A BIG GAP: INCOME INEQUALITY IN THE DISTRICT REMAINS ONE OF THE HIGHEST IN THE NATION

by Caitlin Biegler | March 7th, 2012 | PDF of this report

The richest five percent of District households have an average income of $473,000, the highest among the 50 largest cities in the United States. Meanwhile, the poorest 20 percent of District households have incomes averaging under $10,000. As a result, income inequality in DC — the gap between rich and poor — is tremendous. It is third highest among the nation’s largest cities.

An analysis of data from the 2010 American Community Survey suggests that while the District’s economy has led to economic growth and prosperity for many on the middle and higher rungs of the ladder, residents on the bottom of the income scale largely are being left behind.

 Highlights of the findings:

  • The average income among the top five percent of households in DC — $473,000 — is the highest among the 50 largest U.S. cities. This is far higher than the $292,000 average income of the top five percent among all large U.S. cities.
  • The average income among the top 20 percent of DC households — $259,000 — is higher than in every city except San Francisco.
  • The poorest DC households by contrast — those in the bottom fifth by income — had an average income of $9,100. This is close to the average among the largest U.S. cities.
  • The gap between high-income and low-income households in the District is the third-highest among the 50 largest cities, after Atlanta and Boston. In DC, the average income of the top fifth is 29 times the income of the bottom fifth. Among the 50 largest U.S. cities, the average income of the top fifth of households is 18 times the income of the bottom fifth.
  • The substantial income inequality in DC reflects both a significant concentration of the metro area’s high income and low-income populations. The poverty rate in the metropolitan Washington suburbs is 7.1 percent, while the poverty rate in the District is nearly three times higher, at 19.2 percent. This is one of the highest central city and suburban poverty disparities among large cities in the nation.

Addressing income inequality — lifting the incomes of those at the bottom — requires adequate funding for programs that support the city’s workforce and affordable housing supply. Funding programs that help low-income households prepare for and find living-wage jobs and that help families live in decent and reasonably priced housing are among the most effective ways to close this gap.

To read the full report, click here.