Resident employment grew four times faster in DC than in the suburbs over the past 4 years

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of employed DC residents rose from 323,823 in April 2012 to 370,204 in April 2016, a 14.3% increase of 46,381. This increase stands out in the context of recent labor market trends in the US and in the Washington metropolitan area:

—The percentage increase was more than twice that in both the US economy (6.6%) and four times the increase in the DC suburbs (3.5%),

—The increase represented almost one-third of the increase in the entire metropolitan area, although DC’s regional resident employment share is just under 12%.

—The percentage change in DC’s resident employment was more than twice the increase in jobs located in DC. (14.3% v. 6.2%). For the US and the rest of the metropolitan area, resident employment actually grew a little less rapidly than wage and salary employment.

—The increase, averaging 11,595 per year, is about equal to the growth in DC’s population over that period.

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Three places to look in helping to explain this remarkable increase in employed DC residents are: (1) growth of wage and salary jobs in DC, (2) unemployed persons returning to work, and (3) labor force growth. As noted below, all of these have contributed, but the most important explanation lies with labor force growth and related dynamics, particularly population growth.

Wage and salary employment located in DC. DC employers added 45,467 wage and salary jobs from April 2012 to April 2016, about the same number of jobs as the increase in resident employment. These new jobs could certainly be a source of employment for additional DC residents. Although DC’s jobs grew a little faster than those in the suburbs, there was, however, nothing very unusual about this increase. DC’s share of the new jobs in the metropolitan area over the past four years (26.6%) was close to its recent average share of all metropolitan area jobs (about 24%).


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A growing job base no doubt helps to attract workers to the District of Columbia, but job growth in DC cannot explain why employed residents grew by 14.3% while jobs grew 6.2%. It should be noted that from April 2012 to April 2016 the percentage increase in resident employment (6.6%) in the US economy was actually a little less than the 7.5% wage and salary job growth, and the Washington metropolitan area growth pattern was similar, albeit a little slower—4.6% for resident employment and 5.6% jobs.


Unemployment. DC unemployment declined by 8,481 from April 2012 to April 2016, which represents about 18% of the increase in resident employment. However, falling unemployment cannot explain why resident employment increased so much faster in DC than elsewhere. DC’s percentage decline in unemployment was less than in the Washington metropolitan area suburbs and the US.

Looked at another way, over the past four years, it took an increase of 5.5 DC employed residents to reduce unemployment by one (46,381 increase in resident employment divided by 8,481 decline in unemployment). In the US the ratio was 2.1 new employed resident for every decline of one in unemployment, and in the suburbs the ratio was 1.9 new employed resident for every reduction of one in unemployment.

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Labor force dynamics. By definition, the increase in resident employment must be equal to the sum of the reduction in unemployment plus the increase in the labor force. Consequently, over 80% of the growth in resident employment is accounted for by labor force growth.


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Along with resident employment, the increase in DC’s labor market represents another unusual change over the past four years. The 10.6% increase in DC’s labor force was 3.7 times greater than in the US (2.9%) and more than 7 times greater than in the suburbs (1.5%). With about 12 percent of the region’s labor force, DC accounted for 46.5% of the region’s increase over the past four years.

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Population growth is the principal reason why DC’s labor force is rising so significantly. Over the past four years DC’s population grew 7.5%, compared to 4.8% in the suburbs and 3.2% in the US. If DC’s labor force had grown at the same rate as population, the labor force would have grown by 26,617. This growth in labor force due strictly to population would account for about 70% of the 37,901 labor force increase, and 57% of the 4 year increase in DC resident employment. About 30% of the labor force increase, however, is related to factors other than population growth. These factors cannot be explained by this data. For example, DC’s rising population may have an unusually large share of people in the labor force. Or the entire population may be changing so that the proportion persons in the labor force is rising. Or rising employment opportunities may be pulling more of the people who have left the labor force into DC’s labor market, although it is not obvious why this should be more true in DC than elsewhere.

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Where do the additional DC employed residents work? The BLS data used in this survey do not indicate the place of employment for DC residents. The increase in DC resident employment from April 2012 to April 2016 is the result of some combination of (1) a portion of the increase in new wage and salary jobs added in DC, (2) DC residents filling jobs formerly held by commuters who retired or otherwise left their positions, (3) additional DC residents commuting to the suburbs, and (4) additional DC workers who report they are working but are not as wage and salary employees.

The importance of commuting patterns is underscored by trends in suburban jobs and resident employment over the April 2012 to April 2016 period. During those four years suburban resident employment growth was far below the percentage change in jobs located in the suburbs (3.5% v 5.4%), and the increase in wage and salary jobs exceeded the growth of resident employment by more than 30,000. This difference between job growth and resident employment growth in the suburbs would appear to provide employment opportunities for DC residents commuting to the suburbs—and employment opportunities as well for persons commuting from outside of the Washington DC metropolitan area. In addition, the relatively slow growth in the suburban labor force could indicate a slowing of interest in commuting to the District of Columbia.

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What is this data?

This analysis of labor market trends in the US and the DC area covers the period from April 2012 to April 2016, a time that includes the most recent four years of recovery from the Great Recession. (Recovery from the recession officially began in June 2009.) The analysis uses data from two Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys that are conducted each month: (1) wage and salary employment data by place of work and (2) labor market data by place of residence, which includes labor force, resident employment, and unemployment. The data for April 2012 and April 2016 are three month averages for February, March, and April. Population data for the first quarters of 2012 and 2016 are from Moody’s Analytics.

It should be noted that the data presented here can be revised as Census and BLS sort through additional information that becomes available to them.




Apartments growing more rapidly than population, while new office space lags employment growth

Over the past three years population and jobs in DC have grown steadily and at about the same rate. From the first quarter of 2013.1 to 2016.1. DC’s population grew a little over 34,000 or 5.3%. This percent increase is just a little bit faster than wage and salary employment. DC added almost 33,000 jobs over the period, a 4.4% percentage increase.

People need to live somewhere and they need to work somewhere, so it would be expected that both the number of apartments and the amount of office space would increase as well. The impact is much greater for apartments, however, than for office space. According to CoStar, from 2013.1 to 2016.1 the number of apartment units increased by 12,805 (7.8%), well over the percent gain in population. By contrast, the net increase of 1.22 million square feet of commercial office space represents an increase of only 0.8% over the three years, a percentage change far less than the gain in employment.

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What accounts for these different relationships? The short answer is that most of the new population lives in apartments, but the connection between commercial office space and jobs is much looser.

Apartments tracked by CoStar represent about 55% of all housing units in DC. The other units are mostly in single family or other small structures whose numbers have not increased much over the past 3 years, although some have been reconfigured for more units. The housing supply for a growing population is thus mostly in larger multi-family buildings, principally apartments.

By contrast, many of the jobs added to the District’s economy do not need office space. For example, retail and food services accounted for more than one-third of all new jobs in DC over the past three years. In addition, other jobs are located in schools, hospitals, government office buildings and other locations that are not commercial offices. The relationship between job gains and commercial office space is further weakened by the well-documented decline in the number of square feet of space needed by many office workers, reflecting factors such as telecommuting, open office layouts, and reduced need for libraries in law firms.

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Construction dynamics

Looking back over the past decade, construction trends for apartments and commercial offices reflect the business cycle as well as responses to growth in people and jobs and other market forces. As the Great Recession approached in 2007, construction of apartment units and commercial office space, measured as percent of inventory, was increasing. As shown in the following chart, construction as a percent of inventory was over 3% for apartments and about 5% for offices in early 2008. Construction fell sharply with the recession, reaching about 1% of inventory in 2010 for both apartments and offices.

With the recovery, apartment construction ramped up sharply starting in 2011, reaching 6.9% in the third quarter of 2015. Commercial office construction, however, was a very different story. It increased slowly, never getting close to the pre-recession pace. Furthermore, the majority of the office construction did not result in a net increase in office space. The primary effect of the new office construction seems to have been directed to meeting demand for improved amenities or better location. As shown in tables on the next page, over the past three years, more than 92% of the new apartments delivered to the market resulted in a net increase in inventory. For commercial office space, net inventory rose less than one-third of the newly delivered office space.

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Local government, food services, and retail contributed more to 2015 job growth in DC according to revised estimates; business services and health contributed much less

Every year in March the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revises state employment data, in this case from March 2014, based on more complete information. This year’s result is a net reduction of 3,066 jobs in DC—0.4% of all jobs in the city—for the December quarter of 2015 compared to the previous estimate that had been made in January.

This reduction was the consequence of changes in the various sectors of the economy. Private sector jobs were decreased by 5,566 jobs (1.0%), for example, while public sector ones were marked up by 2,500 (1.1%).

Revisions to some individual sectors were of sufficient magnitude to change how important they were in the District of Columbia labor market in 2015. Higher estimates for local government, food service, and retail gave these sectors leading roles in DC’s job growth last year. Conversely, health and business services were found to have played much smaller roles.

For the economy as a whole, the BLS revision reduced the rate of job growth from the December quarter of 2014 to the December quarter of 2015 from 1.3% to 1.1%. The revision reduced private sector growth from 1.8% to 1.3%, while the public sector went from virtually no growth to 0.9%.

In terms of employment, the revision makes DC a 30.9% government town rather than a 30.4% one.

Gaining sectors

The upward revision in public sector jobs is entirely attributable to local government—an increase of 2,767 (7.5%). (The federal government was trimmed by 267.) In the previous estimate local government jobs declined from 2014 to 2015; with the revision they go up by 1,433, equivalent to 16% of all job gains in DC for the year. The revision seems consistent with recent DC budget increases.

Food service was previously estimated to have added 367 jobs over the past year, 4% of all city job growth. The newly estimated yearly increase is 2,600—30% of all DC job growth, second only to professional and technical services. Similarly, the retail sector’s share of all one-year DC job growth has been raised to 19% from the previous estimate of 3%.

Although education got 1,400 more jobs in the revision, this was not enough to increase jobs in the sector over the prior year. The new level in 2015 is still estimated to be 1,900 (2.9%) less than a year earlier.

Losing sectors

Four sectors drove the downward revision of private sector jobs—health, business services, non-profit organizations, and finance. Together they lost 12,301 jobs. Business services declined 7.9%, health, 6.3%.  In the previous estimate, these two sectors, with 16% of all DC jobs, added 7,200 jobs in the past year, accounting for 75% of then estimated one year job growth in the city. The new estimate shows one year growth of only 900 jobs for the two sectors, a modest 10% of all DC job growth.

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What exactly is this data? Each month the US Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles wage and salary data by industry for states and metropolitan areas.  In March of each year BLS revises the information for at least the previous year.  This blog compares the previous estimates through December 2015 that were issued in January 2016 with the revised ones issued in March 2016.  The December quarter is the average of October, November, and December.  The data are not seasonally adjusted.

A version of this blog appeared in the February 2016 District of Columbia Economic and Revenue Trends report. The Trend report also compares revisions for DC with those of the Washington Metropolitan area as a whole, and has a table showing revisions for all sectors of the economy.


BEA’s sharp revisions to commuter income earned in the District reveal the challenges of tracking the city’s changing income flows

In its September comprehensive revisions to all states’ Personal Income, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reduced its estimate of District’s 2014 Personal Income by $4.2 billion to $46.0 billion, down 8.5 percent. The reductions go back ten years, telling us that the District residents have been earning less than we thought they did for almost a decade.

BEA’s revised estimates do not change the basic story that income earned by DC residents has grown over the past decade as population and jobs have grown.  But the new numbers dial back considerably the proportion of the growing income earned in DC that stayed in the city.

The Personal Income calculation

To calculate Personal Income, BEA starts with income earned in the District by everybody working in the city.  Earned income is wages and salaries, benefits, and proprietor’s income. BEA then makes what is called a “net resident adjustment” to obtain income earned by DC residents.  The net resident adjustment involves (1) subtracting income earned in DC by non-residents (mostly commuters), and (2) adding income earned outside of DC by DC residents.

BEA 2014 revision increased by $1.7 billion the amount earned in DC, but also took $5.8 billion more away for the net resident adjustment using a new analysis of Census Bureau journey-to-work data and IRS tax filings.  Revisions to the non-earnings portion of Personal Income were relatively minor.


Before the revision, income earned by the District residents (in D.C. or elsewhere) appeared to be 46.1 percent of the income earned in the District in 2014 (by residents and commuters), up from 39 percent in 2004.  The revision puts the 2004 share to 38.2 percent, and 2014 share to 39.9 percent. Here is another way to look at it: before the revision, we thought that the District residents accounted for 62 percent of the increase in all income earned in the District between 2004 and 2014. With this revision, this share is now closer to 44 percent.


With these revisions, the increases in the proportion of income earned in DC staying in the city become more modest than what one might expect just by looking at the jobs numbers.  From 2004 to 2014, resident employment grew 21.0 percent while wage and salary jobs located in DC increased just 11.8 percent.  We have written about this before, considering explanations such as more DC residents working in higher paying jobs outside the District and more DC residents taking jobs vacated by commuters.  New data gives us pause since it shows that the growth in the resident employment seems not to have been not accompanied by a similar measure of growth in incomes. We do not know why.

The difficulty of tracking income flows in DC’s changing economy.

There is nothing unusual about BEA revising its estimates as more information becomes available, but the scale of the September 30, 2015 revisions to DC’s Personal Income is unusual. The percentage revisions to DC’s Personal Income were far greater than for any state data. Over the past three years there were only 5 instances of state changes of more than 3 percent in any one year, the biggest being a 4.8% increase for Alaska in 2012. Why was DC so different? The reason is the net resident adjustment factor. Tracking the in-and out-flows among jurisdictions is one of the more difficult tasks in compiling earnings estimates, and those flows proportionately are much larger in DC than for any state. They also can be influenced heavily by the changes in job or residence location by a relatively small number of high income households.

In its latest revisions, BEA turned to the most recent American Community Survey (ACS) data available for all US counties (the average for the years 2006 through 2010), along with the most recently available IRS tax data. Accurately tracking DC’s Personal Income is likely, however, to continue to be a challenge for BEA because DC’s population and economy keep changing—and the key data sources used to determine Personal Income are available only with a considerable lag.

Revised DC Personal Income compared to the US

The new data still show that DC Personal Income grew faster than the US average from 2004 to 2014 (DC 59%, US 46%). Over the past four years, however, DC increases have been quite close to the US average, and in 2014 the 4.4% growth in the US exceeded DC by more than a percentage point.

DC’s per capita income, now estimated at $69,828 in 2014, is 52% above the US average and is still the highest in the nation (compared to states). With higher population growth, however, DC’s per capita income has also grown more slowly than the national average over the past four years.image012


What exactly is this data?

The Data is from BEA’s Regional Economic Accounts.  The latest data are available here.

For more than three years now, District’s resident employment has grown faster than the jobs in the city

There are two ways to count jobs when it comes to the District of Columbia:  the number of jobs District residents hold in the city or elsewhere or the number of jobs in the city whether District residents or commuters hold these jobs.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics counts both: in the 12-month period that ended June, 354,055 District residents held jobs (on average) and there were 759,667 jobs located in the District. It is not surprising that there are far fewer employed D.C. residents than jobs: as the central city of a large metropolitan area, the District holds almost a quarter of the region’s jobs but only about ten percent of its population. Indeed, there are more jobs located in D.C. than the city’s entire population. This makes it particularly noteworthy that over the past three and a half years, resident employment in D.C. has been increasing much more rapidly than the city’s job base.

From December 2011 to June 2015, resident employment not only increased by a greater percentage (12.3 percentage v 4.6 percentage) than D.C.’s job base, but by more in absolute numbers—38,900 more resident jobs versus 33,500 more jobs located in DC.image020

In the years leading up to December 2011, resident employment, and the job base grew at about the same rate, even allowing for the downturns in the recession. Thus, from June 2005 to December 2011 the job base grew 7 percent and resident employment 7.9 percent (representing average annual growth of 1.0 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively). Resident employment then began to grow faster. In December 2011, for every 1000 jobs located in the District, we had 434 employed residents (in the city or elsewhere); by June 2015, number of employed residents for 1000 jobs located in the city had risen to 465. This number did not grow because there were fewer jobs in the District. On the contrary, jobs in the District have been growing faster than before at 1.4 percent. However, resident employment has been growing much faster at 3.8 percent.


What accounts for this?

One factor that has allowed the District’s resident employment grow faster than the city’s job base over the past three and a half years is demographics. Not only did the population grow faster in the recent period (2.0 percent annual rate versus the earlier 1.4 percent), but also more of these newcomers are willing to work, and are able to find jobs .


But three other factors that could be at play. First, it could be that the newcomers to the city are taking jobs that are vacated by commuters who have moved or retired. We have showed earlier that the top reason why people move to the District is jobs. If these newcomers are taking jobs vacated by turnover (retirement or any other reason) they will increase resident employment but not the total number of jobs in the District.

Second, newcomers might choose to locate in the city even when they hold jobs in the suburbs. About 27 percent of D.C.’s employed residents were reverse commuters  at the time of the 2010 Census, and more of this may be occurring. Thus, the net increase in jobs located in DC need not define how much resident employment can grow.

There is a third, and rather underexplored, reason: self-employment. For example, a District resident who is working as an Uber driver would be reported as employed in a household survey. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which does not collect data from self-employed persons (they survey employers only), would miss this person in its counting of jobs located in the District.

Is there is a limit to how long resident employment can continue to grow so much faster than jobs located in the city? There is no clear answer. Over the past 30 years, however, the ratio of resident employment to wage and salary jobs located in the District has never been higher than 47.8 percent (in 1985, a time when DC had 17 percent of the region’s population, 33.6 percent of the region’s jobs, and had more people living in the city than working in it). At 46.5 percent we are not far away from this number, but suburbs were less important back then, both in how many workers they could send into the city, but also in terms of how many jobs they can give back to us.


What exactly is this data?  

Each month the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics conducts two economic surveys that provide insight into the dynamics of D.C.’s economy. The first, a survey of employers of wage and salary jobs, measures the number of people working in DC regardless of where they live. The second, a household survey of residents, measures labor force characteristics including the number of DC residents who are employed regardless of the jurisdiction in which their job is located.

DC ’s post-recession surge in private sector employment is showing signs of slowing down

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the District of Columbia’s private sector employed 526,533 wage and salaried workers in June 2015 (averaged over three months). This June level was 7,267 (1.4%) above that of the prior year, a positive indicator of continued growth in the District’s economy.

The June employment level may also be a sign that the rapid increase in D.C.’s private sector employment that has occurred since the end of the US recession is slowing down. June was the second-slowest year-over-year increase since January 2011 (the other was 6,500 in September 2014). DC’s private sector job growth in June was about at the level that occurred before the recession’s onset, and was slightly under the average annual growth for the past decade (7,707).


Weaknesses in DC’s private sector are not economy-wide. Indeed, four of the District’s major sectors, ones that account for over half of all private sector jobs (professional services, business services, health, and organizations), added 9,067 jobs from June 2014 to June 2015, more than twice as much as in the previous year. The weakness came primarily from six sectors that together account for a little more than one-third of all private jobs: education, food services, accommodations, retail, information, and finance. Those sectors grew by about 6,600 from 2013 to 2014, but they fell by 1,900 in 2015.image004

What exactly is this data? The data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly data release on employment by industry area. All numbers are three-month moving averages of seasonally unadjusted data. This means the numbers for June of 2015 is the average of the monthly employment figures for April, May, and June.

More people are staying in District hotels and they are paying more for their rooms

According to STR, Inc., an industry data company, the demand for DC hotel rooms for the 12-months ending May 2015 was 6.2 percent higher than in the prior 12-month period. The high demand, combined with an average room rate that was 4.3 percent above the prior year’s, drove hotel revenue higher by a remarkable 10.7 percent.

Looking back over the past decade (from May 2005 to May 2015), the year that just ended was by far the best one for growth in room demand and revenue as measured by the 12-month moving total.

  • The past year, the first full year in which the new Convention Center hotel began operating, also saw the highest occupancy rate of the decade (77.3 percent) for all hotels in DC.image002
  • The 4.3 percent increase in average room rate in the past year was also the highest percent change in 4 years. Over the past 4 years, however, rates have remained stagnant and most of the gain in revenue has been attributable to increasing demand.image004
  • The strong hotel room sales is adding roughly $22 million to the District’s tax revenue in 2015. The District taxes hotel accommodations at 14.5 percent and uses about a third of its collections to pay the debt service on the Convention Center bonds and support tourism promotion. In 2014, the hotel tax generated $226 million in revenue—this is about one fifth of total sales tax revenue in the District. A 10 percent growth in the hotel sales would also boost the tax collections by the same proportion.
  • However, the stronger demand and prices have not yet translated into more jobs in the hotel sector in the District. Room demand increased by more than 16 percent in the last decade and revenue, adjusted for inflation, is up by more than 20 percent. At the same time, there has been virtually no gain in wage and salary employment reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the DC accommodations industry sector. The accommodations industry includes more than the hotels included in the STR, Inc. statistics, but the lack of increase in reported employment likely also reflects some combination of change in the mix of hotel types, productivity increases, and changes in proportion of full-time and part-time employment in the hotels.image006

You can read more about the performance of the hotel industry in the June 2015 District of Columbia Economic and Revenue Trends report.

What exactly what is this data? STR, Inc. is a private company that reports industry data on hotel demand (room-days sold in a month), hotel supply (number of hotel rooms available for rent each day of the month), average daily rate, and revenue. Employment numbers are from DC accommodations sector as reported monthly by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.