Losing Ground: The District’s Lowest-Income Neighborhoods Suffered Large Population and Income Losses in the 1990s

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Key Findings

  • Economic disparities among DC neighborhoods widened sharply in the 1990s, as most lower-income areas suffered large losses of both income and population, while higher-income areas typically posted substantial gains.
  • While income in DC grew 7.4% between 1989 and 1999, nearly all low-income neighborhood clusters lost income, as much as 25 percent in Barry Farms. Meanwhile, 10 of the 11 high-income neighbor hood clusters gained as much as 20 percent.
  • Overall, DC lost 28,000 residents in the 1990s, or 5% of its population. The losses were concentrated in low-income neighborhood clusters, where all but two lost population, and in middle-income clusters, where 11 out of 15 lost population. A majority of high-income clusters ‘ 7 out of 11 ‘ gained population.
  • Lower-income neighborhoods also suffered from a loss of middle-income families. Of 13 low-income neighborhood clusters, 12 experienced a decline in families earning $75,000 or more.
  • While many middle-income neighborhood clusters faced overall declines, a few ‘ Downtown, Howard, and Logan Circle ‘ posted impressive gains, particularly in income that appear to be signs of gentrification.



Income inequality in the District of Columbia ‘ the gap between high-income and low-income households ‘ is as wide as or wider than in any other major U.S. city.  By the late 1990s the average income of the top fifth of District households was 31 times the average income of the lowest-income fifth of households.  The large gap grew in the 1990s, as a result of expanding income for the highest-income District households and stagnating incomes for the lowest-income residents.< ![if !supportFootnotes]>[1]< ![endif]> 

Inequality is also evident in the District’s neighborhoods, with average incomes varying widely from neighborhood to neighborhood.  Just as the income gap among District households grew, neighborhood economic disparities also widened during the 1990s, as most lower-income neighborhoods suffered large losses of income and population, while high-income neighborhoods experienced large increases in average income and typically had population gains or only modest declines.  The District’s middle-income neighborhoods remained somewhat stagnant, with the exception of a few showing gains that appear to be signs of gentrification.

This analysis uses 1990 and 2000 U.S. Census tract data to provide a neighborhood-by-neighborhood comparison of economic changes in the 1990s.  The District Office of Planning combines the Census tracts into 39 neighborhood clusters.  Each neighborhood cluster identified by the Office of Planning contains several neighborhoods.  The tables in this analysis refer to the clusters based on the first neighborhood listed by the Office of Planning.  The full list of all neighborhoods included in each cluster is listed in Appendix A.  DCFPI ranked these neighborhood clusters as “low-income,” middle-income,” and “high-income,” based on their per capita income in 1999.  This analysis assesses changes in five areas:  aggregate neighborhood income, population, per capita income, poverty, and the number of households with middle incomes or higher, defined as those with incomes above $75,000.  The analysis of changes in these measures revealed the following:

  • Of the District’s 13 low-income neighborhood clusters, 11 lost neighborhood income.  Moreover, the top six decreases in neighborhood income were found in low-income neighborhood clusters: Barry Farms, Historic Anacostia, Ivy City, Capitol View, Mayfair, and River Terrace.  Declines in these neighborhood clusters were as high as 25 percent.  The decreases in income reflect a combination of population change and drops in per capita income.
  • Most of the District’s neighborhood clusters ‘ 26 of 39 ‘ lost population in the 1990s, resulting in a net loss of almost 28,000 residents over the decade.  The largest population declines, however, were in low-income neighborhood clusters.  The top five decreases in population, which were as high as 20 percent, were all in low-income neighborhood clusters.
  • While income per capita ‘ the average income per person ¾ rose 12.7 percent city-wide in the 1990s, adjusting for inflation, it fell in seven of the 13 low-income neighborhood clusters.  The largest losses were 30 percent in Kenilworth and 23 percent in Barry Farms.
  • Almost all of the District’s neighborhood clusters ‘ 34 out of 39 ‘ had increases between 1989 and 1999 in the percentage of their residents living in poverty.  When measured on a percentage basis, the increase in poverty in many high-income neighborhood clusters was substantial, because these clusters typically had a small number of poor residents in 1989.  In raw numbers, however, the biggest increases were in low- and middle-income neighborhood clusters.  Middle-income neighborhood clusters gained an average of 528 poor residents over the decade and low-income neighborhood clusters gained an average of 464 poor residents.  This compares to an average increase of 171 poor residents in high-income neighborhood clusters.
  • Along with the losses in income and the increases in poverty, low-income neighborhood clusters lost many of their middle- and high-income families in the 1990s.  All but one low-income neighborhood cluster experienced a drop in the number of families with incomes above $75,000 during the 1990s, with low-income Barry Farms and Ivy City losing the most of any neighborhood cluster ‘ losing 54 percent and 43 percent of their middle- and upper-income families respectively.
  • Overall, only one low-income neighborhood cluster ‘ Skyland in Ward 7 ‘ registered positive changes in these measures in the 1990s.  The neighborhood cluster maintained its population, had a modest increase in average income, and had an increase in the number of middle- and high-income families.

While low-income neighborhood clusters were consistently losing ground in the 1990s, high-income neighborhood clusters were gaining ground.  Overall, high-income neighborhood clusters lost only a small portion of their population and gained income over the decade, even though most also had increases in poverty.  In fact, neighborhood income rose more than 20 percent, after adjusting for inflation, in five of 11 high-income neighborhood clusters ‘ Dupont Circle, Friendship Heights, Georgetown, Chevy Chase, and Kalorama Heights.

Many middle-income neighborhood clusters faced declines in income and population in the 1990s, although in most cases the declines were not as great as in low-income neighborhood clusters.  A small number of middle-income neighborhood clusters ‘ Downtown, Howard University, and Logan Circle ‘ posted some of the most impressive gains in income and in the number of high-income families of all neighborhood clusters.  The dramatic increases, particularly in average income, appear to be signs that these neighborhood clusters began gentrifying in the 1990s ‘ that is, they became increasingly popular to middle- and upper-income families.

These findings suggest, together with the findings on growing income inequality, that the District’s economic gains have not been shared by all of its residents.  Increasingly, the District’s lowest-income households are being concentrated and isolated in neighborhoods that, over time, bear the brunt of the District’s declines in population and income.  Low-income residents already find it difficult to afford quality housing, food, childcare, and health care.  These declines in low-income neighborhoods make it difficult to sustain acceptable service levels ‘ in education, child care, health care, retail and development, and quality affordable housing ‘ because the income and population base that would support these services has been continuously eroding.

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End Notes:

[1] DC Fiscal Policy Institute, Income Inequality Is Wider in the District of Columbia than in Any Major U.S. City, July 2004