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Nurturing Our Workforce, Especially in Tough Times

October 14, 2009

Author: Sarah Oldmixon

The unemployment forecast for the Metropolitan Washington region remains mixed. On the one hand, recent statistics suggest that unemployment may be stabilizing in Maryland and possibly even on the decline in Virginia. Moreover, a new study by IHS Global Insight suggests that Washington will return to pre-recession employment levels sometime in 2011. At the same time, unemployment in the District of Columbia is once again on the rise, with the unemployment rate now at 11.4% and more than 36,000 District residents unable to find work.

While these statistics can be confusing, what is clear is that those workers with the lowest levels of education and job skills are most vulnerable to unemployment. Nationally, census data indicates that, in 2007, the unemployment rate for adult workers with no more than a high school diploma was 5.7%, but the rate for individuals with at least some college declined to 5.1% and the rate for those with at least an associate degree was only 3.7 percent. While unemployment has increased across the board in the past year, unskilled workers continue to be disproportionally affected.

What this suggests is that increasing the skills of workers may help to reduce their chances of becoming unemployed or, if they are laid off, allow them get back to work more quickly. Here in the Greater Washington region, there are significant populations in all three jurisdictions that could benefit from workforce development services. Consider that:

  • The Virginia Department of Education has found that 52% of all unemployed Virginia adults are functionally illiterate.
  • DC LEARNS estimates that 37% of the DC adult population has a literacy level where they cannot read well enough to fill out an application, read a food label, or read a simple story to a child.
  • The Job Opportunities Task Force reports that 614,000 Maryland adults have less than a high school diploma and 86,000 foreign-born workers have limited English skills.

Since 2005, workforce development has been a strategic priority for The Community Foundation and a core facet of our Community Leadership agenda. Through both individual donations and the Greater Washington Workforce Development Collaborative (GWWDC) – a coalition of local grantmakers led by The Community Foundation – we’ve been able to have a significant impact on adult education and job skills training in our region. For example:

  • Since last fall, GWWDC has committed $450,000 to workforce development programs that help low-income adults prepare for jobs in high-wage, high-growth industries.
  • GWWDC has invested more than $125,000 to help local workforce providers increase their capacity to effectively meet the needs of low-income workers.
  • Four Community Foundation grantees – Wider Opportunities for Women, Washington Parks and People, Community Services Agency AFL-CIO, and Covenant House Washington – have leveraged their support from our donors to secure stimulus funding:

A partnership between the Community Services Agency AFL-CIO, Wider Opportunities for Women, and Covenant House Washington secured $1.3 million to provide pre-apprenticeship training and placement services for area low-income workers, including women and ex-offenders.

In partnership with Washington Parks and People, The District Department of Transportation’s Urban Forestry Administration was awarded nearly $2.8 million in federal funding to create green jobs in the District and improve the health of the city’s urban tree canopy.

When combined with emergency services – such as those supported by The Community Foundation’s Neighbors in Need fund – the workforce development programming supported by The Community Foundation and our partners will help to ensure that our region’s families are able to both address their immediate needs for food, shelter and clothing and, at the same time, advance towards long-term family economic self-sufficiency.

Sarah Oldmixon, Director for Workforce Initiatives, may be reached by calling (202) 973-2519 or soldmixon[@]cfncr.org.

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