The Districts Dime

Top 1 Percent Have Taken Home Most of DC’s Income Gains Since the Great Recession

June 16th, 2016 | by Claire Zippel and Ilana Boivie

The recovery from the Great Recession disproportionately benefitted the wealthiest 1 percent of District residents, while the city’s poorest residents were left behind. Nearly two thirds of recent income growth in DC has been captured by the top 1 percent, who now take home $1 of every $5 earned in the District. At the same time, the average income of the poorest DC families has fallen in recent years. To ensure future growth is shared more equally, DC should enact policy initiatives such as increased affordable housing investments, paid family leave, and fair scheduling for workers.

A new paper from the Economic Policy Institute analyzes the most recent IRS data to examine how the 1 percent and 99 percent have fared from 1917 to 2013. Here are the key findiRatio of Average Incomengs for the District:

  • The top 1 percent captured 60 percent of overall income growth in the city during the 2009 to 2013 economic recovery.[1]
  • The District is substantially more unequal than the metropolitan area overall (See Figure).
  • The top 1 percent now take home 19 percent of all the income in DC, meaning for every $5 of income earned in the District, about $1 goes to someone in the top 1 percent.
  • The average income of the top 1 percent is over $1.5 million, while the average income of the other 99 percent is $63,000.[2]

This research is in line with DCFPI’s research from earlier this year, which found that the poorest fifth of DC’s households have seen their incomes decline since the Great Recession, while DC’s high-income households are among the wealthiest in the nation.

The District should take steps to help boost the incomes and employment prospects of families that struggle the hardest to make ends meet, including passing legislation on paid family leave and fair scheduling, as well as increasing existing efforts to make more housing affordable.

[1] Between 2001 and 2007, the top 1 percent took home 30.1 percent of income growth – half the share captured in recent years.

[2] Figures in 2014 dollars.

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DC Should Act Quickly to Pass Fair Scheduling and Paid Family and Medical Leave

June 15th, 2016 | by Ilana Boivie

Raising DC’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 is a big step to help workers thrive in DC, at a time when housing costs are rising but wages have been falling for residents without a college degree. The legislation – proposed by the mayor and approved last week by the DC Council – stands to increase wages for over 100,000 people who work in DC.

But we shouldn’t stop there. Beyond higher wages, many low-wage workers in the city’s restaurants and retail stores need more hours and more predictable schfair scheduling picedules. A bill now before the DC Council would address this. Another bill would provide paid family leave so that workers can take time off when they have a child or a sick relative – or when they are ill themselves – without facing financial hardship or job loss. The Council should move forward on these soon.

Fair Scheduling

The Hours and Scheduling Stability Act of 2015 would require employers to offer additional hours to current employees first, before they look for a new hire. In addition, the bill would ensure that employees get advance notice of their schedules, and would require employers to provide additional pay if they change an employee’s schedule with short notice.

Last summer, 4 in 5 retail and restaurant workers said it was important to them to get more hours, in a survey and report from DC Jobs with Justice, Georgetown University, and DCFPI. The survey also found that most employees want a more predictable schedule. Encouraging and enforcing stable work scheduling practices would go a long way to helping hard-working DC residents provide for their families and do things like pursue education to advance their careers.

Paid Family Leave

The Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015, in its current form, would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for workers in DC to care for themselves, a new child, or an ill family member. The Council is currently reviewing the details and making revisions to the bill. Here are some things that are important to ensuring low-wage workers are able to take full advantage of the benefit.

  • Family definitions should be expanded. The current bill wouldn’t allow someone to take paid leave to care for key family members, including parents, grandparents, and siblings.
  • The wage replacement rate for low-wage workers should be at least 90 percent. Most low-wage workers will only be able to afford takinPaid Family Leaveg time off – and thus have real access to paid family leave – if it replaces most of their wages.
  • Workers should have their jobs protected. The proposed bill ensures that workers can return to their job after taking leave, but only if they have been at their job for a full year. Yet many low-wage industries have high rates of employee turnover, which means that many of these workers would not be able to take leave because they lack job protections.
  • Paid leave should include as many DC residents as possible. The current bill excludes residents who work outside of the District or those working for city or federal government. This means that an estimated 40 percent of residents would be unable to access paid family leave benefits that would be beneficial to them and their families.
  • Raise benefits over time if possible. If the paid family leave fund appears to be running a regular surplus, the Council should revisit the program’s design to expand benefits, including increasing the maximum length of assistance from 12 to 16 weeks.

The Council should act quickly to pass both of these important bills before the summer recess.

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Helping Residents with the Most Basic Need: Getting an ID

June 10th, 2016 | by Ed Lazere

Anyone who has ever lost their ID in a remote place knows how hard it can be to prove who you are – and how stressful and challenging it can be to do anything without an ID. That’s why it is important that the District is considering steps to make it easier for residents to get an ID, including a bill that would waive the fee for low-income residents to get key ID documents.

Needed for Daily Life: An ID

Needed for Daily Life: An ID

Most of us cannot function for long without a proper government-issued ID; we pull out our driver’s license or similar IDs all the time. Having an ID is critical to getting a job, getting on an airplane, or even getting into many office buildings. For low-income families, appropriate ID is important to applying for public benefits.

That’s why it’s important for the District to make it easy for residents to get an ID or replace a lost one, including making it affordable. The poorest fifth of DC households have average income of under $10,000, according to a recent DCFPI report. And our research also shows that the typical low-income resident now spends two-thirds of their income for rent and utilities.

This means that many DC households struggle to meet even their most basic needs each month. An expense that may seem modest to many of us – such as paying $47 for a driver’s license – can be prohibitive to someone who routinely has too little to pay their rent or stock their refrigerator.

The Improving Access to Identity Documents Act would allow residents with incomes below 200 percent of poverty – or about $40,000 for a family of three – to get DC birth certificates, driver’s licenses, or non-driver’s ID cards – free of charge.

This bill reflects a notion that DC’s fees should be adjusted based on a household’s ability to pay. It represents an important opening for broader efforts that should be considered to modify other fees and fines in the District based on income.

We hope that the Improving Access to Identity Documents Act gets approved and funded soon, so that DC residents can start getting the IDs they need to get through daily life.

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Building Affordable Housing Across DC Will Help Families and Children Succeed

June 8th, 2016 | by Claire Zippel

There’s new evidence for why DC policymakers should care about having mixed-income neighborhoods in the city: children in poor families have higher incomes as adults, and are more likely to attend college, when they move to a low-poverty neighborhood. The District can support mixed-income neighborhoods – and improve the chances for children to succeed – by making sure affordable housing is built and preserved throughout the city.

New research from Harvard University researchers[1] shows that simply giving low-income families the opportunity to move to a low-poverty neighborhood – without any other social service interventions – helps their children do better as adults in striking ways. Children who moved to a low-poverty neighborhood:

mother and child

  • Had 31 percent higher incomes as adults than children who remained in high-poverty neighborhoods
  • Were 16 percent more likely to attend college
  • Were more likely to live as adults in a low-poverty, less racially segregated neighborhood

You can read a summary of the groundbreaking study here.

Yet as housing costs in the District have ballooned, it’s gotten even harder for low-income families to live in neighborhoods with good job opportunities, high-performing schools, and access to transportation. This suggests that the District’s efforts to increase the stock of affordable housing also should focus on where that housing is located. Here are two ways to do that:

  • Use District-owned land to get as much affordable housing as possible: When the District sells city-owned land for housing development, up to 30 percent of the homes must be affordable. That’s good. But the District should go even further when it sells land in neighborhoods that offer greater economic opportunity to low-income families. For instance, the District could use the upcoming sale of the Hebrew Home site in Petworth to create significant affordable housing in a low-poverty, transit-adjacent neighborhood. Using housing tools like the Housing Production Trust Fund, even more than 30 percent of the homes built on the Hebrew Home site could be affordable.
  • Preserve affordable housing in high-cost or gentrifying neighborhoods: Existing affordable homes in hot or rising housing markets face significant pressure to become market-rate. One recent example is Museum Square, a subsidized affordable building in Chinatown whose owners have chosen to redevelop and opt-out of the subsidy program. When such buildings are no longer affordable, it’s unlikely that low-income residents will be able to stay in the neighborhood. The Mayor’s Housing Preservation Strike Force will soon offer ways to keep subsidized housing like Museum Square, including identifying buildings at risk and utilizing the District’s right to buy them (under the District Opportunity to Purchase Act). The District should act quickly to implement the Preservation Strike Force’s recommendations.

[1] Chetty, Raj, Nathaniel Hendren & Lawrence F. Katz (2015). “The Effects of Exposure to Better Neighborhoods on Children: New Evidence from the Moving to Opportunity Experiment.” Harvard University and the National Bureau of Economic Research. Published in American Economic Review 106 (4). Available at

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What Does the New ESSA Law Mean for How We Measure Progress in DC Schools?

June 7th, 2016 | by Soumya Bhat

DC residents have an important chance to weigh in this week on new efforts to measure the quality of our schools, as well as new strategies for improving lower-performing schools. The public is invited to learn about the District’s new proposals for school accountability and to offer input at community meetings being held throughout the city this week.

Congress recently adopted the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to replace the No Child Left Behind Act that has governed federal education policy since 2002. Rather than a one-size-fits-all federal approach, this new legislation allows DC and the states flexibility in measuring how well their schools are educating students, as well as in developing strategies to improve schools that do not meet those standards. States will also receive dedicated funding to identify and intervene for the lowest performing schools (bottom 5 percent).

The DC State Board of Education (SBOE) and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) are currently developing a new locally-driven accountability system and will submit a plan to the U.S. Department of Education next spring. ESSA does not go into effect until the 2017-18 school year.

This week, the State Board of Education is holding a series of meetings across the city (see dates below) so that members of the community can learn more about the ESSA changes and offer input on what should or should not be included in the new accountability plan. For example, new measures should recognize when schools show academic progress, even if this is not reflected in overall proficiency rates, and test score data could be broken out further to better track the progress of low-income students.

If you are not able to attend a community meeting, the SBOE is also collecting feedback through this online survey. For more information, see


Date Time Location  Ward
Thurs. June 2 5:30-6:30pm Petworth Library Ward 4
Sat. June 4 1:00-2:00 Columbia Heights Education Campus Ward 1
Sat. June 4 4:00-5:00pm Capitol View Library Ward 7
Mon., June 6 6:00-7:00pm Turkey Thicket Recreation Center Ward 5
Wed., June 8 7:00-8:00pm Tenley-Friendship Library Ward 3
Mon. June 13 6:00-7:00pm MLK Memorial Library Ward 2
Thurs., June 16 6:30-7:30pm Anacostia Library Ward 8
Tues. June 21 6:30-7:30pm Capitol Hill Montessori @Logan Ward 6

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