Over past decade, share of low-income households has decreased in neighborhoods close to downtown

The District is an expensive place to live. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that most families with children need to spend at least $80,000 a year to have an “adequate but modest” life in the D.C. metro area. Housing is notoriously expensive too, as we pointed out in our recent post on growing property assessments.

In a city as expensive as D.C., where do low-income people live? And how has this changed over the past decade, as D.C. saw a lot of new construction, much of it residential?

To answer these questions we looked to see where families making under $40,000, and childless singles making under $20,000, lived in 2002 and 2013 according to our local income tax records. We defined a family as any household with two or more people. The income figures (the $40,000 and $20,000) are in 2014 dollars.

The map below shows a refrain heard throughout the city: the District is divided by Rock Creek Park and the Anacostia River. East of the river more than half of all tax-filing households are low-income (as we define it). In most neighborhoods west of the park that figure is closer to 10 percent.

Perhaps the more interesting story, though, is in the middle of the city–the area between the river and the park south of Petworth, Brookland, and Woodridge. Here, since 2002, the shares of low-income households have decreased, in some cases quite drastically. In zip code 20001 (Shaw, Bloomingdale, Mt. Vernon Triangle), the percentage of households making under $40,000 (or $20,000 for singles) dropped by 11 percentage-points, from 47 percent to 30 percent. In zip code 20002 (Eckington, NoMa, Trinidad, H Street), the share of low-income filers dropped 11 percentage points. (For a great zip code primer, check out this map from NeighborhoodInfo DC.)

low income

But remember these are shares, and not levels. Is there an exodus of low income people from the city? In all zip codes but one (20036, which is downtown, south of Dupont), the number of low-income filers increased between 2002 and 2013. The shares decreased because the number of filers making more than $40,000 increased much more.

The tax data tells us that low-income singles still stay in the city whereas families don’t. The number of low-income filers increased in almost all zip codes because the number of childless singles making below $20,000 increased almost everywhere (see the bottom, right map). Our guess is that at least some of these low-income singles without kids are students and recent college graduates who have high earning potential but currently don’t make much money.

Families making under $40,000, though (bottom, left map), disappeared from many neighborhoods, especially those in zip code 20002 (Eckington, NoMa, Trinidad, H Street) and 20003 (Capitol Hill, Navy Yard). They increased in the north-central swath of the city between Columbia Heights and the District’s northern tip, which includes neighborhoods like Petworth and Brightwood Park.

lowincome breakdown rawWe suspect these maps will put numbers behind the changes District residents have been seeing in their neighborhoods over the past 10-plus years.

What exactly is this data? We analyzed D.C.’s local income tax data from tax years 2001 and 2012 (filed by residents in calendar years 2002 and 2013). “Income” is federal adjusted gross income and all dollar amounts we reference are in 2014 dollars. When we refer to “families” we mean households that have two or more people, according to tax records. “Childless singles” or “singles without kids” means people who file as unmarried and claim no dependents. We excluded from our analysis people who filed for only a partial year; dependents who filed taxes; and filers with federal adjusted gross incomes less than zero. We also excluded people who filed as married on separate returns because we could not calculate household incomes for this group. These filers make up 3 percent of all local income tax filers in D.C. For tax year 2012 we have valid D.C. zip codes for 93 percent of filers and for tax year 2001 we have valid D.C. zip codes for 67 percent of filers. Our estimate of the change in number of filers by zip code assumes that the zip codes we have in our data are representative of the zip codes of all filers.

4 thoughts on “Over past decade, share of low-income households has decreased in neighborhoods close to downtown

  1. I imagine that if you overlay this with a map showing the stock of affordable housing (as a percentage of the overall housing stock) and you’ll see an unfortunate picture of the lack of success with maintaining affordable housing throughout this city.

    Also, if the $40k and $20k incomes are in 2014 dollars; what was the 2002 inflation or otherwise adjusted equivalent? I.e., I’m wondering what was the assumption for increase in income from 2002 to 2014?


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