Unemployment rates in Washington, D.C., remained stable at 5.7 percent, according to preliminary data released by the the District Office of Unemployment Services on March 24.
Steadily declining since 2011, the current unemployment rate, which has been the rate since December, marks the lowest unemployment since January of 2008. The rate last February was 6.2 percent.
Though the February unemployment rate itself remained unchanged, the District added 4,400 private sector jobs and lost 1,800 public sector jobs between January and February. However, trade, education, information, financial, manufacturing, professional, construction and leisure sectors all saw job growth.
Together, the trade, information, financial, construction and transportation and utilities sectors saw a collective loss of 2,600 jobs between January and February.
Though this is the lowest unemployment rate in 9 years, the rate is still a full percentage above the national unemployment rate.
District Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said the rate’s stability demonstrates her continued dedication to getting more D.C. residents back to work.
“My Administration is committed to inclusive prosperity, which means more jobs and economic opportunity for residents in all eight wards,” Bowser wrote in a March 24 press release. “Our economic strategy prioritizes communities often left behind by focusing on ensuring that residents have the skills they need to participate in D.C.’s workforce.”
Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce Senior Research Analyst Andrew Hanson said stagnation in unemployment rates over two months should not raise concern, but this trend can be concerning if it continues for an extended period of time.
“In general, as we look at the longer term unemployment rate and see its direction, if we see that it stays the same for 3 to 6 months in a row, that’s when there should be cause for concern. I don’t think we should be too upset or outraged for the moment,” Hanson said.
Hanson also explained that the unemployment rate in the District is more complicated to analyze than looking at the unemployment rates of other U.S. states or territories due to the significant number of commuters the city employs.
When the District metro area is taken into consideration, the unemployment rate is approximately 3.9 percent. Comparable metros such as Boston, New York City and Atlanta, have unemployment rates of 3.5 percent, 4.6 percent and 5.3 percent, respectively.
“In real economies, people commute across state lines, and for the metropolitan area the unemployment rate is actually substantially lower than the national average. It’s 3.9 percent, and it’s actually one of the better labor markets if you look at the entire metro area,” Hanson said.
Hanson added that the unemployment rate within the District tends to be higher due to the low-income populations living within the city and not in the surrounding metro area.
“What makes it slightly worse in the city as opposed to the entire metro area is that the population is a little bit lower income, is a little bit less educated and has a bit harder time finding work compared to the broader metro area,” Hanson said.
Hanson also suggested that reducing the city’s high transportation costs and providing more low-income housing could also help decrease the unemployment rate in the District.
“If they can’t find an affordable way to get to jobs that are available, oftentimes that’s a huge barrier for them. In terms of housing, finding ways to promote or find affordable housing so that people can move to the more vibrant, enterprising areas of D.C.,” Hanson said. “In other cities, these are initiatives that have been launched on the micro scale across the country.”
Hanson predicts the unemployment rate in D.C. will continue to decline in the near future. However, he believes that the more distant future is uncertain.
“It looks like it will continue to come down, it’s been a pretty continual downward trajectory since 2011, and so you can expect that for the near term. There’s a lot of uncertainty about the long-term of that,” Hanson said. “All of the signs indicate that the labor market is basically at full employment, so eventually it will come to a point where we won’t see much further downward trajectory unless we’re able to find ways to really address the skills gaps in the city.”
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