The unemployment rate in the District of Columbia rose in September by .3% to 11.4%. The rate is almost 1.7% above the national average of 9.7%. However, these statistics do not tell the whole story.
On Tuesday November 3, the Washington Business Journal reported on unemployment by ward. Not surprisingly, the story was very different east of the river and west of the park. The unemployment rate in Ward 8 was 28.3%, nearly 10 times the Ward 3 rate of 3.2%. Ward 7 did not fair much better at 19.5% nor Ward 5 at 15.5%.
The recession is taking its toll on communities that have historically had high rates of poverty. It is true that nearly everyone has suffered in the economic downturn. Every industry has shed jobs, housing values are down and the value of investments have dropped. But for individuals and communities living in poverty: jobs that paid subsistence wages have disappeared, government programs have shrunk and charities have had fewer resources to help. The recession in the rest of the District is a deep depression in Wards 5, 7 and 8.
The Executive Branch of the District government is currently in the process of preparing its proposed budget for fiscal year 2011 (October 2010 through September 2011) which it will submit to the Council in the spring. As a result of lower property values and smaller stock portfolios, the District will have fewer tax receipts and we are expecting a second year of reduced revenue.
Faced with a revenue shortfall over the last year, the District has largely balanced the budget by cutting from social safety net programs. See more specifics posted at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute and an earlier Legal Aid blog. This is unfair. Those communities hardest hit by the recession are also paying the highest price for a balanced City budget. The burden of the revenue shortfall should be spread across the District with those most able to afford the most, paying the most. Programs serving persons in poverty, who are unemployed or are vulnerable should be preserved.
The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute has developed a balanced plan of increased revenue and targeted program cuts. The Mayor and the Council should give it a close read.
On a final note, the District should avoid cutting programs for persons in poverty before it takes advantage of federal money that might off-set the costs. The District is currently leaving $46 million in federal TANF money on the table just because they have failed to apply for the re-imbursement. Forty six million dollars would go a long way to helping people in Ward 8 who are desperate for assistance.