If you ever visit Washington, D.C., one of the most startling things you’ll observe is the stark dichotomy between poverty and wealth.
Poverty in America is on no better display than here in the nation’s capital, even though the government has been waging a "War on Poverty" since the 1960s.
You might think that after all that government aid, including welfare, food stamps, and healthcare, poverty would be receding. Especially in the Washington, D.C. area which is recession-immune, we’d expect that we wouldn’t find homeless people or families living in poverty. Think again!
According to Census data analyzed by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, a progressive think tank, that harps on such issues as "income inequality," there are 18,000 more poor residents in the District of Columbia than before the recession. The black community is poorest. The numbers of poor jumped to 110,000 from 92,000 between 2007 and 2014. And while the city’s population grew by over 80,000 people, the poverty rate remained the same at 18 percent.
Among black families, more than one in four lived on a household income of $24,000 or less for a family of four. That’s compared to 7 percent of non-Hispanic families. About 57,000 residents live in deep poverty — making less than $12,000 a year for a family of four- and that hasn’t changed from 2007. An eye-popping 14,000 children are in deep poverty.
As the Washington Post explains, the influx of new restaurants, bars, and condos demonstrate that wealth is pouring into the city, but not all boats are being lifted:
The median income for all D.C. households increased by nearly $10,000 to $71,648 between 2007 and 2014. The median income for African-American families, however, was stagnant at about $41,000.
But, because of the Affordable Care Act, Census data show that there was a “drastic decrease in the number of residents without health insurance.” The number of uninsured residents dropped 20 percent, from 48,000 people to 37,000 people. Ninety-five percent of residents in the District are now insured, including 98 percent of children.
Politifact also paints a grim picture of life for D.C.'s poor:
• Median income. Inflation-adjusted median household income, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, fell from $54,059 in 2009 to $51,939 in 2013 — a decline of about 4 percent. (Depending on how you adjust these raw numbers for taxes and in-kind income, inflation-adjusted income per person may have gone up a bit rather than shrinking.)
• Percent of people in poverty. The data show that 13.2 percent of Americans were living in poverty in March 2009. By March 2014, that percentage had risen to 14.5 percent. That was down slightly from what it was in the previous three years, but not enough to match the 2009 level.
• Civilian labor force participation rate. This is the percentage of people either working or looking for work, divided by the civilian, noninstitutionalized population. In January 2009, this stood at 65.7 percent, but by June 2015, it had fallen to 62.6 percent. The caution here is that this statistic has been affected by the increasing rate of retirements due to the aging of the Baby Boomers. However, most economists say that the weak recovery has played at least some role in this decline.
• Number of people on food stamps. The number of recipients has risen from 33.5 million in 2009 to 46.5 million in 2014, an increase of 39 percent. What is hard to say is how much comes from expanded accessibility rules and how much comes from rising economic need.
That claim is too sweeping. Certain measures of wages and income, the poverty rate and the duration of unemployment are all worse now than they were when Obama "came into office."
Washington is the place from which government policies supposed to enable the poor to climb out of poverty and into the middle class originate. Let us hope that elected officials will look at poverty in Washington, D.C., and say that it is just not working.