest one-stop employment center. These are two important areas to focus on as we work to improve our workforce development system.

At the council, one bill would establish a “job czar” for the city, and the other would create a profile of the unemployed in DC. DCFPI applauds the focus and energy brought to these issues by the current chair of the committee charged with workforce development oversight, At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange. There is much agreement that the District needs to better coordinate its workforce development system. That system includes not only labor-oriented public agencies such as the Department of Employment Services, but adult education-focused entities such as the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, the University of the District of Columbia, and the Community College; public benefits providers such as the Department of Human Services, which administers TANF and food stamps; and others such as the Department of Disability Services, the Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services, and even the public library system.

But, in many cases, these agencies don’t provide jobs’their role is to help prepare residents for the jobs that are available. Private employers such as the city’s hotels and restaurants, hospitals and health care facilities, and law firms and government contractors actually hire residents. So, a true job czar needs to coordinate all of these groups.

DC already has a body to do that’the city’s Workforce Investment Council. The WIC, as it is known, is required under federal law to oversee federal funding under the Workforce Investment Act, which provides money for things like the city’s one-stop employment centers and year-round youth employment. It also outlines a strategic vision. Yet in many states, workforce councils or boards do much more. They also set vision and perform oversight over programs that receive local dollars, which in DC would include summer youth employment and transitional employment, which is targeted toward returning citizens. DCFPI encourages the mayor and Council to empower our WIC to be the job czar’the main coordinator of the workforce system.

Instead of creating a new agency, DC should take advantage of the WIC, whose members consist of the heads of DOES, OSSE, DHS, DDS, and the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, as well as representatives from major banks, hotels, and tech companies and job training providers such as Goodwill and Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind. Working together in a strategic way, focusing on making sure our residents are prepared to work in our growing industry sectors, the WIC can be an effective job czar without creating a new job czar.

DCFPI looks forward to working further with Councilmember Orange to help update our city’s data systems in workforce development so we can collect useful and complete information on our job seekers and properly measure outcomes to improve performance.

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