If you want to grab lunch, you’re going to have a lot easier time finding a restaurant or grocery store in Ward 3 than Ward 7.
Retail and food establishments in the District are not equally distributed throughout the city and, in many ways, that makes sense: These wards may have roughly similar population sizes, but Ward 3 is richer than Ward 7, which means the people living there are more likely to have higher disposable incomes to spend on restaurants and groceries.
The Urban Institute has a new report out looking at this inequitable distribution. It’s long been known that D.C. residents have huge income disparities — the top 10 percent of earners make more than six times the amount as the bottom 10 percent — and the Urban Institute explores what it means when there is also such disparity when it comes to retail. Ward 6, for instance, has about four times as many restaurant and food establishments as Ward 8.
This uneven geographical distribution leads to things like food deserts, but it also makes retail jobs less accessible to people who live in poorer neighborhoods, which in turn can create a cycle of more poverty.
“Many economists even argue that spatial mismatch — that is, the mismatch between where good jobs are located and where low-income workers live — is a root cause of inequality in the labor market,” the report reads. “In many cities, there are fewer jobs per worker in or near neighborhoods that are heavily minority than in or near neighborhoods that are predominantly white.”
Unsurprisingly, the prevalence of these retail jobs in wards correlates to the number of retail jobs in those wards. Take a look below: (Ward 2 is excluded from these charts because it includes the downtown core and has a high number of retail establishments.)
The map below shows all of the establishments that have opened in the city since 2000. New establishments are opening east of the river, but there is still a higher concentration in what are generally the higher-income areas that, well, already have more businesses.
The solution, the Urban Institute writes, is not simple. Businesses won’t come into these underserved parts of the city until it’s a sound business decision and they know the residents have enough money to regularly patron their establishments. And residents won’t have adequate disposable income until they have jobs.
The solution, the report suggests, is to use transit to create equal access to jobs and services, create monetary incentives for people to open establishments in more commercially sparse neighborhoods and require developers to ensure that existing residents benefit from development deals through jobs and the establishments being opened.