Black Workers Matter: How the District’s History of Exploitation & Discrimination Continues to Harm Black Workers

The District’s economy is strong on a number of important indicators such as employment, job growth, and increased wages, but the overall trends mask staggering racial inequalities. The District’s deep history of exploitation and discrimination against Black workers—including stolen labor when DC was a hub for slavery, restrictions of free Black workers to the lowest-paid jobs, federal government job discrimination through much of the 20th century, and exclusion of many Black workers from New Deal labor laws—led to present-day racial disparities in many employment-related metrics including occupations, wages, employment levels, benefits, and opportunities to grow wealth.

The differences in employment and income opportunities between Black DC residents and white DC residents are stark. Black residents are seven times as likely as white residents to be unemployed, despite actively looking for work, which cannot be attributed to differences in education or skills-training alone. Similarly, vast racial wealth differences cannot be explained by education, employment, or income alone. Black workers have been excluded from wealth-building opportunities such as homeownership, high-paying jobs and high-value business ownership. This report documents many of these disparities.