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D.C. unemployment dips, but will it affect mayoral race?

The District's unemployment rate, officials announced today, dropped significantly in May -- six-tenths of a point, from 11 to 10.4 percent. That's as good an excuse as any to talk about how the jobs issue is playing in the mayoral campaign.

The dip in joblessness probably won't play much on the trail. For one, any effort to take credit for the trend is going to ring hollow in the parts of town where the numbers shoot past 20 percent. For another, what's going on in the nation at large -- high unemployment due to fewer jobs -- is not what is happening in the District. There are more jobs in the city than there were in 2006, but poorly qualified D.C. residents simply aren't filling them. So the campaign rhetoric tends to center on job training issues, rather than job creation issues.

That certainly, is what candidate Vincent Gray is focusing his message on. At a June 3 mayoral forum hosted by Ward 3 neighborhood associations, Gray said: "The skills that are required for the jobs that we have in the city don't match the talents of the people we have here. The job of the mayor is to be able to create the jobs program that will facilitate that." He went on to advocate for more training in the areas health care, early childhood education, and financial services -- what he sees as growth sectors in the District. He also boasted how he moved to restore a $4 million cut to workforce development programs.

The man who proposed that cut, Mayor Adrian Fenty, has chosen to integrate his jobs policy with his No. 1 campaign talking point: education.

Here's what he said at that same forum: "When we talk about test scores going up and graduation rates going up and [Chancellor Michelle Rhee] making the tough decisions to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the Washington Teachers' Union ... it is about creating a K though 12 environment where all of our young people are given the opportunity to graduate, to be reading on grade level, and to be able to be trained for those jobs." In other words, school reform isn't just school reform, it's a jobs program.

Fenty hasn't for the most part connected the bump in city building projects under his watch to jobs concerns. But that's what a Laborers Local 657 did in delivering its endorsement to Fenty this week. Note that unions representing city employees, whose ranks have shrunk under Fenty, are all backing Gray.

And then there's the wild card, Leo Alexander, the outsider candidate who is making illegal immigration a major part of his employment plan. He argues that black Washingtonians can no longer get jobs on construction sites, in hotels, as taxi drivers, etc. because illegal immigrants have them. Get rid of the immigration problem by requiring employers to use E-Verify, he argues, and you fix the D.C. unemployment problem.

None of them have really addressed the little-known reality of city efforts on job training: The city continues to spend tens of millions of dollars on summer jobs for any youth who wants one without much consideration of whether that money could be better spent on other job activities.

Martha Ross, a Brookings Institution researcher, wrote last year that a "high-quality" summer jobs program would serve "probably fewer than 15,000 participants." Instead, Fenty is touting the 21,000-plus youths who have signed up for what is a combination political, babysitting, crime-prevention, and, yes, employment program.

Summer jobs season, incidentally, starts Monday June 28.

By Mike DeBonis  |  June 18, 2010; 4:10 PM ET
Categories:  Adrian Fenty , DCision 2010 , The District , Vincent Gray  
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It has to be our gaining the relevant skills. Fenty seems to understand things in crude terms.

Barry's summer job program made him popular so he will do one to. People use to recount Barry giving them their first job that lead to greater things in tears. These things are not leading to greater things...they wear green tshirts all summer and roam the streets.

He got rid of any real apprenticeship programs even with the Chamber of Commerce.

Posted by: 411Tibby | June 18, 2010 11:01 PM | Report abuse

That should read "It has to be about gaining the relevant skills."

Posted by: 411Tibby | June 18, 2010 11:03 PM | Report abuse

yeah that is true, major brands do give out free samples of their popular health products best place to get yours is tell your friends and family too

Posted by: shellroyal19 | June 19, 2010 7:15 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Gray you are operating in a grey zone. Please point to these jobs. I mean if it's for brain surgery, that I can't do. I have skills but for the life of me, I find no jobs. All I see are illegal immigrants.

Posted by: Buthulhu | June 19, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Test scores were going up even before Michelle Rhee took over. In fact, I believe they were going up faster before she became chancellor.

Posted by: aby1 | June 19, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

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