D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser took time to boast about the city’s robust economy in her State of the District Address Thursday evening, but also noted that the District’s growing prosperity has not been inclusive, especially for its black residents.
Hundreds of people gathered in a University of the District of Columbia auditorium to listen to the mayor’s near-hourlong speech, as she noted her accomplishments including unprecedented investments in public education, strides in public safety, reserve funds and audits that reveal no material weaknesses in any of the government’s critical systems.
But she also revealed areas of weakness, including lack of inclusive prosperity in the city.
“We all know the theory, it goes like this — a rising tide lifts all boats,” Bowser said. “It may be true, but what we have seen is that some boats rise quickly and some hardly rise at all, and that’s the story of D.C.’s prosperity.”
A recent D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute report found that post-recession incomes had grown in the city except for households in Wards 7 and 8, where they remained the same and significantly less than the rest of the city.
Though the unemployment rate generally declined in the District, for Wards 7 and 8, where over 90 percent of residents are black, unemployment rates have exceeded pre-recession rates.
“While the unemployment rate has declined in the District, it is still disproportionately high among people of color and those without a high school diploma,” Bowser said.
The unemployment rates in the District are highest among African-Americans residents (13.2 percent), high school graduates without a bachelor’s degree (15.6 percent) and residents of Wards 7 and 8 (as high as 13.3 percent).
About 60,000 residents still lack a high school credential, and a Georgetown study projects that in four years 76 percent of all jobs in D.C. will require some postsecondary education, whether academic or technical.
“The good news is that unemployment in Ward 8 is down from 16.8 percent when I took office,” Bowser said. “The bad news is 12.5 percent is still too high.”
Bowser said the city’s five-year Economic Strategy report, which was released in early March, will embrace growth and inclusiveness. It has two goals: to grow D.C.’s private sector by 20 percent to $100 billion by the end of 2021, and to foster economic prosperity by creating more jobs and lowering unemployment rates below 10 in all segments by the same deadline.
“We can and must do better,” Bowser said. “Talk is cheap. So, unless we actively find ways to address the unique challenges our underserved communities face, we’ll never realize our true potential.”
Bowser said directed programs will be extended to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients and expand training programs like the Fire and EMS cadet academies, Learn, Earn, Advance, Prosper, which uses a network of partners to connect unemployed residents with employment.
The D.C. Infrastructure Academy will also launch soon to train D.C. residents.
“We will make the academy a significant spoke in our portfolio of initiatives to reduce African-American unemployment in Washington, D.C.,” Bowser said.
She also revealed plans to replace D.C. Jail with a facility that will provide focused re-entry services.
Bowser also revealed a $2 million investment to improve bus service and $10 million to an affordable housing preservation fund as well as additional regulations for the District Opportunity to Purchase Act which allows to purchase building to preserve affordable housing.
“The state of the District is strong, without question,” Bowser said. “I promised to knock down barriers too opportunity, to protect the things that unify us, to re-affirm the values that make Washington, D.C., the greatest city in the world and soon to be the 51st state.”