Special to the Washington Post
In 2003, then-mayor Anthony Williams pledged to attract 100,000 new residents to the District over 10 years. The mayor’s goal was based on research conducted by Alice Rivlin and Carol O’Cleireacain in 2001.
Rivlin—who was chairperson of the D.C. Financial Control Board in 2001 — and her co-author stressed the importance of residential population growth for economic sustainability in the District. The report suggested two different types of residents the city could seek to attract — first: young, childless singles and couples; and second: middle-class families. The report outlined the benefits and costs associated with drawing in each population group but advocated that attracting both groups was important to the city’s future.
When the 2010 Census data were released last year, the numbers confirmed that Washington had, in fact, added a substantial number of new residents, though short of the pledged 100,000. Between 2000 and 2010, the city added nearly 30,000 people, an increase of 5.2 percent and a reversal of five decades of population loss. The District experienced its strongest growth in the second half of the decade, when people flocked to the region when the Washington area was adding jobs as most other metro areas continued to struggle.
By many measures, the new residents to the District fall squarely into the first group described in the Rivlin report — young, middle-and upper-income singles and couples without children.
New residents are much younger than existing residents. More than two-thirds of the households moving into Washington between 2006 and 2010 are headed by a person under age 35. By contrast, less than one-quarter of existing household heads are under 35, according to the 2006-2010 American Community Survey.
New residents are much less likely to have children. Less than 10 percent of the city’s new residents have children under 18 and only 6 percent have children under six.
More than half of the people who moved into the city between 2006 and 2010 are white, while more than half of the city’s existing residents are black.
The socioeconomic divide between new and existing residents suggests a divide in priorities for the city, which creates challenges for neighborhood leaders and city officials. For example, according to a conversation I recently had with Virginia Tech urban planning professor Derek Hyra, in some neighborhoods-- like the U Street corridor -- new residents have welcomed the new bike lanes and dog parks. Some long-time residents, on the other hand, feel like they’ve been left out of the planning process.
Furthermore, in order to maintain the city’s economic well-being and support a high quality of life, it is important to keep new residents in the city as they marry and have children, as well as to attract middle-class families to the city. Recent movers to the city have been attracted by upscale condos and apartments, new retail shops and restaurants. Other investments — schools, most importantly — will be essential to creating a city new residents will call home for the long-term.
Lisa A. Sturtevant is assistant research professor at George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis.
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