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The Jobs That Bind

Zeki Mokhtarzada races through the Silver Spring office of Freewebs on a scooter.
Zeki Mokhtarzada races through the Silver Spring office of Freewebs on a scooter. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
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By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 12, 2008

As a region, we are divided by many things: income, geography, race, religion, crime and politics, to name just a few.

But when it comes to workaday life, we are more alike than different.

A lunchtime stroll on K Street serves up a mix of faces that suggest backstories both exotic and intriguing. Yet most of us end up at the same Au Bon Pain and lose our cellphone signals on the same corner every day. We understand the bizarre zone-fare system in taxis and deal with the narrow aisles at CVS. We hear English learned in East Africa, South Korea and North Carolina wafting by, engaged in the most American of conversations, whether it be the presidential race or last night's game.

We all punch a clock of some kind. But as a workforce, who are we?

By size, we are the nation's fourth-largest, with more than 3.4 million workers. We have the nation's highest median household income, at $74,600.

And even though we have a federal capital here in Washington, we are less of a company town than we used to be.

Forty years ago, the federal government employed 22 percent of Washington-area workers.

Today, that number is just less than 10 percent, about the same percentage of workers employed by the region's state and local governments.

The rest -- nearly 80 percent of Washington area workers -- are employed by the private sector. The largest group falls under the classification "professional services," such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, financial managers and so forth, the Greater Washington Initiative said.

And the private sector will continue to fuel the region's growing workforce, the group said: Over the next four years, only one out of every 10 new jobs will come from the federal government.

The rest will come from companies like those in The Post 200.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company