Gentrification, job requirements hurt African-Americans in DC

WASHINGTON — Many African-Americans in the nation’s capital are being left out of job sectors that are forecast to grow in coming years, according to a new Georgetown University study.

The report, “The State of African Americans in DC: Trends in Employment & Workforce Development,” concludes that for many black people in D.C., new jobs are increasingly out of reach.

While more than half of all new jobs in D.C. between 2010 and 2020 required or will require at least a bachelor’s degree, only 12.3 percent of D.C.’s African American population in 2014 were college graduates.

“They’re mainly professional services, jobs in education and health services, leisure and hospitality, financial activity, and many of these require an advanced degree,” said Maurice Jackson, history professor at Georgetown University. “Twenty years ago or 30 years ago, they may have just required a high school degree.”

Jackson is serving as the Inaugural Chair of the D.C. Commission on African American Affairs, which requested the report from the university.

“It’s a failure of the school system, but it’s also a failure of the city and others to create opportunities where people can be trained for any number of jobs, in the service industries, hospitality, and so forth,” he said.

Many good paying jobs don’t require a college degree, Jackson said.

“You don’t have to have a college degree to be a waiter or bartender, or work on some type of computers, or hospitality, but what you do need is certain training,” he said.

“One does not need an advanced degree to work in the back of a pharmacy, but what one does need is training — one does not necessarily need an advanced degree to be a nurse, but what one does need is nursing training.”

Aspiring nurses often begin their careers with an Associates Degree in Nursing and continue their educations to become Registered Nurses.

The Gentrification Problem

Gentrification continues to pose a problem for many blacks in the District, Jackson said.

“You have a large number of African-Americans in this city who have what they called ‘burdened income,’ which means they’re paying more than 40 percent of their income for rent,” Jackson said.

“These are people who may be making minimum wage or a bit more, but the rent is so difficult for them, so they have to move out of the city.”

Jackson said D.C. became a majority-black city in 1957, and by 1970, African-Americans made up 70 percent of the population.

“Today, it’s under 50 percent, and it’s mainly because people can’t afford the city and the jobs,” said Jackson, saying the District has not made a point of utilizing the African-American population as a resource.

“They have not thought deeply about it, basically because nobody really cares,” said Jackson. “Many in this population don’t necessarily vote.”

Jackson believes the D.C. Council should put increased pressure on local businesses to facilitate training to employ city residents.

Despite cranes and construction sites throughout the city, Jackson said D.C. residents are rarely involved in the project.

“These jobs can pay $60 or $70 an hour. Why don’t we have more inner city people on those jobs?” asked Jackson, rhetorically. “It’s mainly because they don’t get training to do it, and some have (criminal) records, but the city has programs where if one has a record, they can exonerate them.”

The financial disparities are clear, according to the report.

The median annual income in D.C. for white families is $120,000, while it is $41,000 for African- American families, the report said. In addition, white households have a net worth 81 times greater than black households: $284,000 versus $3,500.

“The city has to work more with existing industries, using its resources, to find ways to create necessary jobs and to offer training for those jobs,” said Jackson.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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