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.