**FILE** Yellow police tape on the East Plaza with the Capitol dome in the background on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
**FILE** Yellow police tape on the East Plaza with the Capitol dome in the background on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

There is a crisis of violence in our city. For many people, the streets offer more opportunities than our government does. Violence occurs when people feel that engaging in crime has more benefits than the alternative of living within the bounds of the law. Given a choice between violence and a stable, good-paying job, most people will choose the job. But today, too many people in our city are not getting that choice. A cycle of violence has held Washingtonians back for generations. It’s time we break this cycle. 

The best way to prevent violence is to give people opportunities to provide for themselves and their families in a healthy and productive way. With the city’s budget increasing by $1.2 billion a year, we have the resources to employ people in a way that transforms our city and ends cycles of violence. We have an incredible opportunity and we must take advantage of it.

That could be accomplished with an initiative that I will call a Jobs Guarantee for DC. This program would ensure that everyone who wants a job could work. Some jobs would be created by the government, some by industry incentives and others through government contracts.

This expanded workforce would make our city safer by giving people a real alternative to crime and violence: the opportunity to build a fulfilling career. This program would also help us tackle threats to the climate. A Jobs Guarantee for DC program would put people to work addressing the impacts of climate change and building the resiliency and sustainability our city will need for the coming decades.

Further, it would provide stable, good-paying jobs with opportunities for career advancement. Working in partnership with our labor union, we could use apprenticeships to build skills and technical expertise. One example: crosswalk repainting jobs that would kick off apprenticeships that would lead to traffic engineer positions which focus on pedestrian and bicyclist safety. Another example is tree planting jobs that lead to apprenticeships for those interested in becoming arborists charged with managing and replacing trees. We could give community members professional training so they could effectively promote energy efficiency, protect our waterways, ensure food justice and remove environmental hazards.

Other jobs could include clearing gutters, installing solar panels and green roofs, housing maintenance, rodent and mosquito abatement, weatherization, installing heat pumps, stormwater infrastructure, urban agriculture and removing lead pipes.

Looking around our city, we see that the people who were ahead eight years ago are still ahead while those who were struggling are still struggling. The only way to solve the problems facing our city is with a bold vision and ambitious plans. If we refuse to accept the status quo, we can keep our communities safe, address the more prominent impacts of climate change and get people into good, stable careers. But this cannot be done by accepting piecemeal solutions or catchy slogans.

Certainly, this is a bold idea but this moment calls for bold ideas. We can keep doing what we’re doing now but it will cost us billions of dollars – even more, it will cost us more lives. Gun violence costs the District over $1.1 billion a year, draining us of jobs and revenue. By establishing the right priorities, we can protect our climate, keep people employed, make our city safer and expand our tax base.

This is also a practical idea. On average our city budget grows by $1.2 billion a year. If we keep spending that money on a series of small initiatives with no follow through, we are going to keep wasting that money. I propose that we use that money strategically to make a real transformative investment. 

The time for performative responses is over. It is time we work with our residents to move us all forward. People want to be involved in improving their communities and we can enable them to do that with a program for a new era inspired by Mayor Marion Barry’s Summer Youth Employment Program of four decades ago. It’s time our government does big things again. 

Robert C. White, Jr. is an at-large member of the D.C. Council and a candidate for D.C. mayor.

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