The Districts Dime

How Does Your Household Income Compare to Other DC Households? Try Our New Online Tool and Find Out

August 12th, 2016 | by Mollie Mills

Household income in the District is almost as diverse as the city itself. The typical DC household has an income of $56,700, but income distribution is extremely wide, and incomes vary greatly across different groups of residents. The top 5 percent of DC households have incomes in excess of $280,100, while the bottom 5 percent have incomes less than $2,100. This reflects the fact that DC’s income inequality is among the widest among large U.S. cities.

With such a wide range of household incomes and so much diversity, it can be difficult to know where your household income stands. Fortunately, we’ve done the work for you. Our new online tool lets you know how your household income compares with all other District households, as well as with other households that are similar to yours in terms of age, education, and whether you have children.


For example, if your income is $100,000, that places you at the 72nd percentile among all DC households – that is, your income is higher than 72 percent of all DC households. If are 40 years old, with a college degree and married with children, that $100,000 income places you at the 43rd percentile among other households with these characteristics. In other words, a $100,000 income is high for the city as a whole, but not especially high among college-educated married residents with children.

In another example, a 40 year-old single parent with a high school degree and income of $50,000 is at the 46th percentile among all DC households – an income that is higher than 46 percent of all households. But that family would have income higher than 86 percent of other single parents with a high school degree, because that is a group with relatively low incomes.

Our tool can be used to identify which types of DC households have outlying incomes.

  • Who’s Faring the Worst?: Households with no children, headed by an individual who is over 55 and single, with a high school diploma or less. The median income for this group is just $17,900 compared with $56,700 for all DC households. While a quarter of all DC households have incomes below $24,900, some 61 percent of households in this group have incomes this low. And while a quarter of all DC households have incomes above $110,400, only 3 percent of DC households in this group have incomes this high.
  • Who’s Faring the Best: Households with children, headed by an individual who is over 55 with a spouse or domestic partner, and a graduate degree. The median household income for this group is $232,900 compared with $56,700 for all DC households. A quarter of all DC households have incomes below $24,900, but only 5 percent of households in this group have incomes that low. And while only a quarter of all DC households have incomes above $110,400, some 81 percent of households in this group have incomes that high.

Due to small sample sizes in the Census Bureau data, our tool is not able to examine incomes using more detailed demographic characteristics. It does not take into account race or gender, for example, despite their clear impacts on income. In addition, the tool combines some groups in order to increase sample size – for example, individuals without a high school degree are combined with those who have a high school degree. To address this shortcoming, our tool provides an overview of how race and gender influence household income.


  • Single women in DC have median income that is just 88 percent the median income of single men — $42,600 versus $48,400.
  • Controlling for education does little to eliminate the income discrepancy between single men and single women. Single women with some college or a bachelor’s degree, for example, typically have incomes about 89 percent of single men at that educational level.
  • The gender income gap is exacerbated for single women with children. The median household income for single women with children is $27,600, while single men with children have incomes around $42,400. That means single mothers typically have incomes that are just 65 percent of single fathers.
  • Controlling for education doesn’t eliminate the gender income gap between single mothers and single fathers, and in some cases makes it wider. Single mothers with some college or a bachelor’s degree only earn 58% of what their male counterparts earn, on average.
  • The typical black household income is just 49 percent of the typical white household income — $38,300 versus $77,600.
  • Controlling for education evens out the playing field for black households and white households, but only slightly. For example, black households where the head has some college education or a bachelor’s degree have median income that is about 75 percent of their white counterparts.

The District is doing a lot to help low-income residents, but this tool suggests that even more should be done. Single households with children and households led by individuals with low levels of education are particularly vulnerable to low incomes. If you are in one of those groups or want to help, here’s what you can do:

  • Advocate for better job training programs. Job growth in the District has been concentrated in industries that require an advanced education. Because over a quarter of DC household heads only have a high school diploma or less, many residents may have trouble attaining a job. For long-term success, these residents need additional training in industries that are growing. For example, consider a single DC resident who is 18-54 with a high school diploma and no children. In the present, they typically have an income of $23,000, which barely covers expenses. Because industries which hire lower-skilled workers are in decline and wages are stagnant or decreasing, they may not have a job in the future. Job training would allow them to enter a growing market, such as in hospitality and health services. This would ensure that they could continue to make ends meet in the future, with room for advancement.
  • Advocate for fair scheduling rules. Many companies in the service sector (which produce a high number of jobs for lower-educated workers) change employee schedules frequently to account for variations in foot traffic, reservations, or sales volumes. This creates problems for workers, including economic insecurity, child care difficulties, challenges continuing their education, and limited employment options. For example, imagine that you are married and 18-54 with a high school diploma and children. You usually have an income around $44,000, but that number varies from month to month and year to year because your weekly hours are unpredictable. This makes it hard for you to establish a budget. Furthermore, your work schedule is erratic, making it hard for you and your spouse to coordinate child-care. When you get called in at the last minute, your spouse often has to miss work to take care of your children. You would also like to get a second job or take classes part-time, but your ever-changing work schedule makes that nearly impossible. Because of instances like this, employers should be required to give workers advance notice of their schedules, among other protective measures. The DC Council could vote on the Hours and Scheduling Stability Act of 2015 as early as September.
  • Support paid family leave. Paid family leave enables workers to make ends meet during times of personal need and encourages women to stay at jobs that they might otherwise leave in order to provide care. While this policy would help many DC households, it would especially benefit single mothers, who are at an extreme disadvantage compared to other DC households. A single mother with a high school degree, for example, typically has an income around $21,300. She has a low-wage job because of her low level of education, and she doesn’t have paid leave. She just had a baby and needs to take time off work to take care of her him or her, but she fears she will lose her job and get behind on bills. Paid family leave would replace most of her wages, eliminating financial distress and allowing her to be with her baby. The DC Council could vote on the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015 as early as September.
  • Learn about programs like TANF and advocate for expansion. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provides monetary assistance to families with dependent children when their incomes don’t meet their needs. Increasing household income for these families has been shown to help poor children in school and in future employment. However, time limit extensions are needed for families that face difficult situations. A rigid time limit puts already vulnerable families at risk of losing all assistance, which endangers not only the parents, but also the children. For example, imagine you are a single DC resident who is 18-54 with a high school diploma and children. You have an income around $19,800. You also have trouble holding a job for various health reasons, which means your income is unstable, and you don’t always have money for food. Your child has trouble in school because of stress at home, and your TANF benefits, which helped supplement your variable income, have been greatly reduced because you surpassed your time limit. You are now in danger of losing your apartment, and you are unable to support your child. Situations similar to this harm DC families every day, which is why time limit reforms are necessary. The Public Assistance Amendment Act of 2015 could be a good start, but it has not been adopted.

Programs and policies like the ones above help vulnerable groups attain upward mobility by providing better job opportunities, more stability in the workplace, and supplemental income in times of hardship. They ensure that all DC households have a chance to thrive in the District, regardless of demographic.

Click here to use the interactive tool.

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New Relief Available to Protect Medicaid Beneficiaries

August 9th, 2016 | by Chelsea Sharon, Legal Aid Society of DC and Jodi Kwarciany, DC Fiscal Policy Institute

Low-income District residents will have an easier time getting and keeping their health care coverage, thanks to a recent federal court ruling requiring the District to change how it handles Medicaid applications and renewals.

Health Insurance FormThe District has faced a number of problems administering its Medicaid program. DC residents often face long waits at social service centers – many line up as early as 4 a.m. to get in – and lost paperwork is a common problem. In addition, changes to the District’s IT system with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act have caused technological problems and backlogs in Medicaid application processing. This has created challenges to get on Medicaid and to maintain eligibility (which has to be renewed annually). According to one Court document: “These problems have affected thousands of Medicaid beneficiaries and have deprived many District residents of necessary medical care to which they are entitled.”

In December 2015, the law firm of Terris, Pravlik & Millian, LLP sought to address these systemic problems by filing motions as part of the long-running Salazar v. District of Columbia case. Judge Gladys Kessler ruled in April 2016 that the District had failed to comply with federal law requiring timely processing of Medicaid applications and renewals, causing thousands of Medicaid beneficiaries to face delays in obtaining coverage and improper termination of coverage. Judge Kessler stressed that these violations had an impact on “real people—poor and sick people and their children—who are being denied the health care and the dignity of receiving health care to which they are entitled by law.”

In July, Judge Kessler ordered two crucial safeguards be implemented immediately to protect Medicaid beneficiaries. First, the District must grant provisional eligibility to Medicaid applicants who inform the government that their applications have not been acted upon within the 45-day deadline. Second, the District must extend Medicaid coverage to residents who inform the government that they are facing termination at renewal despite having received no advance notice of the need to renew or having already submitted their renewal form. These actions seek to ensure that low-income residents will not go without needed medical care while they await decisions on their applications or renewals.

DCFPI and Legal Aid will be working with Medicaid advocates to publicize this decision and ensure that low-income residents and their families can benefit from this relief and access the medical care they depend on. Those who would like to help or would like to refer individuals who are having trouble applying for or renewing their Medicaid coverage can contact Chelsea Sharon at

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What’s Next in Inclusionary Zoning

August 8th, 2016 | by Claire Zippel

Last month, the DC Zoning Commission voted to strengthen the city’s Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) program in ways that will create thousands of affordable housing units throughout the city and increase economic diversity in DC neighborhoods. To make sure these changes go into effect as soon as possible, the DC Council should swiftly pass needed implementing legislation, and the Bowser administration should quickly issue new regulations.

Our recent blog highlights the changes coming to IZ as a result of Zoning Commission’s decision. Here are the next steps in making the approved changes a reality.

Fig 5

  • The Zoning Commission amends the zoning code. The Zoning Commission will work with zoning and legal staff to finalize language amending the zoning code. The amendment will be published in the DC Register for a 30-day public review period. Technical corrections to the language may be made during that time. On September 12th, the Zoning Commission will vote to adopt the final amendment into the zoning code.
  • The Council needs to pass legislation aligning DC law with the approved zoning changes. Next, a part of the DC law, which specifies how agencies will enforce and administer the IZ program, needs to be amended to match the zoning code. Legislation to do that will likely be introduced soon after the Council returns from its summer recess on September 20th, and should gain broad support: last year, the Council unanimously passed a resolution last year calling for strengthening IZ’s affordability.
  • The Mayor needs to issue revised IZ regulations. The Bowser administration will issue revised administrative regulations for the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), which manages the IZ program. The Bowser administration should act quickly to do this, because once those regulations are finalized, the new IZ rules are officially in effect and DHCD will start matching low-income families with the new IZ units through its lottery system.

Once these steps are taken, new residential developments will provide truly affordable IZ rental units. Almost every new residential development in DC – including those in high-cost neighborhoods near job opportunities, public transit, and good schools – will be required to include some apartments affordable to low-income families, those at or below 60 percent of the area median income, or $52,000 for a family of two. (Developments that were still under construction or close to breaking ground when the new rules went into effect, will be allowed to comply with the old rules.) IZ will generate over 2,600 low-cost apartments over the next five to 10 years, based on the pace of new development which has climbed to a 25-year high.

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More Young Children Are Engaged in Reading With the Books from Birth Program

August 4th, 2016 | by Soumya Bhat

Thousands of books are getting into the homes of families with young children – and into the eager hands (and occasional mouths) of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers – thanks to a new DC program! Over 13,000 DC children are participating in Books from Birth, DC’s program that sends a free book every month to every child in the District under the age of five. While the program has seen success in its first year, reaching a sizable share of DC’s young children, there is room to grow to reach full enrollment. The DC Public Library is taking steps to increase enrollment in high-need neighborhoods that could benefit most from participation.

Family Relax Happiness Holiday Cheerful Concept

Low-income children have the most to gain from early literacy services like Books from Birth. Young children who have access to age-appropriate reading materials are more likely to become strong readers, which is linked to academic success when they enter school. Yet research shows that on average, children from lower-income families are exposed to 30 million fewer words within the first four years of life than children from higher-income families.[1] This can lead to disparities in vocabulary and language processing between low-income and other children as early as 18 months, and a six-month gap found at 24 months of age.[2]

These outcomes point to the importance of an early literacy strategy that begins at birth. The Books from Birth initiative, fully funded in the fiscal year 2017 budget and administered through the DC Public Library’s Sing, Talk, and Read program, has delivered 52,000 books to DC families between February and August of this year. This is a tremendous support for families who may not have the means to purchase the reading materials their child needs in the home environment.

The good news is that Books from Birth is reaching about two-thirds of the eligible families in neighborhoods designated as “target areas” by the DC Public Library, and about one-third of all eligible children city-wide. That also means there is room for improvement to reach more families.  The Library is using strategies to further increase participation by launching an ambassador program and developing grassroots partnerships to continue to promote the benefits of enrolling in Books from Birth.

Parents and caregivers must enroll in the program to receive free books for their child – learn how to register here:

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[1] Hart, B. & Risley, T.R. “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3” (2003, spring). American Educator, pp.4-9.

[2] Anne Fernald, Virginia A. Marchman, and Adriana Weisleder. SES differences in language processing skill and vocabulary are evident at 18 months. Dev Sci. 2013 Mar; 16(2): 234–248.

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Improving the Economic Security of DC’s Early Care and Education Workforce

July 28th, 2016 | by Soumya Bhat

Too many of the professionals who care for our youngest children live in poverty because of low wages. Not only is this challenging for people in a demanding job, it’s bad for children because it leads to high turnover and a stressed child care workforce. Improving the wages of workers in DC’s child care settings should be a top priority for the city.

Mother feeding little boy

Nationally, nearly half of child care workers rely on public assistance such as SNAP, Medicaid, or TANF benefits, according to recent research, and the story in DC is the same. Our report on child care providers in DC, Solid Footing, highlighted low compensation that does not match the credentials of child care workers.

Offering high-quality education and development options for our youngest children – those between birth and age three – can make all the difference for their school readiness and health outcomes later in life. Increasing payments to providers who serve children in DC’s child care subsidy program is one critical step to making sure workers are well paid and that child care quality is high. With low reimbursements, providers simply struggle to have enough revenue to pay a living wage.

But, that alone may not lead to a better paid workforce. One way DC can improve retention and recruitment of quality ECE staff by supplementing salaries for early care and education staff in community-based settings. A Child Care Salary Supplement Program could contribute to higher quality early care and education by:

  • Supplementing low wages that most ECE programs pay their staff, making it more economically viable to stay in the field and increasing the appeal of the field to new talent.
  • Increasing retention by requiring participants to commit to an additional period of time (6 months to a year) in their position.
  • Increasing education levels of the ECE workforce by linking supplements to educational attainment and/or continued professional development.

There are several models that could inform this work. For example, in Illinois, an early care and education worker is eligible for a pay supplement if they earn $15 an hour or less, have been in the program at least one year, and work at least 15 hours per week. In Pennsylvania, child care facilities meeting certain performance standards can receive grants to fund staff bonuses and continuing education. Supplements range from a low of $200 to $500 per year to a high of $1,500 to $6,250 a year for administrators with advanced experience and education.

We hope the District will take a look at these models as a starting point to develop and sustain a program specific to the needs and challenges of the District’s ECE workforce. See here for more information on bringing a child care salary supplement program to DC.

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