The December unemployment numbers show a worsening picture for the District of Columbia. The official unemployment rate is 12.1%, up more than 6% since December of 2007. African American unemployment far exceeds white, with 17.6% of African Americans out of a job as opposed to 5.7% of whites.
The Economic Policy Institute has created a useful tool called Economy Track that provides quick access to employment and economic activity data. Economy Track compares the current recession to prior economic downturns and shows that unemployment is worse and the recession more sustained that anything within the last 30 years. The crisis is likely to deepen. Unemployment has risen steadily with no sign of abating. Even when it turns around, it will take a long time to recover.
During this crisis, it is important that the District implement measures to support those who lived in poverty before the recession as well as those driven into poverty by it. Measures might include:
- Implement expansions to the Food Stamp program that have already been authorized. In June 2009, the District Council unanimously enacted legislation to expand the Food Stamp program to include families up to 200% of poverty (from 130%). The expansion was to be in place with the new budget on October 1. It has still not happened, leaving tens of thousands of people at risk for inadequate nutrition. Protect TANF. District officials attempted this summer to throw entire families off of TANF for program violations. Under current law, sanctions are limited to a partial reduction in the grant.
- Adequately staff the Department of Human Services to ensure that applications for benefits are timely and accurately processed. Staffing shortages are creating real harm to people in need.
- Restore local housing vouchers that were eliminated from the budget in July. Stable housing not only reduces homelessness, but increases academic success in children and reduces hunger
- Fix the Department of Employment Services and create a real plan to put District residents to work. Increased access to jobs, living wages and child care are among the most effective strategies to move families out of poverty. Rather than sustain families in economic limbo, the District should strive to create meaningful income through work for all residents.