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Posted at 10:01 AM ET, 12/ 9/2010

Story Pick: Project Empowerment

By Annys Shin

For months, the jobless rate has hovered just below 10 percent. The nation has set new records for the number of people out of work for 6 months or longer. And even though the recession technically ended in June 2009, the recovery still feels like a misnomer.

Against this backdrop, Washington Post reporter Theresa Vargas spent six months following a class of students in the District's most expensive job training program, Project Empowerment.

The time she spent with them lends the two stories that ran this week a depth that is often lacking in stories about job training programs. The real question such stories rarely answer is why does one person make it and another doesn't? It's hard to really know unless you know the individuals involved and Vargas is able to go deep into the lives of the three people and offer a sense of where they are coming from. The trio are Antoine "Ali" Moore, who went to prison as a teenager and came out an adult; Patrice Taylor, a single mother of two known to throw a punch; and Johnny Perkins, who is trying to start over at 55, when most men are thinking about retirement.

Writing about three people at once is not an easy task, but Vargas pulls it off by drawing such distinct portraits of each. Here she writes about Taylor:

Patrice Taylor has spent her past few birthdays in court. At 25, she faced an assault charge after she punched a man in the face at a club. At 26, she was at the courthouse for a custody hearing that split her family. This year, she expects to spend her 27th there, too, fighting charges that she violated a civil protection order.

For most of Taylor's life, the legal system - with its "snobby" lawyers and "crooked" cops - has been a scary force with the ability to ruin your day or wreck your future. But now, two weeks after graduating from the Project Empowerment job-training program, Taylor is walking into the nerve center of that institution, a marble-walled building at Judiciary Square, passionately hoping for a chance to work for the same system she believes hasn't worked for her.

You can find out what happens to Taylor, Perkins, and Moore here.

By Annys Shin  | December 9, 2010; 10:01 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
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