Housing Complex

Hold the Histrionics: D.C.’s Growth Is Actually Pretty Good

The hysterics that began with a January New York Times piece suggesting that D.C.'s boom was coming to an end with declining federal spending reached their logical extreme last week with a Washington Post story on the declining population growth in the region. "It is the twilight hour," the Post wrote, "of a remarkable phase in the Washington region."

The Post piece reports that in the 12-month period ending this past July, the D.C. area dropped to 15th place among metropolitan areas in growth, from its fourth-place perch a year earlier. The story features a chart of the 15 fastest-growing metropolitan areas with populations over one million, and D.C. is in dead last.

Unmentioned in the story is the fact that the census data show a full 51 52 metropolitan areas with populations over one million. Fifteenth place isn't worthy of a medal, but it's still comfortably in the top third of big metro regions in the country. If D.C.'s 1.5 percent growth is cause for alarm, then sound the sirens in New York (0.5 percent), Los Angeles (0.8 percent), and Chicago (0.3 percent)!

In fact, of the 12 biggest metropolitan areas in the country, only two (Dallas and Houston) had faster growth than D.C. last year. (Atlanta was tied with D.C. at 1.5 percent.)

As if that weren't enough, things look even better for D.C. when you focus on the District proper, rather than the whole region. The District's population grew by a healthy 2.1 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to the census data.

Greater Greater Washington's Dan Reed broke down the numbers further this morning and found that from 2010 to 2012, D.C.'s population grew 5.1 percent, while certain surrounding jurisdictions slacked. Reed divided the region into rings to show the divergent growth rates in the area's subregion. The first ring (Montgomery, Prince George's, and Fairfax counties and Falls Church) and the third ring (Calvert, Clarke, Culpeper, Fauquier, Jefferson, Rappahannock, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Warren, and Fredericksburg counties) had only limp growth since 2010, 3.03 and 2.89 percent, respectively. The core, consisting of D.C., Arlington, and Alexandria, by contrast, had robust 5.30 percent growth, while the second ring (Charles, Frederick, Loudoun, and Prince William counties and Manassas and Manassas Park) led the region with 5.88 percent growth.

So let's amend the Post's "twilight" declaration. How about: "The Washington region is still growing faster than most, though some but not all suburbs have slowed down a bit."

That'll sell papers, right?

Correction: As commenter IMGoph points out, there are in fact 52, not 51, metropolitan areas with populations over one million. I regret the error and thank IMGoph for his perfectionism.


  1. #1

    52, not 51, metropolitan regions with populations over 1 million.

    Make sure you're looking at column D, not column C, in that spreadsheet you took a screenshot of above.

  2. #2

    You are correct. Fixed.

  3. #3

    No problem, Aaron. As someone who actually put the spreadsheet you cited together, I see it less an example of "perfectionism" and more of just seeking to make sure that it's reported properly. Would love to have a chance to actually meet sometime, talk about the city!

  4. #4

    The NY MSA stretches into PA. That's a bit of a stretch.

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