D.C.’s Money Explosion Leaves Most Behind

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Largely because of a recent money explosion, with billions and billions pouring into our nation’s capital to influence policy, Washington, D.C., is the richest city in America. It is also one of the most unequal. There are two Washingtons, something that Mark Leibovich — New York Times Magazine journalist and this week’s interview on Moyers & Company — acknowledges in his newest book on the city’s incestuous elite, This Town. In it, he dubs late Meet the Press host Tim Russert the “mayor” of This Town, but for many living in the D.C. metro area, Russert’s prestigious social status was completely, ridiculously irrelevant, Leibovich writes:

Yes, Russert was the mayor of This Town. To be sure, the “real” city of Washington has an actual elected mayor: black guy, deals with our city problems. But that’s just the D.C. where people live, some of them (18.7 percent) even below the poverty line, who drag down the per capita income to a mere $71,011 — still higher than any American state but much less than what most anyone at the Russert funeral is pulling down. Yes, Washington is a “real city,” but This Town is a state of belonging, a status and a commodity.

Income inequality of the sort we see in Washington has been growing in America on the whole over the last few decades. On average, incomes fell by close to 6 percent among the poorest 20 percent of American households between the late 1990s and the mid-2000s but rose by 8.6 percent for the richest 20 percent. The trend in D.C., however, has been far worse: over that same short period, the incomes of the poorest 20 percent fell by 18.5 percent, while the incomes of the richest 20 percent rose by 16.3 percent.

The Fiscal Policy Institute, a D.C.-based think tank, released a report on income inequality in the city last year. Researchers found that the top fifth of D.C. income earners made about 29 times more than the bottom fifth. “This wide gap in income points to a city with two economies,” report author Caitlin Biegler wrote. “Residents with a college degree largely are thriving in D.C.’s government and information-driven economy. Meanwhile, those who lack higher education have far fewer opportunities for economic success.”

The opportunity gap begins early in life — in this richest American city, 30 percent of children live in poverty. The nonprofit group DC Kids Count found that 45 percent of children live in high-poverty neighborhoods, defined as areas in which child poverty is above 30 percent.

Washington — like many large metro areas today — is astoundingly segregated. After the 2010 Census, programmer and artist Eric Fischer mapped segregation in a number of large cities. His depiction of D.C. shows the dramatic divide between the northwest city and suburbs (largely white) and the southeast city and suburbs across the Anacostia River (largely black). The city is less segregated than it was in 2000, but the rate of integration is slowing. In this map, each dot represents 25 residents; red represents white residents, blue represents black, green represents Asian, orange represents Hispanic and yellow represents “other.”

Eric Fischer

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  • Anonymous

    Put poverty right in their faces and they will not see.

  • Joe P

    Republican interpretation: the working people are on the left and the lazy people are on the right.

  • http://www.fantastic-realities.com/ SamuraiArtGuy

    That’s what the segregation is for, so they don’t have to look at it and they can pretend that it’s not there.

  • Gregory Yancey

    Gentrification is going in DC BIGTIME ! Blacks are being pushed out of areas that had been Black for decades. Real estate prices are shooting through the roof. Town houses and condos being built everywhere. The face of the city is changing.

  • Dan Jacobs

    I do believe DC is a democrat town my friend. That’s Democratic policy at work. Drive down neighborhoods, sell the land to their friends through backdoor deals, profit and laugh…..all with the sheep’s clothes on

  • Spaceship Crusade

    Great story John (sad subject) but well written with good graphics. I was hoping to see more reporting on income inequality and segregation in our nation’s capitol.

  • Cartrice Haynesworth

    I live in DC and there is a big divide in the District. DC government is not hiring the rent is going up. Food cost are doubling and it seems as thought there is no hope for poor families in DC. There is a saying u got to have the complexion for the protection. It’s just some bull that’s going on in DC.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001720641870 Mike Cannon

    This is not a story about race its a story about Nepotism . Everyone knows now that most politicians are white in D. C. and much of the job “well paid” opportunities involve politics and adding to the debt (printing more cash). Your not getting any new cash unless you gotta a hand up and know someone. Much of the new cash is handed out to the families of the wealthy for trying to influence voting in D. C. Really a dirty business where the poor get poorer for sure. Sadly nothing will change without some real bad things happening. Very little is going down right now to help anyone below the poverty line rather many guidelines are being tightened . All the while welfare for the wealthy continues to grow and grow and grow like Pinocios nose. Like my mom and her mom said the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer for Eternity

  • Anonymous

    all of those criticizing what’s going on in dc with a political gov’t spin…in my opinion, you’re wrong. Washington dc is simply, and finally, starting to measure up to what our nations capitol should have been this entire time. for years, the capitol of ”the greatest nation on earth” was a city that didn’t represent that at all. horrible schools, roads, embarrassing city gov’t, and wasn’t an ideal city to live in – in general. things started turning around for the city once marion berry was out of office, and it has now grown into a very vibrant, cultural, and diverse city. with people from all parts of the nation and globe coming together in our now more ”livable” ”up to par” nations capital, as it should’ve been this entire time. no one had to move their company and employee’s to dc to partake in the backdoor politics and policy influencing before, except for lobbyists. but that’s happening now because it’s a good city to be in, and people all over the nation/world are now seeing it too. great weather, arts, culture, dining, shopping. tech, business, public policy, and academic hub. there’s not much to not like about dc really.

  • Anonymous

    lol…dc didn’t change overnight. it started improving and gaining momentum about fifteen years ago, once marion barry was finally out of the mayors office. Washington dc wasn’t a good city at all, even though it was our nations capitol. its just finally starting to live up to the standard of being America’s nations capitol city. that is all, no political point to be made here…as this transformation happened before Obama got to office.

  • VFS

    I think you’re missing the point. Washington is now more like a Banana Republic than ever. There is now high gold coast and deep poverty. Not much else.

  • RV

    The ironic thing as that DC is not only failing its low-income population; it is also failing young professionals with high incomes. My fiancée and I are in the fourth quintile of the income distribution, and we are not even trying to buy a home in DC. For starters, the onslaught of residential development is not adding any housing with more than one bedroom, so there are zero incentives for raising a family in this city. Neighborhoods we feel are safe and have good school districts are well beyond our price range. I know this snobby and obnoxious, and I can assure you that I cannot even begin to imagine what it is like living in this city on a low income, when the slightest hint of gentrification makes rents skyrocket in areas that still have a lot of crime and blight. Furthering the problem, voters elect a bunch of crooks to the City Council and Mayor’s office. This town is a mess.

  • Anonymous

    DC has always been a have’s and have’s not town with deep poverty. It’s been that way almost it’s entire history.

    You can’t ignore the fact that DC has been politically self empowered since the 70′s and that the city mismanaged (and through their political proxy and farm team, the school board) DCPS up until the Fenty administration as a way to enrich adults. As education is the *only* mechanism for fundamentally fixing the city’s poverty rate, that’s where most of the blame for the lack of progress should be laid.

    And many of the blacks in DC yearn for the ‘good old days’ in the 80′s and 90′s when everything was cheap. But those low costs were subsidized by young black men killing each other over drug turf.

  • Anonymous

    DC is not a black ‘owned’ city. Demographics change and real estate is expensive for everybody. Either you get an education and compete, or you go back to bama.

  • Anonymous

    Put opportunity in their face, and the spit on it and keep complaining.

  • Wait a second

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re conflating two very different sets of data to make your point here. the DC AREA is the wealthiest in the country, which includes incredibly high networth areas like Montgomery, Loudoun, and Fairfax Counties.

    However for the poverty numbers, you’re solely including the District of Columbia, not showing that the municipalities that make the DC area so wealthy have some of the highest performing schools in the country, and are also incredibly diverse. For a city proper, DC is below quite a few large and medium size cities like San Jose, San Francisco, etc.

  • Bob Sanders

    If they ever get around to improving DCPS, this town will basically become unaffordable for EVERYONE, except those on the dole.

  • Anonymous

    This is why the allegedly overpaid government workers cannot afford to buy a 2 bedroom apartment even as they manage 7- or 8-figure project budgets at work.

  • Anonymous

    Race and nepotism are too different things. Marion Barry handed out billions in public funds to his friends while mayor, and few of them were white. We have a black President, a black AG, a black Mayor and you are whining about race?

  • Anonymous

    My point is that Washington DC is *now*like mostly all other major cities in the U.S. with great wealth and poverty. Most of our major cities have been that way for years. It’s news now, because Washington has just recently become this over the last 15 years or so.

  • Popeye

    Wow. You really haven’t got a single clue about what you are talking about.

  • http://www.woodlandfoundationthe.org Crystal Washington

    I was born and raised in Washington, DC and what is happening to the city is both great and bad. I watched the city turn from a dangerous, crime infested city to a diverse, money hungry city. The changes are moving the poor (mainly blacks, because that’s who occupied the city) outward and the successful (mainly whites, because IDK) inward. Its great for the country, even better for the city but, the residents trying to survive let alone afford high ass rental prices; this change is very bad. My wife and I are middle class,but both came from very poor families and we work with families and individuals in the city currently being effected by this wonderful and dangerous change; my heart breaks for these families and individuals that are going homeless or hungry everyday. And as citizens of this nation it breaks my heart to read stories like this one with these comments and no help for those actually being effected by this change that we all talk about. This change will becoming to a city near you soon; I hope we all do our part to help those that may need our help.

    You can join us; Woodland Foundation in helping those families and individuals help themselves doing this much needed change. visit our website http://www.woodlandfoundationthe.org