Life Is (Relatively) Sweet In Washington, DC For Members Of All Racial And Ethnic Groups

Adam Serwer writes about “a city divided” using a conceptual distinction between “Washington” (white, educated, the nation’s capital) and “DC” (black, less educated, featured in George Pelecanos books):

When the economic crisis hit in 2008, white unemployment increased 1.1 percent. For black residents, it went up 5 percent, and for Hispanics, it nearly doubled.

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.

This is all to say that while, yes, this is a divided city it’s divided because it’s a city located in the United States of America and America has a lot of economic disparities. Nevertheless, the fact that the DC metro area has been insulated from the impact of the recession is not an idiosyncratic feature of the town’s white population. The labor market performance has been above average for all racial and ethnic groups, because despite the substantial divides in living circumstances this is actually an integrated metropolitan economy.