D.C. officials are hoping a jobs program that saw success in Atlanta will take a bite out of an unemployment rate in the District that has neared 11 percent and climbed even higher east of the Anacostia River.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray and the Department of Employment Services rolled out the “One City-One Hire” program on Thursday ahead of President Obama’s eagerly anticipated job-creation address to Congress.
The program asks all D.C. employers, including nonprofits and the public sector, to hire at least one unemployed city resident this year. In exchange, the District will facilitate incentives such as tax rebates and wage subsidies.
“You know, business always likes money. … So, Mr. Mayor, we want more of these incentives,” quipped Barbara Lang, director of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, which hosted the event at its Ninth Street headquarters.
Twenty-five companies had committed to the program as of Wednesday afternoon, and at least five people have already been hired, according to DOES.
Mr. Gray has repeatedly trumpeted job creation, particularly east of the Anacostia River, as a key priority of his administration. The citywide unemployment rate, he added, “belies the reality.”
“The reality is when you go east in the city, the numbers are absolutely horrific,” he said.
Unemployment rates have reached 15 percent in Ward 5 and more than 17 percent in Ward 7, the mayor said.
Ward 8 is faring the worst, where “north of 25 percent of people are out of work,” Mr. Gray said.
The model for the jobs program, called “Hire One Atlanta,” employed 13,000 city residents in its first six months.
DOES Director Lisa Mallory said the District will rebrand the program to make it the city’s own, even if there are differences between Georgia’s capital and the District.
Ms. Mallory said an employee at her agency presented the idea at a recent meeting, “and I just grabbed it and ran with it and took it to the main man here,” referring to the mayor.
Ms. Mallory said the program publicizes many incentives that were already on the table and allows the city to monitor what works — and what doesn’t — in their efforts to employ D.C. residents.
There are 51,000 jobs currently available in the District, based on the DOES database, Ms. Mallory said.
“The psychology of this is important, too, because the last thing we want to have happen is people become so discouraged that they believe there is no solution to this,” Mr. Gray said.
The mayor emphasized the plethora of construction jobs in the city, including federal efforts at the St. Elizabeths campus in Ward 8 to build headquarters for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Mr. Gray said the city was eager to hear what the president has in mind to fight unemployment.
“In the meantime, we’re going to move forward as effectively as we possibly can to make sure that we try to take care of the 600,000 people who live in the District of Columbia,” Mr. Gray said.