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Brown Sponsors Bill to Reinvigorate District€s Dismal Employment Outlook

James Wright | 2/10/2010, 8:01 p.m.

With the unemployment rate in the District reaching an historic high, a District Council member has recently sponsored a bill that would give the city€s businesses incentives for hiring and retaining District residents who are jobless.

With the unemployment rate in the District reaching an historic high, a District Council member has recently sponsored a bill that would give the city€s businesses incentives for hiring and retaining District residents who are jobless.

Council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At-Large), is the architect of the €District Job Growth Incentive Act of 2010,€ a bill that would grant a business franchise tax credit to businesses that create a minimum of 10 new jobs in the city. To qualify for the credit, businesses must retain the positions for one year and firms in any industry are eligible for the credit.

Brown, 39, made his announcement, Tue., Feb. 2 at the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest, in the presence of business leaders and members of the faith community. Brown said that the bill was necessary given the city€s economic struggles and he is happy that he has received widespread support for his legislation.

€I want to thank my colleagues [on the D.C. Council], the business community and residents for coming together today to face an unemployment crisis in the District,€ he said.

€We are unified in our determination to help those who are unemployed become employed and those who are underemployed get better employed.€

The unemployment rate in the District is 12.1 percent, the highest ever recorded. Ward 8 leads in the city in unemployment with 28.5 percent of its residents not having a full-time job and is followed by Ward 7, which posts 19.7.

Both of those wards are predominantly Black and are located east of the Anacostia River.

The other majority Black wards, 4 and 5, have unemployment rates of 9.7 and 15.7 percent, respectively. The ward with the lowest rate of unemployment is the predominantly White Ward 3, which has 3.2 percent of its residents seeking full-time employment.

Noting the statistics, Brown said that all parts of the city are affected by joblessness.

€This is no longer an east of the river problem,€ he said. €This is a problem that is everywhere in the city.€

The problem of unemployment in the city has exceeded what has happened nationally. The unemployment rate in the U.S. is 9.7 percent, slightly down from 10 percent in December 2009.

For African Americans, the national unemployment rate is 16 percent, far ahead of Latinos which is 11 percent and Whites at 9 percent, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor.

In terms of raw numbers, as of December, according to statistics compiled by the D.C. Department of Employment Services, there were 39,962 people in the city looking for full-time work. That is a substantial jump from a five-year low in December 2006, which had 18,090 people out of work.

The tax credit is available to businesses between 2010 and 2015 and is equal to one-half the amount that an employer is required to pay in federal payroll taxes on the newly created jobs. For each job created and filled by a District resident, businesses would receive the credit each year that the job is retained for a maximum period of up to five years, but not to exceed 2020.

Business leaders said that Brown€s bill is a move in the right direction to fight the city€s crisis of unemployment.

€We don€t need District residents to look elsewhere for jobs when they can have them here,€ Barbara Lang, president of the District of Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said.

€We want to make sure that District residents are employed. They do not need to go to neighboring jurisdictions to find work.€

Lang said that she liked that Brown€s bill targets all businesses despite size, but she thinks it would be most beneficial to small and medium-sized companies.
€This legislation will be helpful because this is an equal opportunity recession,€ she said.

Jim Dinegar, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, said that providing incentives to businesses to hire people is a good mechanism for fighting unemployment. €Incentives work,€ he said.

€This is the carrot that is needed to see that we get people back to work in the city. I am happy to see that the District is out front with this.€

Emily Durso, president of the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C., pointed out the dearth of District workers in the city€s hotels as an example of how Brown€s bill could be of good use.

€Twenty five years ago, 70 percent of all hotel workers in the city were D.C. residents,€ Durso, who represents about 26,000 workers in 94 hotels, said.

€Today, that number is about 30 percent. We are working with human resources people to make sure that D.C. residents get the chance for these jobs and with Council member Brown€s bill, I think this is doable.€

The Rev. Lionel Edmonds, pastor of Mount Lebanon Baptist Church in Northwest, said that Brown€s bill may be a start of something much larger than just gaining employment for D.C. residents.

Edmonds is also the leader of the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN), an organization that consists of District churches that focus on delivery of social services and advocates social change.

€This is an exciting piece of legislation because it will put people back to work,€ Edmonds said.

€This is a new era in the civil rights movement.€

Brown pointed out that 20 states have sponsored similar legislation and that President Obama€s priority for 2010 is job creation.

€We have people in this city who have all kinds of certificates and degrees but cannot find a job,€ Brown said.

€That is not right. D.C. residents want to be hired. They want to be trained and can be trained. This bill will enable people to get and keep jobs.€