Housing Complex

D.C. Has Fourth-Highest Income Inequality of Large American Cities


Protesters dressed as Charles Dickens descended on the Wilson Building yesterday to protest what they view as a "tale of two cities." The line, borrowed from Dickens by way of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, refers to the growing divide between the city's haves and have-nots.

In the District, that divide is among the biggest in America. A report out today from the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute finds that income inequality in the District is the fourth-highest among the 50 largest cities in the country—higher than in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.

The richest 5 percent of Washingtonians make 54 times what the poorest 20 percent make. The top 5 percent of earners make an average of $531,769, the highest in America; the bottom quintile earns an average of just $9,900.

Atlanta has the biggest gap between rich and poor; the top 5 percent there take in 74 times the average income of the lowest 20 percent. In Boston, that number is 61, and in Miami it's 54. Virginia Beach has the lowest inequality of the 50 largest cities, with its richest 5 percent making just 17 times as much as the poorest 20 percent.

D.C.'s yawning income gap could soon begin to close. In January, Mayor Vince Gray signed a bill to increase the minimum wage from $8.25 an hour to $11.50 an hour by 2016. As things stand, that'll be the highest minimum wage in the country.

Chart from the DCFPI report

  • Too Cool

    Very important story and no comments thus far. Ppl in DC feel there is a place for the poor PG County.

    And Frett not they will apply for DC school system if they live in Md, and apply for a DC government job using resident preference with their cousin in the agency hooking them up,

  • Colin

    Easiest way to reduce income inequality would be to stop subsidizing poor people via public housing, section 8, etc. and force them into the suburbs. Then this "problem" would be solved as we would be a city of mostly high and middle income earners. What, that isn't what you had in mind?

  • http://dcvacantproperties.blogspot.com Mari InShaw

    So the fact that the area has more people with graduate degrees from places elsewhere has absolutely nothing to do with it?
    The city's decades-long poor performance in educating it's children has nothing to do with it?
    Does a DCPS education provide the skills needed to be worth the proposed living wage? More likely in the long run there will be greater unemployment for young AfAm residents who will miss out on gaining early job experience.
    Looking at the list does anyone ask, okay, why does Fort Worth and Arlington,TX have less inequality and why does Atlanta and Boston have more? Maybe Atlanta and Boston have too many successful people? When did DC become more unequal, when we got rid of our crack-head mayor? Maybe that's how we can bring on the equality, re-elect Barry as mayor, offer crappy city services, close all the charter schools and bring back the 90s.

  • noodlez


  • http://dclibertarians.org/candidates/ @ShawingtonTimes

    +1 Mari InShaw.

    This is primarily an education/training problem, not a wage problem. Raising the minimum wage is just a bandaid on a cancer.

    Fix our public schools and in the meantime (since that process will take another decade or more at the pace city officials and their labor union advisors are gunning for) allow high performing charter schools to move into empty DCPS facilities AND give parents the opportunity to receive tax credits for their children who attend qualified private and parochial schools. The best private and parochial schools will still be out of reach for many parents, but others will be better options than the low performing DCPS schools.

    Given the free access to illustrated history enshrined in our monuments and memorials, DC students should be poised to be top history experts; given the presence of nearly every industry represented by their lobbying arms in the Nation's Capital, DC students — especially, but not limited to those at UDC — should have access to free seminars conducted by experts on the functions of many of the country's top industries. At least half of the Congressional pages and Federal interns should be DC native students, but we have to give them the education to compete for those positions.

    Once our DC students have top world class educations under their belts, they'll snatch many of the top positions and wages which those from around the world and other parts of the country see as low hanging fruit.

    We can thank recalcitrant unions with a lack of vision for themselves, our children and the local economy for holding our children back for so long and the train wreck of DC public schools that officials are still ostentatiously and disingenuously scratching their heads and wringing their hands about — since they've driven the train off the tracks.

  • http://Www.DCLibertarians2014.blogspot.com Bruce Majors, Libertarian for Mayor

    It would be rather clueless to think that a metropolitan area where rich people are all lobbyists, lawyers, and fat 'crats living off American taxpayers, and poor people are mainly locals who had their futures stolen by incarceration in government monopoly schools (just so the administrators of the school system could also get high government salaries and make donations to the politicians who sustain this human trafficking), would be solved by more government. Especially by a government program that will raise the already huge double digit youth minority unemployment rate by eliminating all entry level jobs and replace them with machines like self checkout kiosks. What DC needs is to stop driving away new small businesses, big box stores, and jobs.

  • http://pranav4dc.com Pranav Badhwar, Libertarian for CIty Council, Ward 6

    As one who was once poor, poverty is the real issue. Income inequality is a manufactured one, promulgated by the elite who gain their power by being in charge of redistributing others' private property, and collecting a nice cut in the process for themselves.

    But lets address income inequality anyway. Inequality is driven by poor public schools (largely due to central planning and lack of Principal autonomy over operations and budgeting for hiring), inadequate job opportunity (DC licenses 41 professions and DCRA puts up all kinds of other hurdles), and of course the vast sums of money the Feds. dump into the area and the high salaries they pay. We could reduce inequality by reducing the size of the Federal government, not that that is likely.

    Raising the minimum wage has not been shown to relieve poverty, and I dare say it won't affect aggregate income inequality either. The minimum wage simply shifts monies among the poor. Some will make more, while others lose their jobs, and smaller businesses which can't automate and compete with corporations will close shop and make it even harder for those with the least education and skills to ever be employed.

  • DemostiX

    Startling. The ratios must be due to some extraordinary incomes, in the many millions. But, if you made that much, you,d avoid DC's high marginal tax rate and live in Nova.
    I suspect there,s a better number, one which better expresses the contrasts lived within the cities, and that number would exclude the top 1% for measurement reasons. White DC school children long having the highest test scores of any State, by far, isn,T due to a 5% of fat cat super-rich daddies. It is due to the number of families with a pair if GS13 - 15 earners, family income

  • markus

    The shocking number here isn't how much the top 5% make, its how low the bottom 20% earn. Since anti-poverty programs can't raise incomes, they can only treat the symptoms. So the real issue here that needs to be addressed isn't de Blasio style social welfare efforts, or Mayor Gray raising the minimum wage (someone earning current minimum wage full-time would earn almost double the 20 percentile). In fact, these problems seem more likely increase the number of jobless and underemployed at the bottom, increasing inequality.

  • ArtR

    Given most of the above cities are centers of private sector finance, corporate headquarters and/or government, and the important roles those sectors play in our nation's economy, its not surprising they have a highly educated, well compensated, mostly private sector workforce. What's interesting is; that should lead to laissez-faire housing market that prices poor people out of living there regardless of why they are poor (poor schools or deindustrialization). So how can they afford to live there? Well SF, NYC, and DC all have rent control and along with Boston and Chicago they have made huge investments in subsidized affordable housing enabling low skilled workers and at risk populations to live in otherwise expensive housing markets. This means they don't live in substandard, over crowded, or distant housing where their commutes would worsen already bad traffic.

  • lucas

    Worth mentioning the political divide between the low and high ranked cities. The "well-educated" and "finance hubs" argument doesn't stretch too far considering Detroit and Cleveland rank so high, but the partisan landscape in each city seems to have the highest correlation.

  • Bill

    Another solution would be to eat poor children as sugested by the writer Jpnathan swift who was discussing how to deal with poor people. Sounds like your idea is in the same spirit but would be more acceptable politically.