Whether its residents relish the role or not, the District of Columbia is the nation's capital city. As such, it symbolizes what America stands for. What it does, and how it does it, is broadcast around the world. It helps shape global opinion of our down-to-earth success in achieving our lofty goals and ideals. Who lives here, votes here, pays taxes here, and governs here has the unique burden of being on display as America's urban showcase.
The city is now struggling to prepare a new 20-year Comprehensive Plan that appropriately recognizes virtually every American special interest. A combination of idealism and pragmatism, it will provide a public guide book on how the city should grow. How it grows will depend on who it attracts to live here and work here. This in turn depends on how the city's limited land is zoned for continued development. Housing, and all that goes with it, will help define the desired evolution of the city's "residential mix", the lifeblood of the capital city's 'body politic'.
This analysis is intended to provide some (updated) quantitative data to inform that ongoing debate.
[It is also the subject of NARPAC's Editorial for February, '06]
Due to the amount of quantitative graphic data presented in this new analysis (much of it from the Census Bureau's 2004 American Community Survey), this work has been broken into seven bite-sized pieces for easier loading, printing and greater reader selectivity. You can read the brief summary immediately below, and then decide to continue to the end of this chapter, or shift to another one by clicking on the chapter titles listed below.
Although the CHSTFR asserts that progress in housing in DC will depend on improving public schools, it does not plan for any linkage between the two. Likewise, it notes that some of DC's poorest residents are having difficulty finding jobs, and suggests bringing more low-end jobs closer to these residents. NARPAC explores, yet again, the primary linkage between education and household income, and suggests that over the next 20 years, some of DC's available land should be used to help provide adult education, rather than more homes and jobs for the current poor.
Issues addressed here:
The bond between education and housing needs -- and vice versa
If this does not hold your interest, please click ahead to:
Or back to:
The bond between education and housing needs -- and vice versa
NARPAC notes with some concern that both the comprehensive plan and the housing strategy drafts seem to point to an improved public education system primarily as a means of attracting new DC family residents. Almost completely overlooked is the more important need to improve the educational skills of DC's present residents that are stuck in substandard housing (and jobs!). Surely the priority belongs on improving the resident's adult potential, rather than underwriting his or her lifetime dependence on public largesse.
The housing strategy in the Comprehensive Plan will make a serious mistake if it does not recognize the fact that improvements in educational outcomes in DC will have a direct impact on improving DC housing inventory.
The next chart below tries (yet again) to summarize this causal relationship between education and economic opportunity, which NARPAC has treated elsewhere in earlier times. The rudimentary chart on the left shows the relationship between the income of two different couples sharing equal educational achievement and the "areawide median nincome" for the Washington area. It is interesting to note that two householders with only high school degrees fall well short of the area median income, and that the DC couple will fall more than 20% lower than either the PG or Monty couple. In fact, a DC couple with two bachelor's degrees will only just pass the bench mark, while PG and Monty do a bit better.
The right hand chart shows the median earning for men and women with several different educational levels. In most of the lower education categories, DC workers fare less well than their suburban counterparts (is a DC diploma worth less than one from PG or Monty?), and almost universally, women are still somewhat underpaid relative to the male counterparts. Surely the importance of educational achievement is clear from this Census Bureau data.
The Comprehensive Plan will also make a serious mistake if it fails to recognize the linkage between education, educators, schools, school properties, affordable housing, and the need for less low-end housing. Schools have excess property. Teachers can't afford rising housing costs. Schools need to accept the responsibility for providing adult education to those who failed to get their education as kids. Affordable housing needs property not otherwise generating tax revenues. Ergo, use excess school property for affordable housing for teachers who can also provide adult education to poverty-level neighbors unable to join the job market. To pursue this notion further, please visit the NARPAC Chapter on Recalling Student Drop-outs .
Understanding the local and regional job market
The next chart shows the pay levels for men and women in various common occupations in DC. As shown to the left, most of these jobs pay only modestly well: well over half of DC's available jobs pay less that $50,000 per year. In terms of pay productivity (cumulative jobs times pay for each), the curve is not excessively "bowed" to favor the higher paying jobs. In fact, very few of the higher paying jobs at the upper end of the scale reach above the median household income for a single individual. It is ironic at best, however, that those least able to make a go of life without a mate are most likely to do so. Should DC encourage this dichotomy in the form of subsidies, and in the name of diversity and inclusiveness?
Finally one needs to consider the widely accepted American economic advantage of workforce mobility. Workers have always enjoyed substantial freedom to move their place of residence to find or follow the employment they seek. Yet many recent planning documents have suggested that for the convenience of less-skilled or -affluent DC workers, either a) the private sector jobs should be moved to them, or b) convenient public transportation should be provided to shuttle them back and forth from where they have chosen to live to where they can find suitable employment. Somehow, this seems to be a futile attempt to pervert our free enterprise system rather than enable our workforce to embrace it. In fact, lower wage jobs are seldom concentrated or re-locatable.
As shown below left, the distribution of DC jobs is not all that skewed. Only the unusually large number of lawyers (primarily for lobbying the federal government) show a spike at the upper end of the pay curve. In fact (as mentioned above) half of DC's jobs pay less than $50K. But the total job availability does vary somewhat between DC and its immediate suburbs in Maryland.
However, as indicated on the two graphics to the right, there are far more jobs available in the suburbs than in DC itself. In fact DC has only 25% of the jobs available above $50K, and only 19% of the jobs below $50K. Furthermore, the average pay for jobs below $50K is slightly lower in DC than in the neighboring suburbs, and even the higher paying jobs pay better in Montgomery County, though not in PG. (These latter statistics may not be relevant because of the different job mix within the broad categories.)
Nevertheless, NARPAC is very skeptical that it is sensible or practical to apply "social engineering" through government sponsored housing subsidies that also tries to dictate employment opportunities as well. Surely it is must be in DC's best interests to assure that its citizens are prepared, equipped, and mobile enough to partake of our national free market system. Why ever would the nation's capital city take on a 20-year program to control the market to fit an ill-prepared, ill-equipped, and immobile workforce? Spatial mobility is as important to the American lifestyle as economic mobility.
Who works and who doesn't?
Lower left, above, shows the interesting impacts of education level. Note that in DC, a somewhat larger share of those with only a high school diploma or less, simply "don't work" compared to PG and Monty. Lower right treats the various major age brackets the same way.
The second chart in this series treats exactly the same four sets within the work pool, but as percentages of each component rather than percentages of the entire work pool. Hence in the case of DC males over 20, 69% work and 6% more want to, while 25% do not work. These are "worse" proportions (if you support the work ethic) than for PG or Monty. In almost every case, except for better educated DC residents, the red (DC) bars show fewer working and more not working than their suburban counterparts.
Go back to:
or Go forward to:
Any serious reader who wishes an (informal) hard copy of this text and/or charts can provide a mailing address by using the "feedback" feature immediately below. Please signify "all" or a specific chapter. Expect some modest delay, please.
Did you find this of interest?
Please give us your FEEDBACK
This page was updated on Feb 5, 2006
© copyright 2007 NARPAC, Inc. All rights reserved