This story is one of four written by high school students who participated in The Washington Post’s 2011 Digital Workshop for Young Journalists, each with a corresponding video.
In December 2007, the U.S. economy was thrown into the Great Recession. In June 2009, the National Bureau of Economic Research declared the recession officially over, but two years later unemployment is still high and many Americans are still tightening their belts in order to save.
As a consequence of the struggling economy, people have cut back on traveling and the luxuries associated with it.
Smithsonian public affairs specialist Becky Haberacker says the number of visits to the museums have been steady for the most part, with the organization reporting a drop of about 100,000 visits in comparison to early August 2010. The museums received 30.2 million visits in all of last year.
However, small businessmen in the city are feeling a definite loss of revenue.
“What I’ve seen is business in the past five weeks has not been as good as business in the past year prior,” said pedicab driver Bob O’Hara. “I think a lot of it has to do with what’s going on in this economy.”
Ben Masse and Katie Condon, who drove to the District from Massachusetts, like to travel but find themselves looking for the cheapest options available and compromising on how to spend their money.
“We don’t eat dinner out every night, you know,” Masse said -- “or at all,” Condon added -- “when we’re on vacation. I think we had one meal yesterday.”
Vendors and cabbies parked along the city’s curbs also have taken notice of the slow streets as of late.
“There are a lot of people out there still traveling, but for what we do? This is kind of a luxury item,” said O’Hara. “The $20 in their pocket that they could use to take their wife and kid down to Washington or down to the Lincoln Memorial they’re more likely to hold onto.”
Vendor Mariah Silver-Johnson, who was stationed on First Street NW, said the city needed help.
“This city needs hope, because if it don’t got hope, nobody will come and visit,” she said.
The Napolis, a family of five visiting from Italy, had always hoped to come to America. Although that hope became a reality, it was pricy.
“A trip like this, is a big, very big, investment,” said Andrea Napoli. “We often see the White House on the TV — it doesn’t feel real. To be here feels like an amazing dream come true.”
While families like the Napolis fly across the globe to experience all Washington has to offer, other visitors closer to the area choose more convenient transportation.
“We drove and we’re staying in Baltimore,” said Masse. “We had to stop for gas to fill up once but it’s still cheaper than flying. If it were any further we probably would’ve flew.”
One of the benefits of vacationing in the nation’s capital is that it doesn’t cost a dime to visit most of the iconic buildings that attracts travelers here.
“Everything that we can do or want to do is free,” said Steve Hughes, vacationing from New Jersey with his wife and three children. The Hugheses decided to take a trip to Washington after their 8-year-old son, Kevin, studied the monuments in school and said he wanted to see them in real life.
“We’re hitting all the free museums, monuments and stuff like that,” said Hughes. “There’s a couple things we need to pay for, but we pretty much steer clear of that.”
For couples who like to travel often or on a budget, Washington is an ideal city to visit time and time again.
“I love it here. I used to live in Delaware and come here a lot when I was younger,” said Condon. “It’s tough, but you want to see the sights of your country. In the end it’s pretty inexpensive.”
Haberacker said people would keep coming to see sights of their nation’s capital, regardless of cost.
“We do know during difficult economic times people don’t travel as much and tend to stay closer to home,” said Haberacker. “But people are still coming to the Smithsonian, still coming to visit, still coming to Washington.”