As the region struggles to recover from the recession, the poverty rate in Washington, D.C., which has steadily risen since 2007, reached 18.9 percent in 2013, a marginal increase from the previous year, according to recent findings from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
The survey revealed that about 115,550 D.C. residents were living below the poverty line in 2013. The percentage marked an increase from 16.4 percent in 2007 and from 18.2 percent in 2012.
Jenny Reed, deputy director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, stressed the problems resulted from the District’s trend of rising poverty.
“Not only is the recovery not reaching a large share of D.C. families, changes to D.C.’s economy are actually making it harder for many residents to maintain their foothold,” Reed said in a press release. “Wages have fallen, and jobs are scarce for residents without a college degree, making it harder to afford the basics like housing and food.”
Despite the small difference between 2012 and 2013, professor of public policy at the McCourt School of Public Policy Harry Holzer addressed the negative consequences of high poverty rates on trends in employment among the city’s poor. Of the 88,773 people living in poverty over the age of 16, only 1.9 percent had a full-time job throughout the year, while 64.6 percent did not work at all in 2013.
“The rise in poverty in Washington, D.C., between 2012 and 2013 was not statistically significant. The biggest set of factors that affected poverty were those of the labor market. Because people were dropping out of the job market, not only did unemployment fall, but actual employment fell as well,” Holzer said.
Despite the significant poverty, the median household income for the District of $67,572 was the third-highest of all metropolitan areas in the country, behind only the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City.
Divergent experiences existed within the city itself. Wards 1, 5 and 6 saw a decline in poverty from 22 percent to 12 percent. Wards 7 and 8, however, saw their poverty rates reach nearly one-third of the population. The survey revealed that approximately 75 percent of the people living in poverty in D.C. are African-American.
“I used to think the Southeast was bad, but everywhere east of the Anacostia River suffers from poverty. To me, poverty means a lack of resources, and there are no resources in those areas,” Alexia Currie (COL ’16), a coordinator for the D.C. Reads program, said.
This income disparity is often a direct result of educational disparities. In 2012, more than one in three residents without a college degree lived below the poverty line. According to a 2013 Census Bureau survey, just over 22 percent of residents with a high school diploma lived in poverty in 2012, and D.C. residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher saw a poverty rate of just 5 percent that same year.
Community organizers have noticed the increase, particularly in children who do not have access to as many educational opportunities.
Tina Beeks, an employee at Paradise Community Center in Ward 7, identified the high price of higher education as a common obstacle for lower-income adolescents trying to attend university.
“Over the years, we have gotten many more kids coming to [the Paradise Community Center], especially in the summer. The worst thing about college is how expensive it is,” Beeks said.
D.C. has also demonstrated the high economic stratification within the District. According to Forbes’ “America’s Richest Counties 2014,” six of the 10 richest counties in America encircle the Washington metropolitan area, including Fairfax County, Va., and Loudon County, Va. Holzer attributes this suburban wealth to those who hold high-profile careers in D.C. and choose to live in counties outside of the District.
“Many people of high education, who have law degrees, Ph.D.s, or who work in think tanks, commute into Washington for work, but do not live there. Poverty rates are based on residencies, not workplaces,” Holzer said.