Who’s super-rich in D.C.? You might be surprised.

November 18, 2013

Greg Jaffe and I have a big piece in today's Post about the explosion of wealth - and wealthy people - in the Washington region over the last decade-plus. One of the most notable stats from the story is this one: From 2000 to 2010, the D.C. area added 21,000 households that are in the nation's top 1 percent by income - a bigger jump than any city in the country.

That growth brought the total number of one-percenter households in the area to just under 54,000. You might be wondering: Who, exactly, are those people? How do they get their money? We wondered the same thing, and we asked the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank with a lot of experience studying the make-up of the 1 percent nationally, to help us figure it out. It analyzed detailed Census data and produced the charts you see below.

Three things to keep in mind. One, the threshold for counting as a "1 percent" household in 2010 was a little under $400,000 a year in total income for everyone in the house who works. (If that's less that you usually associate with "super rich," you might live in Washington.) Second, the occupations reported here are for the head of the household, so it's possible there could be a second source of income in any circumstance whose occupation isn't showing up in this data. Oh, and there's no handy line for "government contractor," so we're left to make an educated guess as to the size of that group.

Here are the breakdown of income sources for D.C.'s 1 percenters. The x-axis shows industries. The y-axis shows occupations. You'll see that executives and lawyers dominate the occupations. "Professional services," a catch-all group that includes lawyers, consultants, public relations pros and most definitely a lot of contractors, is the runaway top industry.

Oh, and that "public administration" column? It means almost 8 percent of these households are headed by people who work for government in some fashion.


If you want to understand what differentiates D.C.'s elite from its counterparts around the country, check out this chart, which shows where the share of 1 percenters in the capital region diverges from the national breakdown:


As you can see, the national 1 percent is a lot heavier on doctors and the finance industry. Washington's is heavier on lawyers and, yep, government workers. The big professional services gap likely has a lot to do with contractors. D.C. is also light on manufacturing executives. There's probably a "You didn't build that" joke in there, somewhere.

Note: A previous version of this post said the analysis used tax data. It used Census data.

Jim Tankersley is the editor of Storyline, where he explains complex public policies and illuminates their human impact.
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Lydia DePillis | November 18, 2013