A Closer Look at DC Unemployment Numbers

Unemployment has spiked throughout the country during the Great Recession, but record-breaking joblessness in the District is not just due to the downturn. Recently released data shows that a large percentage of the jobless in DC have been unemployed for a very long time, and that suggests that returning residents to the labor force might take more investment than just waiting for the economic recovery. The DC Council is considering legislation to expand unemployment benefits to those receiving training, a key step in putting our jobless neighbors back to work. Other efforts to improve education and training are important as well.

DC is in the top quarter of states that had jobless residents unemployed for 15 weeks or longer in 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the data also shows that the city has a relatively low rate of people who recently lost their jobs or completed a temporary job. This is because most of DC’s long-term unemployed residents are people who have been out of the job market for a while and are trying to back get in. In other words, while most communities are suffering from people recently losing their jobs in the recession, many DC residents were having trouble finding a job even before the recession began.

Another possible sign of DC’s long-term unemployment problem is the fact that just one of four jobless DC residents collects unemployment benefits, one of the lowest rates in the country. This reflects a number of factors, but one reason could be that so many of our jobless have been out of work for a long time. Under federal rules, unemployed workers have to have some recent work experience to qualify for unemployment benefits.

Legislation is being considered right now by the DC Council to expand unemployment benefits, including allowing residents getting training to receive extended benefits. That’s a step in the right direction, addressing both training needs and DC’s low unemployment insurance coverage.

As the District tries to move forward toward economic recovery’ probably over the next year ‘ we must address the problems of the long-term unemployment in our community. That should include investments in literacy and job training to put all our residents back to work.