Good morning Councilmember Barry and members of the Committee on Housing and Urban Affairs. Thank you for holding this roundtable today on the important challenge of reducing poverty in the District of Columbia. I appreciate the opportunity to testify about ways to improve the economic status of District residents.
Despite a vibrant economy in the Washington region and a resurgence of jobs in the District itself, far too many District residents are mired in poverty. Research from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute shows that at nearly 20 percent, D.C.’s poverty rate is now at the highest level in a decade. The wage gap between the bottom one-fifth and top one-fifth of earners is at its widest since 1979. Despite job growth, the employment rate among those with no more than a high school diploma has declined in recent years. In 1999, 23 percent of the city’s neighborhoods were high-poverty, with poverty rates of 30 percent or more. Over half of those high-poverty neighborhoods were extremely poor, with poverty rates of 40 percent or more.
The Brookings Greater Washington Program last year completed a major study on reducing poverty and rebuilding the middle class in Washington, D.C. We focused on practical ways of increasing the incomes of low-income residents quickly. We estimate there are between 51,000 – 61,000 low-income residents aged 16 to 64 in the District with less than a college degree who could benefit from education, training, and work-readiness services. The majority are less-skilled, with a high school degree or less. While many of these individuals are employed full time and could move up the career ladder with additional skill-building opportunities, many others work sporadically or are seriously disconnected from the labor market. Yet the city has limited programs, policies, and resources to help these residents. The city should rapidly enhance its ability to help less-skilled, low-income residents increase their skills, work-readiness, earnings, and employment. I’ll start with recommendations for the FY 2009 budget, most of which build on existing programs, and then move to some longer-term recommendations.
I’ll start with recommendations for the FY 2009 budget, most of which build on existing programs, and then move to some longer-term recommendations.