In 2015, D.C.’s African-American population dipped below 50 percent for the first time, as longtime Black residents have struggled to combat rising housing prices while the city grows wealthier and younger.
Now, a recent study shows that Black residents are increasingly being displaced, alongside the housing market, from the District’s growing economy.
The Georgetown University report, “The State of African-Americans in D.C.: Trends in Employment and Workforce Development,” forecasts that the city’s growing job sectors will become increasingly out of reach for its Black residents. The predicted growth of the city’s labor market is mismatched with educational attainment trends of its Black residents.
“Given the skills that the current D.C. labor market favors and the direction that D.C. labor market is projected to go by 2020, a majority of D.C.’s African-American residents will not have qualifications and resources needed to respond to the changing educational demands of the labor market,” the report reads.
By 2020, half of all new jobs in D.C. will require at least a bachelor’s degree or above, and nearly 60 percent will require at least some form of education beyond high school. But, about 60,000 of African-Americans in D.C. have not finished high school, and half of Black residents have no formal education beyond high school, while the same holds true for only five percent of white residents.
The State Integrated Workforce Plan says that D.C. is “well positioned to respond to the educational demands of the labor market” because more than 51 percent of residents in the city hold at least a bachelor’s degree, while the national average sits at 28 percent. But the report said that number can be misleading because it includes people who have only recently moved into the city, obscuring the population of people without degrees.
African-Americans are disproportionately less likely to graduate from college. While 37.1 percent of white D.C. residents hold a bachelor’s degree, only 12.3 percent of African-Americans in the city hold one.
Showing the existing gap between the skills employers are seeking and the ones acquired by Black residents in the city, the report points out that a majority of predicted employment growth in the city between 2010 and 2020 will be in professional and business services and education and health services, sectors that require formal education.
The study cites the skills gap as a significant source of high unemployment rates in the city’s African-American community. It said that young, college-educated newcomers in the city’s competitive labor market often fill the jobs that would otherwise go to less educated and less skilled candidates, requiring District residents to compete against the more skilled job seekers.
“We must all do more to help Black folks in this city,” said Georgetown professor Maurice Jackson, who serves as chair of the D.C. Commission on African American Affairs, which requested the report from the university.
The report recommends the city to partner with private partners in growing industries to create pathways in emerging industries, strengthen job programs such as the summer youth program to create permanent jobs for participants, expand access to trade and vocational training and increased engagement from necessary District agencies.
Courtney Snowden, the city’s deputy mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity, called some of the facts of the report “sobering” but said the city was improving its strategies to keep residents employed.
“Our system is improving, and it is improving faster than it ever has,” Snowden said. “We are responding to the challenges being thrown at us, and more importantly the issues in this report.”
She said the city has placed residents in subsidized employment opportunities in IT and constructions, increased spending with businesses who employ District residents and recently increased the city’s minimum wage to respond to residents’ employment needs.
The median annual for white families in the city is $120,000, compared to only $41,000 for African-Americans. White households have a net worth 81 times that of Black households, $284,000 to $3,500.