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Black DC Workers Face Deep Inequities a Decade into an Economic Recovery

New DCFPI report shows how DC’s deep history of discrimination against Black workers led to present-day racial disparities

Washington, DC—Despite 10 years of a booming DC economy, unemployment among Black DC residents remains higher than before the recession, and Black incomes have failed to grow, according to a new report from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. These inequities and others, including the fact that working Black residents are less likely than white workers to have key fringe benefits, are the result of a long history of racist employment practices in the District.

The report, entitled, Black Workers Matter: How the District’s History of Exploitation & Discrimination Continues to Harm Black Workers,examines racist policies from generations ago that have led to vast differences in employment and income opportunities today when comparing the city’s Black and white residents.

The job inequities faced by Black DC residents are evident in a number of ways.

  • Black residents are seven times as likely as white residents to be unemployed, despite actively looking for work, and once in the job market, Black workers are more likely to work jobs that require manual labor and pay lower wages than white workers.
  • Black workers’ lack of access to high-paying jobs leads to significant racial income disparities. The Black median household income in DC is $45,200 and has not changed over the past decade of overall prosperity in DC, while the median income for white households is more than three times higher at $142,500 and growing.
  • 12.4 percent of working-age Black DC residents were unemployed in 2018, on average, compared with 9.4 percent in 2007 prior to the Great Recession, compared to 5.6 percent across all groups in the District.

From stolen labor to a lack of protections for Black workers during the years of President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, Black workers in DC have endured centuries of mistreatment in the involuntary and voluntary workforce. The intentional segregation of Black workers into the lowest-paid jobs is still reflected today: the top occupations of Black DC residents are lower-paying service jobs, while the top occupations for white DC residents are in professional and management position

“It’s clear that Black workers are not benefiting from DC’s incredible economy,” said Doni Crawford, Affordable Housing and Workforce Development Policy Analyst at DCFPI. “What may be less clear is how racist policies and programs have systemically undermined Black workers in DC, directly leading to the outcomes we see today.”

Recognizing that there are no quick fixes to reverse the impacts of centuries of racism, Crawford recommends that the District take steps to help Black workers move toward greater economic equity, including encouraging employers to pay a living wage, investing in Black-owned legacy small businesses, and reducing barriers and prioritizing employment for DC’s largely Black returning citizens.

“Given this history and what we know about the ongoing displacement of DC’s Black community, the District should be intentional about developing policy solutions specifically for Black workers earning low wages,” said Crawford. “As we reflect on Dr. King’s message of equality and justice and look ahead to Black History Month, it’s important to highlight the need for DC to ensure that Black workers succeed.”

The report comes as the DC Council begins hearings that will soon determine its budget priorities for Fiscal Year 2021. DCFPI is calling for policymakers to use this and the organization’s other research to guide how they choose to allocate funds.

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