The movement of more upper-income and young professional whites to the District during the past decade exacerbated the divide between blacks and whites.
“The African Americans who stayed in the District were the poorest, who didn’t have opportunities to leave,” said Peter Tatian, a senior research associate with the Urban Institute’s Center on Metropolitan Housing and Communities. “The District does provide affordable housing in many neighborhoods, particularly east of the river, so there’s the opportunity to stay if you’re poor. But if you’re middle class, it’s a different story. As housing became more expensive here, those folks moved to the suburbs.”
The bifurcation can be seen in education levels reported by the census. Almost nine in 10 whites in the District have college degrees, while barely two in 10 blacks do. Although the education gap exists in virtually every jurisdiction in the region, it is much narrower in the suburbs. In Montgomery County, for example, more than four in 10 blacks have college degrees, compared with two-thirds of whites.
Ed Lazere, head of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, said the District’s economy is so dominated by people with higher educations that even jobs that don’t require a degree are often filled by college graduates.
“We have a high-end economy, and not much of a blue-collar economy,” he said. “It’s increasingly hard to get a decent-paying job in the District without an advanced degree.”
Lazere noted that during the city’s financial crisis in the 1990s, vocational training programs were cut that would have helped people who weren’t headed to college.
“We’re reaping the effects of that now,” he said. “We do have a mayor who talks a lot about jobs, but we don’t have a citywide strategy to address the literacy and skills gap.”
Cooper of the Urban League said the income gap also reflects the large number of people who work in the city, where wages are relatively high, but live in the suburbs. She said that if the city required its employees to maintain a residence in the District, as it used to, the gap would narrow.
“You’ve got police, firemen and other blue-collar workers crossing the river to work in the District because they get better wages,” she said. “The teachers’ parking lots are filled with Maryland and Virginia tags. Wages here are good. It’s that the people who collect those wages live elsewhere.”
Families will be reluctant to stay, or move to the District, unless schools improve.
“If families don’t feel schools are good enough, and you’re not wealthy enough to live where schools are better or you can send your kids to private school, that’s another incentive to move elsewhere,” Tatian said.
Few people expect the difference to diminish anytime soon.
“Unless there’s a significant intervention, both to preserve affordable housing throughout the city and to invest in building up the skills of D.C. residents, the gap will grow,” Lazere said. “When there are job fairs, the line’s out the door. People want to work and feed their families. But if we’re creating jobs at Wal-Mart, not giving people the skills to compete for higher-paying jobs, the problems are going to perpetuate.”
Read more on PostLocal.com:
Dozens arrested as Occupy protests target K Street
Glenarden tenants get a ticket out
‘Heartburn level’ fees possible on toll road, official says
Race turns into ‘a train wreck’ for runners, residents