Five Myths About Washington, DC

Many people think of Washington, DC as full of scheming politicians, self-serving lobbyists, and overpaid public servants. However, this is only painting a small snapshot of life in the nation’s capital. DC is a more diverse and interesting place than people give it credit for.

Without further ado, here are five myths about my home city of Washington, DC.

Myth 1: Everything revolves around the federal and local government.

The presence of the federal and local government in Washington, DC has been blown out of proportion. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 774,600 jobs in DC in December 2015. (For context, only 672,000 people actually lived in the city — a lot of people commuted to work.) However, according to DC’s Department of Employment Services, only 237,100 of those 774,600 positions were actually government positions.

DC is also home to a thriving private sector. 131,700 jobs were in the education and health services sector. Financial activities employment was 31,400. 165,000 positions were professional and business services jobs. Lastly, 71,000 jobs were in the leisure and hospitality sector.

Myth 2: Washington, DC is home to just the affluent.

There are two main reasons why this myth is perpetuated. First, it is expensive to live in the nation’s capital. USA Today estimates that someone would need $108,092 to live comfortably in DC. This is largely due to the cost of housing, utilities, and food. Second, DC’s high-income households are among the wealthiest in the nation. According to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, the average household income of the top 5 percent of District residents is $487,000, the third highest among large US cities.

However, the affluent are not representative of all DC residents; the city is also home to thousands of impoverished people. In 2014, the lowest fifth of DC residents made only an average $9,300. In fact, DC has one of the highest levels of income inequality of any large US city.

Myth 3: Washington, DC is the murder capital of the United States.

This one is complicated.

A quarter century ago, Washington, DC had a “fearsome reputation for crack abuse and rampant gun violence.” By 1989, the annual number of homicides had risen above 400, one reason the media referred to DC as the nation’s “murder capital.” Since then, DC has become safer. For example, the number of murders went down from 474 in 1990 to 242 in 2000 – a decrease of nearly 50 percent. Most notably, the nation’s capital has only the 30th highest murder rate in the United States (which, granted, is still bad).

Unfortunately, the crime level in DC has gone up slightly in the past two years. In 2015 alone, there were over 8,000 violent crimes and 162 murders. However, it is still an oversimplification to call DC the nation’s “murder capital,” as the city remains much safer today than it was in 1990.

Myth 4: Washington, DC lives off of federal funds.

In fact, in fiscal year 2013 (the last year for which “a snapshot of every state’s federal dependency is available”), only one-third of DC’s general revenue came from federal funds. Most of the federal money went toward Medicaid and other programs that the whole country depends upon. Most glaringly, 20 states were more dependent upon federal funds compared to DC (this is according to the non-partisan Tax Foundation).

Flash forward to 2017. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed budget gets about $10 billion, or about three-quarters, of its revenue from local sources. These include income, property, and sales taxes, and assorted fees and fines.

Myth 5: No one is really from Washington, DC.

Contrary to this claim, a significant percentage of DC’s population is made up of locals. According to a 2005-2009 American Community Survey, 46 percent of DC residents were born there (including me). This does not include people who grew up in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs and then moved to DC.

Bonus fun facts:

Demographics:

The city’s population is racially diverse. According to the Census Bureau, 48.3 percent of DC’s population is African American while 44.1 percent is is White. 4.2 percent is Asian, 0.6 percent is American Indian or Alaska Native, and 0.2 percent is Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.

In addition, DC has a large foreign-born population. As of 2011, more than 20 percent of the city’s population was born outside of the United States. Of that 20 percent, 35 percent of people came from Asia while 41 percent came from the Americas.

Rankings:

US News & World Report ranks DC as:

#2 Best historical destination

#4 Best best place for affordable family vacations

#8 Best foodie destination

#8 Best place to visit in the United States