Skip to content

In 2018, You Too Can See the Forest and the Trees

By Rev. Stephen E. Tucker

Adversity. Challenge. Change. In 2017, the JOBS Coalition—like much of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area—experienced all three. The year brought a change in the administration with a domino effect on the political, economic and social climate.

Amid legislative turmoil and economic shifts, many working class people are facing a wave of challenges with life-altering possibilities. The future of employment and quality affordable housing all remain uncertain. The poor and lower middle classes are especially vulnerable in these areas, and therefore, must be given priority.
Together, we must face these challenges head-on, one-by-one, through genuine collaboration, or risk being left behind.

Jobs are how we provide for our families, build our livelihoods and contribute to the economic health of this country. But the current economic landscape raises concerns that job opportunities are slipping away. The latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics paint a picture we can’t afford to ignore.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate remains steady at 4.1 percent, with 6.6 million persons unemployed. Construction, for example, was among the industries experiencing gains, adding 30,000 jobs in December—most in specialty trades, according to BLS. Promising, but this data also shows that African-Americans and Hispanics lead in the percentage of those unemployed, at 6.8 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively. So, there’s still work to be done.

In a city where some market analysis puts the African-American population close to 50 percent, these findings are noteworthy. Workforce development, with an emphasis on job training and education, is the opportunity needed to close the skills gap and bring viable candidates into a competitive job market like that of the District of Columbia. This includes an increased investment in apprenticeship training programs to give alternative workforce pathways. Residents must be ready for these changes and new prospects.

For example, in October 2017, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that the District had submitted its proposal to become the future second home of Amazon. By January, D.C. ranked among the finalists. If successful in this bid, our city could reportedly expect up to 50,000 jobs being added to its local economy—both promising and exciting for residents.

Washingtonians, too, must have a seat at the table. And our elected leadership citywide must remain steadfast in providing District residents with access to well-paying jobs and affordable housing that is also quality housing. There is an immense need for trained employees, and this is where the JOBS Coalition can play a pivotal role.

Moving forward, we plan to continue our outreach and partnerships to build stronger apprenticeship training and job placement programs with a three-pronged strategy:

  1. Collaborating with Jobs Partnership Greater Washington to provide training for unemployed, underemployed and hard-to-serve citizens, including returning citizens.
  2. Continuing support of the Academy of Construction and Design’s highly successful curriculum and apprenticeship training program at the IDEA Public Charter School. The Academy teaches construction math, blueprint reading, mechanical drawing, computer applications, carpentry and other trades while motivating students to earn technical and safety certifications.
  3. Collaborating with the Department of Employment Services (DOES) to find better ways to deliver services to District residents.

These partnerships would provide job-ready applicants from a broader spectrum of District residents, to include high school graduates and dropouts, returning citizens at all age levels, and those looking to re-enter the workforce after absences.

While we do not know whether the District will ultimately win the bid for the new Amazon headquarters or if there’s a Plan B if not chosen, the possibility is an important conversation starter for a city that is evolving economically.

It is a powerful experience to see both the forest and the trees in these times. If the forest is this metropolitan D.C. area filled with a vast number of opportunities driving population growth and change, then the trees are the native District residents. Those from this city cannot be overlooked, and equally deserve the right to qualify for these new opportunities on the horizon.