D.C.’s Low-Wage Workers Have the Longest Commutes

In general, the closer you get to D.C.’s downtown, the higher the rents and housing prices. And not surprisingly, people living downtown have higher incomes and are better educated than those living only a few miles away from the city’s center. Given the high number of jobs concentrated downtown, does this mean that low-income workers living in D.C. have longer commutes? We turned to data from the American Community Survey to find out.


The data show that in 2013, D.C. residents in low-wage jobs did indeed have the longest commutes. Out of the thirty-one most common jobs held by D.C. residents, the nine with the longest commutes were low-wage. People in high-wage jobs had some of the shortest commutes. The one-way commute times ranged from an average of 37 minutes for maids to 24 minutes for chief executives and legislators. That means the weekly commute of the average maid living in D.C. is more than two hours longer than that of the average chief executive or legislator, assuming a five-day work week.

We defined a job as low-wage if its median wage was in the bottom 25 percent of wages across all jobs in D.C. High-wage jobs have median wages in the top 25 percent and middle-wage jobs are in between.

We also looked at how people in different occupations get to work. In most occupations, people are most likely to commute by car, but there are some exceptions. The bus was the most common way to commute for four low-wage occupations: maids, janitors, cashiers, and cooks. The subway was the most common way to commute for mostly middle-wage jobs, perhaps because low-income workers are less likely to be able to afford to live near Metrorail stations. Walking was the most common way to commute for only one occupation: economists.

What exactly is this data? The commute data is from the 2013 American Community Survey 5-year PUMS data (2009-2013). We looked at data for D.C. residents only, regardless of where they worked. The wage data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupation Employment Statistics for 2013. H/T to New York City’s Comptroller’s Office, which did a similar study of New York residents.

Steven Giachetti contributed to this post.


Special elections voting history since 1993

A special election is being held today (April 28) to fill vacancies for Ward 4 and Ward 8 Council seats.  So we took a look at the voting history of special elections in the District, and of all Ward 4 and Ward 8 elections for which we have data.

The District of Columbia Board of Elections website lists results for 15 special elections since 1993.  Below, we present the number of registered voters in each election and how many ballots were cast.  Seven of the elections were citywide elections and eight of the elections were Ward-level.  The citywide This accounts for much of the variability in the number of voters from election to election.  (Some pre-2008 Board of Education geographical units were described as Districts.)

We also looked at the last ten years of District general and primary election history of Ward 4 and Ward 8.  (Please note we were unable to get 2004 Presidential Preference Primary data by ward in the time for this post.) The primary election figures show a steady number of registered voters for primary elections, with a slight upward trend. This is true city-wide, as well as in Wards 4 and 8. The actual number of votes cast varies widely, however.image004image006image008

The total number of registered voters for the general election has been steady, with a slight upward trend, until the 2014 election, which  shows a 4 percent drop in registrants District-wide. Ward 4 registrants dropped 7 percent between 2012 and 2014, and Ward 8 registrants dropped 11 percent from 2012 to 2014. The number of votes cast is consistently higher in presidential election years.



Each election is unique, data points are few, and there have been many changes in elections laws over the years. So, we draw no major conclusions at this time from the data.  However, a couple of interesting things stand out.  First, there was a large bump in registered voter for special elections between the year 2000 and 2011.  It’s possible this reflects the increased population since 2000, but there may be other reasons why the more recent special elections drew more people to register. Second, there does appear to be a slight drop-off in registered voters for primary and general elections between 2012 and 2014. Lastly, the data also follow the well-known, and often reported, trend that general elections draw the most voters, well above the numbers for primary or special elections.

What exactly is this data? Data are from the archive of election results reported by the District of Columbia Board of Elections.

Painting and Sculpture for Sale. Asking Price: $300 million. How can a handful of artworks be worth more than all the homes in Georgetown?

Pablo Picasso’s painting ,Les Femmes d’Alger,  and  Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture, Pointing Man, will be among the highlights of the upcoming May auction season in New York. These masterpieces, which are being offered at Christie’s on May 11th, could sell for more than $140 million each, breaking the previous record for a work of art sold at auction.  Just a couple of days later, during the prime hours of the Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale, Christie’s will auction Mark Rothko’s Number 36 (Black Stripe) which has an estimate of $50 million.  Rivals Sotheby’s and Phillips will also be offering works of art from Blue Chip artists who command prices well in excess of $50 million.

While critics observe that art’s value cannot be measured by sales prices alone and that art has an incalculable humanitarian, cultural, and educational dimension, there is no disputing that art is a big and growing business.  A 2012 study by the New York City Economic Development Corporation: “The Importance of NYC’s Auction Houses: Warhol and Picasso vs. 15 CPW and The Plaza” emphasized the important role of auction houses as a catalyst for art business and art travel to New York. The study also provided a comparison of the staggering prices paid for art to trophy buildings in Manhattan, like 15 Central Park West, where these paintings and sculptures are likely to find a home.

In this post we tried to compare the staggering prices paid for art to District Measures. Here’s what we came up with:


While the auction market for art is a two-way battle between New York and London, D.C. is home to some of the most prestigious art museums in the world. Public museums like the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn are among the most visited art institutions in the world.  D.C. is also home to private gems like the Kreeger, a Philip Johnson designed modern day version of the Frick which houses numerous Picassos.   Speaking of Rothkos, the Phillips Collection near Dupont Circle has four significant works by the Russian born abstract expressionist master in its Rothko Room.  Baltimore and Richmond museums also have world renowned collections. The Baltimore Museum of Art has one of the six Giacometti Pointing Man sculptures. The Frances and the Sydney Lewis collection of Art Nouveau and Art Deco furniture, at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts , is world class. If a single Eileen Gray chair  sold for $30 million, who knows how much their collection is worth.

To return to my initial question- How can a few artworks be worth more than all the residential properties in Georgetown?

The answer goes something like this.  The supply of artworks that command prices over $100 million is extremely limited even compared to very valuable residential properties in Georgetown or New York.  Couple this limited supply (yes the Giacometti is an edition of six) with the intense demand for these artworks among the world wealthiest individuals and $100 million becomes the new norm for artworks.

What exactly is the data?

Most art-related price estimates and sales data in this post is from Christie’s. The $ 300 million Gauguin sale was a private transaction reported in numerous news articles. DC residential property tax data is from the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue.  D.C.  Residential sales data are from Washingtonpost.com blogs , the D.C. Recorder of Deeds, and DC Urban Turf.

For more information on the upcoming auctions visit Christie’s,  Sotheby’s and Phillips.

Bob Zuraski contributed to this post

Business Survival and Job Churn in the District

In March of 2014, the District had nearly 3,700 businesses that began hiring employees for the first time in the previous 12 months. This is the highest number of such establishments since 2001, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, which track business births (and deaths) in the District. These new businesses collectively added 17,000 new jobs in the same year—that is 3.7 percent of all jobs in the District.


On the down side, 2,661 businesses that hired employees in the year before stopped hiring—the businesses are either dying or moving elsewhere. This number is better (lower) than what we saw last year, but still pretty close to its five-year average. The closing businesses took away with them 13,193 jobs—this is about a third of all jobs lost in the District during the same period. In fact, new and closing businesses account for a third (and declining share) of the job churn. For a net increase of 9,730 private-sector jobs during the year, the District’s private sector added 55,342 new positions, nearly 37,800 coming from establishments that are expanding – or have a higher number of employees in March of 2014 compared to the March of 2013.


The data suggest that over that single year, only one out of six jobs opened were net additions, the remainder made up for jobs that were lost somewhere else in the District. That is, 5 out of 6 positions or 82 percent of all job openings were just compensating for existing jobs. That is our churn rate.

The churn rate turns out to be an interesting figure. First, to go through the mechanics of it, the higher the churn rate, the lower the net number of job increases. For example, when the city adds no new jobs, the churn rate is 100 percent. When the churn rate goes above 100 percent, it tells us that the city is losing jobs—like a game of musical chairs, when all opened positions are filled,  some people who just lost their jobs still remain standing. New and expanding establishments continue adding jobs, but they are not doing it as fast as the rate at which contracting and closing businesses are removing jobs from the District. We see such rates during the last two recessions (shaded gray in the graph below)—we also see that the District weathered both these recessions better than the nation in general. We lost net jobs, but not at such a high rate as the entire nation.  In the nation, for ten jobs lost, only four new ones opened in the same year, and six were lost. We generally talk about the federal government expansion as the reason why the District’s total employment did not suffer very badly, but the churn data from the private sector shows us that the private establishments in the city  handled the recession much better than the private establishments in the U.S. in general.


So, how likely are the new businesses to survive in the District? It turns out that the odds of survival is lower in our city compared to the nation in general. In March of 2014, the District had 2,899 new businesses. This is the highest number of new establishments for a year since 2001, according to BLS data. These new businesses accounted for about 12 percent of all business establishments in the District. On the other side of the age spectrum were business that had been established before 1993: one-fifth of all private sector business establishments in the District first began operations 21 years ago!image009

If previous trends hold true, the District will lose one quarter of these 2,899 new businesses by March of 2015. In fact, in about ten years, only 762 businesses established today will remain intact. The odds of survival for private sector firms is much lower in the District compared to the nation in general. The first year survival rate (counting from 2014 backwards) is 76 percent in the District compared to 79 percent in the U.S. 48 percent of today’s new firms would still be standing in the District after their first five years of operation while the comparable metric for the US is 58 percent.


What exactly is this data? The data are from the Business Employment Dynamics data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. New Businesses are businesses who had no employment in the previous quarter. Expanding establishments have positive employment in the March of every year with a net increase in employment over the year. Contracting establishments have positive employment in the March of every year, with a net decrease in employment over the year.

Is Your Neighborhood Elementary School a Sure Bet?

Last week we looked at the waitlist results for the District of Columbia Public Schools common lottery. Today we focus on the DCPS early childhood entry years for 3- and 4-year-old children (PreK-3 and -4) to understand how the common lottery and various preferences built into the lottery affect the chances of being matched with your neighborhood school. Unlike all other elementary grades, attendance at your neighborhood school is not guaranteed for PreK-3 and PreK-4 and all seats are offered through the lottery (with limited exceptions). The two most common preferences are for in-bounds families who live within the attendance zone and for siblings of current or accepted students at the said school.

Let’s look at overall demand for neighborhood schools measured by the number of in-bounds applicants who got in or waitlisted at their neighborhood school. Over the last three school lotteries, 77 schools participated each year and offered in-bounds preference to applicants. 66 percent of those schools experienced an average annual increase in in-bounds applications. Click the map below to view the growth rate in in-bounds applicants at all schools that received at least ten such applications in the school year 2013-2014 lottery.


So, with increasing demand, does in-bounds preference guarantee you a seat at your neighborhood school? For the most recent school year 2015-2016 lottery, 31 of 83 schools (37 percent) did not have enough seats for in-bounds families. In school year 2014-2015, the first year of the common lottery, 27 out of 80 schools (34 percent) were unable to offer seats to all in-bounds applicants. And in school year 2013-2014, the final year of the DCPS-only lottery, 18 out of 79 schools (23 percent) waitlisted in-bounds applicants. So the answer is ‘no’, your in-bounds preference is not a sure bet at a growing number of schools.  Click below to view in-bounds waitlist rates across school years.


Further, 14 schools placed families with in-bounds preference on the waitlist for each of the last three school year lotteries, while 38 schools accommodated every in-bounds family seeking a seat over those years. School year 2015-2016 saw 11 schools join the ranks of those unable to match all families at the time of the lottery for the first time in the past three years. Use the radio buttons below to view which schools always, never, or for the first time waitlisted in-bounds families.


In addition to waitlisting a high percentage of in-bounds applicants, two elementary schools, Brent (PreK-3) and Stoddert (PreK-4) matched all seats to siblings of in-bounds families; they are the only two schools to experience this phenomenon over the last three years with Stoddert experiencing it twice (SY 2013-2014). Stoddert reduced its PK4 offering from 2 classes to 1 class this school year, which contributed to the reoccurrence this year. Dual language programs also have high rates of sibling matches because these programs give greater weight to the sibling preference in the lottery. The interactive graph below will allow you to see the schools each year and by ward and the respective match rates for siblings.


What exactly is this data? The data is published by DC Public Schools and includes the number of students matched to available early childhood seats, with and without preferences (in-bounds, sibling, proximity, etc.), and those wait-listed through the lottery process. This analysis looks only at the elementary entry years – all schools that begin their programs with 3 year olds (PreK-3) and the nine schools that begin their programs with 4 year olds (PreK-4). Recent boundary changes, program reconfigurations, and guaranteed admission at some Title I schools over the last few years play a role in determining available slots in these programs. Additionally, the number of applications schools received was even larger than the waitlist numbers since students matched with one of their higher-ranked schools are removed from the waitlists of schools they ranked lower.

Are your favorite DC Lottery games paying you or the city? Which games paid out more?

Throughout the years the DC Lottery has entertained residents, suburban commuters and visitors, at the same time generating revenue for the city. On Saturday, April 11, DC’s Lottery Executive Director Buddy Roogow passed away after spending over five years with the agency. We would like to express our sincere condolences to his family and colleagues while at the same time looking at the historical trend of prize payouts and transfers to the city’s General Fund.  This post is dedicated to him.


A look at the financials shows that, DC Lottery’s prize payout ratio during the past 12 fiscal years has remained within a range of 51 to 57 percent of sales, each fiscal year, whereas transfers to the city’s General Fund stayed within a 25 to 30 percent range. So, yes, more is being paid out! But, which games paid more; here is a quick look at the prize payout data from the last three fiscal years.

Hope this gives you a clue to the top paying games, what remains is your luck.

Lottery2 Lottery3

What exactly is this data?

The prize payout information is from DC Lottery’s annual report and audited financial report. We used the District’s System of Accounting and Reporting (SOAR) to obtain information on transfers to the city. DC-3 is a three-digit game with three ways to play and nine ways to win. Prizes vary from $25 to $500. DC Four is a four-digit game that features eleven ways to win and a top prize of $5,000. More information is available at DCLottery.com.

From 2008 peak to now: a dozen ways the District’s economy has changed

The official start of the Great Recession was December 2007; but the District’s employment continued to grow until September 2008. The years that followed included several shocks to DC’s economy, most notably the effects of the recession and federal cutbacks (shutdown and sequester). Since then, our demographics and workforce changed as we chronicled in many places in this blog.

Here are 12 notable economic trends that have shaped the District the September 2008 employment peak to January 2015 (or as close to the January 2015 date as data permit).

  1. More people, more households: population grew by 81,200 (14 percent), households by 29,000 (11 percent).
  2. More employed residents working in D.C. or elsewhere. Resident employment, including self-employed and residents who work in the suburbs—increased at a pace twice that of wage and salary jobs located in DC (15 percent v. 7 percent). We added 50,300 wage and salaried jobs and 45,500 resident employees.image004
  3. More of the earnings stay in the city. Total wages and salaries received by DC resident grew faster than wages earned in DC. (33% v 19%)—not surprising, given the strong growth in resident employment. Residents seem to be getting higher paid jobs, including ones formerly held by suburbanites who have retired or moved on.image006
  4. Not all District residents benefit from the boom. Total number of unemployed residents rose 36 percent (7,800 more)—but unemployment compensation payments received by DC residents decreased 31 percent. (This data do not explain how these two fit together, but there is a story here.)image008
  5. Personal Income of all D.C. residents combined grew 25 percent. Adjusted for inflation, this is a 14 percent growth. Incomes of households, again adjusted for inflation, grew 2.3 percent, and per capita real income did not grow at all.image010
  6. Almost all job growth was in the private sector. Federal civilian employment first grew with the stimulus, and then declined, netting additional 3,300 jobs for the period. The decline in state and local jobs (3,067) offset almost all of the federal gain. image012
  7. Employment became more diversified. The federal government and professional services together accounted for 42 percent of all jobs in September 2008. Both sectors continued to add jobs, but this amounted to only 18 percent of DC’s net job growth. By contrast, the four fastest growing industries—retail, education, health, and hospitality—accounted for 73 percent of the growth.image014
  8. The fastest growing sectors are not the highest paying. Wages and salaries in the four fast growing industries noted above accounted for only 23 percent of all DC wage growth. Despite their 18 percent share of DC’s job growth, federal government, and professional services accounted for almost half of the increase in wage and salary earnings. This is not too far from their 54 percent share of the 2008.3 total.image016
  9. DC added many more new households than new housing units. The increase in households (29,000) appears to be much greater than the increase in housing units whether one measures it by new housing permits issued by the DC government (12,483) or by the combined number of new condo units sold, permits for small projects of one to four units, and increased occupancy in larger market rate rental apartment buildings (14,372). Population increase therefore seems likely to have been accompanied by significant adjustment to and renovation of the DC housing stock beyond what is captured in the housing permit data. (The Census Bureau defines a household as an occupied housing unit.)
  10. Housing prices increased faster than incomes. The increase in value of single-family housing units in DC as measured by the Federal Housing Finance Agency outpaced the increase in DC Personal Income (37 percent v. 25 percentimage019).
  11. Occupied commercial office space increases matched the increases in jobs in DC (8 percent v 7 percent). Vacancy rate went up a little (6.2 percent to 6.9 percent) as the total inventory rose by 8 percent. image021
  12. DC government tax collections grew at rates similar to personal income. Tax collections, measured by the 12-month moving total went up by 22 percent while personal income went up by 25 percent. The increase in collections reflect policy changes as well as changes to the economy.image023

You can find more on these trends in the District’s monthly Trend Reports.

What exactly is this data? Population data are from Moody’s Analytics. Quarterly data, seasonally adjusted. Moody’s derives quarterly population estimates from annual Census Bureau population; it also provides estimates of the number of households. Labor market data are from Bureau of Labor Statistics, Seasonally adjusted. September is the average for the quarter. All measures of employment include full time and part time. Resident employment includes persons working outside of DC and self-employed or contract workers. Personal income data are from US Bureau of Economic Analysis and ORA. ORA estimates wages of DC residents based on the assumption that benefits as a percent of wages are the same for wages earned by DC residents as for wages earned by all persons working in DC. Property income is rent, dividends and interest and does not include capital gains.