- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2016

Washington, D.C.’s jobless will soon see more money in their wallets, now that Mayor Muriel Bowser has implemented the first unemployment benefits rate increase in more than a decade.

This week Ms. Bowser announced that residents eligible for unemployment insurance benefits will receive up to $425 per week for up to 26 weeks. That’s up from $359 — a rate set in 2005, when it was bumped up from $305 per week.

The adjustment aims to bring the District more in step with neighboring jurisdictions. Before the increase, the city offered the lowest unemployment benefits in the region. Currently, Maryland offers $430 per week, West Virginia provides $424 and Virginia $378 per week.

The change went into effect Oct. 1, the first day of the District’s new fiscal year. Those who currently receive unemployment insurance payments will be mailed a letter letting them know what amount they can expect.

Ms. Bowser touted the measure as another victory for the working class in the District, a line she’s taken since announcing a push for $15-an-hour minimum wage in her State of the District address earlier this year.

“My administration has fought together alongside workers to raise the minimum wage and now increase unemployment benefits for the first time in 11 years,” the Democratic mayor said. “This is a huge step toward ensuring District workers and their families are able to better take care of their basic needs while searching for their next employment opportunity.”

Courtney Snowden, deputy mayor for greater economic opportunity, said the increase “is one more example of how we can help stabilize families during a time of economic hardship.”

The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute lauded the increase, saying healthy unemployment benefits will help the city.

“A strong [unemployment insurance] program is also important to the city as a whole,” said Ilana Boivie, a senior analyst for the institute. “Local businesses suffer when workers lose a job, because the unemployed have less to spend on their rent or mortgage, groceries, clothing, and other needs.”

Ms. Boivie said the benefits help businesses as much as workers because during when unemployment rises, “such as in a recession, [unemployment insurance] helps keep businesses afloat by making sure residents have money to spend.”

The national unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in August. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the District’s rate was 6 percent — the fifth highest unemployment rate in the country.

The picture is even worse for minorities in the city. The black unemployment rate at the end of 2015 was 12.8 percent, more than double that of the national rate, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for whites during the same period was only 2.4 percent.

That means the unemployment rate among blacks in the District was 5.4 times that of whites — a bigger unemployment gap than any state analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute. Comparatively, Virginia’s black unemployment rate was about twice that of the white unemployment rate.

Still, the District has seen a significant drop in overall unemployment rates over the last five years. In August 2011, about 11.1 percent of the city was unemployed. That figure has steadily decreased each August since — to 8.8 percent in 2012, 8.7 percent in 2013, 7.6 percent in 2014 and 6.8 percent in 2015.

The benefits increase also allows part-time workers to retain more of the unemployment benefits while they look for full-time jobs. The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute said the benefits of a worker earning $100 a week while collecting unemployment will be reduced by $33 instead of $64.

The increase also authorizes the Department of Employment Services to set rates each year based on inflation starting in 2017. If the agency chooses not to increase benefits, it will have to submit a report explaining the decision.

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