- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2011

In May 2007, the D.C. unemployment rate stood at 5.4 percent. Today it stands at 9.8 percent.

With ornery unemployment rates hovering around double digits and the demand for social services growing by leaps and bounds, the District is going to cave in on itself in short order if demand continues to overwhelm supply.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray says he has a plan to avert such a catastrophe, and I pray he does because as the summer heat bears down on the nation’s capital, jobless residents are getting hotter and hotter under the collar as they pound the pavement and prowl the Web for employment.

“Where’s Wal-Mart?” a baby boomer asked while in line at a job fair held at Florida Avenue Baptist Church.

“I just want a job,” said a young man as he set his briefcase between his legs to loosen his necktie. “My son starts college in August. Am I supposed to say, ‘Lord, thanks, maybe next year?’ “

Theirs are but two voices on the front lines of the job hunt that are questioning the commitment of the mayor and lawmakers, and theirs are voices that grow more and more restless each day as the anti-Wal-Mart crowd presses City Hall for community-benefits agreements with the nation’s largest retailer, which wants to open four new stores - and, hopefully, a fifth - in the District.

But who has the ear of City Hall?

On Thursday, it will be clergy moving in lock step with unions heckling the mayor and lawmakers about a Wal-Mart community-benefits agreement (CBA). Like CBAs that played major roles in gentrifying the Shaw neighborhood and building the Washington Nationals’ ballpark, such agreements extort elaborate job-training programs and the almighty dollar from funds that supposedly benefit the community at large.

In reality, however, these agreements are nothing more than candy-coated shakedowns pushed by liberals and other progressives who use such catchphrases as “livable wages” and “affordable housing.” (See for yourself at communitybenefits.blogspot.com/.)

There’s plenty of affordable housing in the District; it’s just that thousands of residents can’t afford it because they have no jobs.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I asked several lawmakers and high-level officials what’s more important: job training, which is on the front burner, or job creation, which only congressional Republicans are urging.

Each D.C. official replied by saying, “Off the record, job creation,” “Job creation, off the record,” or, as one put it, “Creating jobs.”

Then, at the mayor’s weekly press briefing, I queried Mr. Gray, too.

Citing a memo from Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi that D.C. “resident employment has declined and the unemployment rate has increased,” I asked the mayor what he is going to do about job creation. He said he will be making a “major announcement on Monday” and that it’s “very hard for governments to create jobs.”

Sounds like that means major developers, contractors and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce won’t be by his side on Monday.

Sounds like a dog-and-pony show for bureaucrats to pat themselves on the back and say, “Look, stakeholders, we have new red tape.”

Unemployed residents who can’t house and feed their families aren’t interested in photo ops.

More important, they, too, know a shakedown when they see one.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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