One more question for the candidates
By Walter Smith and Ted Trabue
Colbert I. King’s June 5 op-ed column posed a number of questions that candidates for D.C. office should answer. We would like to add one: What are the candidates’ plans for reducing the unacceptably high rate of poverty in our city?
The District has weathered the recession better than most cities. During the past year, the city added 10,700 jobs. Its population grew, and once-neglected neighborhoods continued to transform into regional destinations. Yet for too many residents, being at the center of one of the nation’s healthiest metropolitan economies hasn’t made a difference. In fact, while the number of jobs in the city was growing, unemployment still soared to the highest rate ever recorded, and 11,000 residents fell into poverty last year.
All told, the District’s poverty rate is estimated to have jumped from 17 percent to 19 percent in 2009 — the biggest single-year increase since 1995. This means that one in five District residents lives in poverty, including one in three children. With unemployment at 11 percent citywide (and nearing 30 percent in Ward 8), it is likely that even more District residents will fall into poverty in 2010.
All residents and businesses have a stake in addressing these shocking statistics. Helping the District’s low-income residents increase their education, literacy and job skills will enhance the quality of our workforce and make it easier for residents to qualify for employment with Washington’s businesses. It will also help D.C. children succeed in school, because families led by lifetime learners are better able to support their children academically. Increased work and wages among low-income residents will grow the city’s tax base, reduce high expenditures on social services and increase the number of residents patronizing Washington’s businesses. Just as important, reducing poverty will help reduce crime and bridge the sharp racial and geographic disparities that have long divided our city and region.
A new campaign – Defeat Poverty DC – is bringing together residents, advocacy groups, businesses and faith communities to make this problem a high priority for elected officials this year. The goal is to use the 2010 election season to engage the District’s elected leaders and candidates in discussions of what can be done to address poverty. In particular, the campaign will expect leaders to offer their proposals to make work possible for low-skilled D.C. residents; to make work pay enough to support a family; and to make basic needs such as housing and health care affordable.
All D.C. citizens and the businesses that serve them have a stake in combating poverty in the nation’s capital. Every candidate for office should have a plan for addressing it.
Walter Smith is executive director of D.C. Appleseed. Ted Trabue is president of the D.C. State Board of Education and executive director of the Green Builders Council of D.C.
| June 11, 2010; 7:20 PM ET
Categories: D.C., D.C. politics, HotTopic
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