Lydia DePillis reports from a forum on gentrification organized by Marion Barry, noting that “people spend their time fighting about the causes of inequality and who to blame for it, but mostly agree that the answer is more and better education for all ages.”
I love education, but from where I sit, more and better education has to primarily be an issue for young people. There’s a role for adult education, of course, but if you’re talking about someone who dropped out of high school 20 years ago, I think you really ought to be contemplating what it is that can help someone like that get ahead economically that doesn’t assume you’re going to be able to undue inadequate education decades in the past. This is where in communities like working class DC that has a high structural level of unemployment (i.e., even before the recession the unemployment rate for folks who hadn’t gone to college was very high) I think it would be helpful to offer one or two cheers for “bad jobs.” Good jobs are great, of course, but in a metropolitan context, the problem is that DC can create all the high-paying high-skill jobs it likes and that doesn’t change the fact that lots of people living in the city aren’t qualified for those jobs. What they need are jobs that are a superior alternative to unemployment — low-wage, low-skill food sector and retail jobs that they’re actually qualified for.
This whole sector of the economy doesn’t get a ton of love from politicians because, obviously, we’d like to aspire to something better. And the aspiration is great. But coping with acute present-day problems is also important. When you make it difficult to open fast food joints you’re creating a problem for the kind of people whose past life has left them qualified primarily for those kind of positions.