Region Forward Blog

The Morning Measure: Tackling income inequality in metro Washington

Mar 21, 2011


A lot of the economic discussion regarding metro Washington over the past few years has focused on how well the region’s economy performed relative to other parts of the country. Largely due to the steady presence of the federal government we consistently had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. That’s great but a new report shows a much less impressive reality: as a region we have some of the largest gaps in income between our richest and poorest residents. And it’s getting worse.

According to a Richmond-based Commonwealth Institute D.C. Virginia and Maryland have the second third and seventh-largest gaps between their richest and poorest residents. As the Washington Examiner reported recently “the top 10 percent of workers in the District earned at least $53.68 per hour while the bottom 10 percent makes no more than $9.78. Assuming a 40-hour workweek that means D.C.’s top earners were paid $111654 in 2009…compared with $20342 for the lower end.” The income gap marks the largest divergence between rich and poor in Maryland and Virginia in over 30 years.

This is a trend that must be halted. Some income divergence is to be expected and probably even desired but the growth of inequality nationwide over the past decades has been stark – and it hasn’t happened to nearly the same degree in countries in Western Europe with similar incomes per capita.

So how can we tackle this problem? Steven Pearlstein business columnist at The Washington Post recently offered one idea: boosting the domestic tradable sector and stop outsourcing so much. How do you think income inequality in metro Washington can be reduced?

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