Washington vs. D.C.

By Ta-Nehisi Coates
Adam Serwer sketches a tale of two cities:

Washington, D.C., has always been two cities. Washington spills out of downtown Metro stations at 8 A.M.; D.C. huddles on crowded buses at 6 A.M. On Sundays, when Washington goes to brunch, D.C. is in church. Washington clinks glasses in bars like Local 16 in its leisure time, while D.C. sweats out its perm at dance clubs like Love or DC Star. Washington has health-insurance benefits, but D.C. is paying out of pocket. Washington just closed on a condo; D.C. is in foreclosure. Washington is making money. D.C. never recovered from the 2001 recession.

Matt feels the focus on black unemployment, minus national context, is obscuring:

I think that much as claims about the economic vibrancy of the DC area are rightly tempered by the observations that conditions are much worse for the city's working class residents than for affluent professionals, claims about the city being "a city divided" need to be tempered by the reality that these divisions exist all over the place. 

The five percentage point increase in the unemployment rate for black residents in the city is bad. But nationwide African-American unemployment hit a low of 7.7% in August of 2007, rising to 10.7% in August 2008, 15% in August 2009, 16.2% in August 2010, and all the way up to 16.7% in August 2011. In other words, the nationwide increase in black unemployment was larger than the DC-specific increase in black unemployment. Similarly, while for DC the Hispanic unemployment rate may have "nearly doubled," nationwide it hit a low of 5.1% in March 2007, much more than doubled to 13.2% by November 2010, and has slowly oozed downward to 11.3% today.

I don't l know about that. Ward 7 (96 percent black) has the highest unemployment rate in the country. Second highest? Ward 8, which is 94 percent black. I haven't been able to find the unemployment rate for African-Americans in Washington, D.C. proper (not the metro area.) Perhaps the middle class is balancing those numbers out. 

But nevertheless, you still have essentially the most unemployed population in the country, living in the same city with one of the most employed populations, if not the most employed population  outright:

Yglesias' analysis is missing an obvious data point: Namely for DC to be pretty much the same as the rest of the country in terms of racial disparities and unemployment ratios, white people in DC would have to have be similarly "slightly better off" than their counterparts nationally when it comes to unemployment. Except they're not. They're MUCH better off. 

In 2009 in DC white unemployment went up to 4.1 percent from 3 percent, while nationally white unemployment peaked in 2009 at about 8.3 percent. Now THAT's "insulated from the recession." There's a reason for this--more than 80 percent of white residents in the District have college degrees, compared to 30 percent of whites nationally. That's pretty much how it goes in general--if you have a college degree you're more likely to have kept your job or found a new one.

The starkness in terms of wealth -- by which I mean literal, educational, social etc. -- and race in Washington has always been striking. D.C. is pretty accurate economic portrait of black America -- poor, working class, middle class and upper middle class. But as a portrait of white America, it's really airbrushed. I've always thought that too many of our wonks live in Washington and Manhattan -- places where "white and poor" is an extinct species.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/09/washington-vs-dc/244819/