2017 marks the third time in 70 years DC has had 694,000 residents

From 1950, when it was the nation’s 9th largest city, DC has fared better than most of the then 12 largest cities

The Census Bureau has estimated DC’s population at 693,972 as of July 1, 2017. This is the third time DC’s population has been at that level. The first time was in 1941—on the way up to becoming 900,000 (reached in 1943). The second was in 1976—on the way down to a level of 566,000 (reached in 1998). This third time population is rising again, having grown by 127,000 (22.5%) from the 1998 low point.

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In 1941 employment growth related to New Deal programs and World War II had attracted many people to the city. Population soon soared to 900,000 but started to decline at the war’s end. Even after losing about 100,000 from the war time peak, DC was the 9th largest city in the nation in 1950 with a population of 802,178.

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US population more than doubled from 1950 to 2016, but DC’s declined by 15% over that time, and its rank among cities fell to 21. Measured by percent change in population, however, DC fared better in those 66 years than all but 3 of the 1950 cohort of the top 12 cities.

DC since 1950. The 1970’s knocked DC out of the ranks of the nation’s 12 largest cities. DC held onto the 9th spot in city ranking through 1970 despite population declines in the 1950’s and 1960’s. But the city lost 188,000 people, a 15% decline, in the 1970’s and its rank fell to 15th in 1980. After losing another 65,000, DC was ranked 21st in 2000, and population gains beginning in 2005 were not sufficient to keep the city’s rank from slipping a little further to 24th in 2010. With growth continuing, DC rose to 21st among US cities in 2016, and it is possible that the rise in population that has brought it to the 694,000 mark for the third time in its history may lead to higher relative city ranking as well.

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The 1950 cohort of top cities 66 years later. Much has happened since 1950, but DC has actually fared better than most of the top dozen cities of that year.

  • As a group, these dozen cities lost 1.9 million people, 8.1% of their population, and the share of the nation’s population living in them went from 15.4% in 1950 to 6.6% in 2016.
  • Of the top 12 cities of 1950, 9 lost population. Only New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco grew.
  • Only four of the cities remain in the top dozen: New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.
  • The 121,008 decline in DC’s population was the least of all 9 cities that lost population. Detroit lost the most (1,176,773).
  • The 15.1% decline in DC’s population was also the least of the 9 cities that lost population. Four cities lost 50% or more of their population: Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh.

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Many long time residents of Washington DC are conscious of local developments that have contributed to population declines over the years including such things as urban renewal, flight to the suburbs, public safety concerns, quality of city services, and bankruptcy of the city government. However, all of the large cities of 1950 were affected by enormous changes in the US economy. Industries changed and population shifted to southern and western locations. It is noteworthy that DC’s loss in population in this changing world was less than for most of the1950 cohort cities. Being the nation’s capital, the location of substantial federal government employment and procurement spending, seems to have provided DC with an important measure of stability. Once again passing the 694,000 milestone in 2017—this time going up—shows that the city is still able to attract jobs and people in today’s continuously evolving economy.

The newcomer cities. As noted above, only four of 1950’s top cities are still among the dozen largest in the US. The departing 8 cities, all from the East and Midwest have been replaced by four from Texas, two from California, and one each from Arizona and Florida. Taken together, the newcomer cities increased by 8.7 million, a 375% gain. The largest gain, however, was Los Angeles, not a newcomer, which added 2.0 million and doubled in size. The biggest percentage gain was Phoenix at 1,412%.

In 2016 the top dozen cities accounted for 8.6% of the US population, a share close to half as much as the share (15.4%) the top 12 cities had in 1950. Of the increase in US population from 1950 to 2016, just 5.8% occurred in the nation’s top dozen cities. Traditional big-city boundaries seem thus to have diminished somewhat in relative importance even as the nation has continued to urbanize.

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About the data.

This is the second of three blogs about DC population based on the US Census Bureau estimate of DC population in 2017 released in December 2017.

The population data for the District of Columbia, other US cities, and the US is from the US Bureau of the Census. The data is for incorporated cities and not for the metropolitan areas of which they are a part. Annual data back to 1939 is accessed from Moody’s Analytics. Data for city rankings is accessed from the website https://www.biggestuscities.com. In the city ranking tables, 2016 data for DC do not reflect the revision made in December to that year by the Bureau of the Census.

A version of this blog first appeared in the January 2018 District of Columbia Economic and Revenue Trend report issued by the District of Columbia Office of Revenue Analysis, a component of the District of Columbia Office of the Chief Financial Officer.

This blog was revised on March 22 to clarify that the graph on p. 1 was population only.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DC’s population rose to 693,972 in 2017—9,636 above 2016. This was the slowest growth in 9 years.

However, growth in 2017 is 12,082 above last year’s estimate for 2016, as revisions added 3,166 people to prior years

In December 2017 the US Bureau of the Census estimated the population of states and the District of Columbia as of July 1st for that year and it also revised estimates for prior years. In the new estimate the Census Bureau added over 3,000 people to DC for the years 2012 through 2016, bringing 2016’s total to 684,336 (compared to the 681,170 it had estimated in December 2016). For 2017 the Census Bureau estimated DC’s population at 693,972 , an increase of 9,636 (1.4%) over the revised estimate for 2016.

The new data show that DC’s population continues to grow. Population has now increased for 12 straight years, adding 126,836 (22.4%) from 2005 to 2017.

The new estimates also indicate that DC’s population growth slowed in 2017. The 9,636 gain in 2017 was the slowest in 9 years, and less than the annual average of 10,570 that has occurred since 2005.

The components of DC’s population growth since 2000 show that slower growth in 2017 is mostly attributable to slower net domestic migration into DC. However, as noted below, the revisions to the years 2012 to 2016 create some uncertainty about the current trajectory of DC’s population growth, and they underscore the importance of migration in DC’s future population changes.

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Components of change. The Census Bureau breaks down population changes into two main categories—natural increase (the difference between births and deaths) and net migration (the difference between those moving in versus those moving out). In 2017 natural increase of 4,293 accounted for 44.6% of the growth in DC’s population from the prior year, and net migration added 5,312 (55.1% of all growth). The 2017 gains in both natural increase and net migration were below their respective annual averages in the 6 1/4 years from the April 2010 Census count to July 1, 2016, but the change in net migration explains most of the slower growth. Last year’s natural increase was 310 (6.7%) below the average from April 2010 to July 2016, while net migration was 3,104 (36.9%) less than the average of the prior 6 1/4 years.    graph 2

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Natural increase. Natural increase is positive because there are more births than deaths. From 2016 to 2017, births and deaths were both higher than the average over the prior six years. However deaths increased more than births (634 v 323), hence the slow down in natural increase.

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table 3a

Net migration. Net migration has two components: international and domestic, each of which is the net change of people coming to DC and those leaving. Over the past year the increase in net international migration was 486 (13.2%) greater than the 6 1/4 year average, while the increase in net domestic migration was far below that average. Net domestic migration of 1,152 from 2016 to 2017 was 3,590 (76%) below the average of the prior 6 1/4 years and is equivalent to all of the difference between slower growth in DC’s population in 2017 compared to the annual average from 2010 to 2017. Census provides only a net number for immigration, so the data does not indicate whether domestic migration slowed primarily because fewer people moved in or more moved out.

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How certain is it that DC’s population growth in 2017 slowed as much as the Census Bureau has estimated? The Census Bureau’s initial estimate for DC’s population in 2016 was quite similar to the current one for 2017—slower growth due principally to a sharp decrease in net domestic migration. The revisions to the 2016 estimates, including growth added to earlier years, were primarily due to increasing the net domestic migration estimates, and these revisions increased the 2016 population estimate from 681,170 to 684,336. As noted in the table, for the 6 1/4 years from April 2010 to July 2016 Census added 2,959 due to increased domestic migration, cut 829 from international migration, and added 350 for natural increase. This revision to 2016 suggests that 2017’s population estimate might also be revised in subsequent years as more information becomes available to Census from analysis of tax returns and other sources.

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The revision to 2016 and earlier years underscores the importance of net migration for the dynamics of population change in DC. Looking ahead, DC’s natural increase is not likely to change a great deal from year to year, ranging somewhere around 4,500 per year and unlikely to exceed 5,000 for some time. If DC is to continue to grow at a pace of 10,570 per year (the yearly average of the past 12 years) this means the city must experience a net gain in migration of around 6,000 per year. There is, of course, no way to know what migration will be in the future. The attractiveness of DC as a place to live will be balanced against factors such as housing prices, job availability, the quality of schools, and national immigration policies.

About the data.

This is the first of three related blogs concerning District of Columbia population based on the December 2017 US Bureau of the Census estimate of population in the city.

The population data is from the US Bureau of the Census which estimates population for all states and the District of Columbia in December as of July 1 of that year. Census also breaks down changes in total population into the categories of natural increase (excess of births over deaths) and net migration (the net of persons moving in and persons moving out, calculated separately for international and domestic migration). These components of change are shown relative to the past year and relative to the April 2010 census (a 7 1/4 year span). In this analysis, the components of change from 2016 to 2017 are subtracted from the total change from April 2010 to give a 6 1/4 year change from April 2010 to July 2016.

A version of this blog appeared in the December 2017 District of Columbia Economic and Revenue Trends which is issued by the District of Columbia Office of Revenue Analysis, a component of the District of Columbia Office of the Chief Financial Officer.

 

Over the past year, education and food services have become the largest sources of new jobs in DC

Those sectors’ contributions to wage growth in the District’s economy are, however, quite modest

According to US Bureau of Labor Statistics data, over the course of the last year job growth in DC came increasingly to be dominated by two sectors: education and food services. These two sectors were responsible for 11,800— about 90%—of the 13,133 net increase in all wage and salary employment in DC from September 2016 to September 2017. This high proportion of the job increase over the last year is remarkable because in September 2016 education and food services accounted for just 14% of all jobs in the city.

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Rapid job growth in education and food services did not, however, translate into comparable income gains. The latest income data from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis (combined with seasonally adjusted employment data) indicates that the two sectors accounted for just 5.9% of the net gain in wage and salary income in DC from 2016.2 to 2017.2—despite job growth that exceeded the net increase for the economy as a whole.

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Employment in the education and food services sectors. The increase in employment over the past year in both education and food services has been striking. From September 2015 to September 2017 education employment in DC went from 58,433 to 67,333. Of the 8,900 increase over these two years, 76% (6,800) occurred in the past year. Similarly, the last year accounted for 86% (5,000) of the 5,800 increase in food services employment over the past two years. As a share of all employment gains in DC, the combination of education and food services rose from about one-third or less in the year from September 2015 to September 2016 to over 100% during the spring of 2017.

Table 2

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Jobs and wages. The rapid increase in employment in education and food services over the past year appears to have made little impact on amounts earned by people working in DC. Whereas the two sectors accounted for 107.1% of the net increase in employment in DC from 2016.2 to 2017.2, their share of wage and salary growth was just 5.9%. This share of the increase over the year was less than the average share of wages attributable to those two sectors in 2016.2, which was 6.4%.

Part of the reason for the relatively small impact on wages that education and food services have had is that they both are relatively low wage sectors compared to DC average earnings. In 2017.2, the average annual earnings in education, $41,771, was just 45.7% of DC’s $91,405 average. The average wage in food services, $30,187, was one third of the DC average. Over the year 2016.2 to 2017.2, the average annual earnings fell in both education and food services.

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What accounts for the rapid growth in employment accompanied by modest impact on wages in the education and food services sectors? The data on wages and employment do not provide a full answer to this question. However, two reasons probably help to explain why such a development might occur.

The first reason might be part time employment. BLS employer surveys count people who are working on the survey date, whether such people are full time or part time. Even if hourly wages are increasing, average annual earnings could result if the proportion of people working part time was increasing. Both education and food services can be a source of part time work. It is worth noting in this regard that the only other sector of DC’s economy in which average annual earnings fell from 2016.2 to 2017.2 was transportation and warehousing, another sector in which there could be an increasing amount of part time employment.

The second reason could be changes in the composition of employment within the sectors. This appears to be a factor in education where the largest gains in employment have been in the “all other” part of the sector. “All other” could be such things as charter schools or preschools or after school programs where average annual earnings are likely to be less than in colleges, universities, or professional schools.

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It should be noted, however, that the data presented here is preliminary and the picture could change if it is revised in the future. The next significant revision to the employment data will occur in March 2018, and BEA’s income data is revised as more information becomes available.

About the data. The employment data in this analysis is from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics which conducts monthly surveys of employers in DC and throughout the US. The calculations are based on 3-month moving averages of seasonally unadjusted data. The September 2017 data reflects revisions which were included in the October 2017 employment report. Wage and salary data are from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis Personal Income series for DC, accessed through Moody’s Analytics. The most recent BEA data is for the 2017.2 quarter. For consistency in comparing employment and wage data, seasonally adjusted employment data was accessed from Moody’s Analytics. As noted, all BLS and BEA data is subject to revision.

An earlier version of this blog was included in the November District of Columbia Economic and Revenue Trends issued by the District of Columbia Office of the Chief Financial Officer.

 

 

The number of occupied apartment units in DC increased sharply last year

The increase tops the peaks of previous years

According to CoStar, a leading commercial real estate information firm, there were an estimated 174,917 occupied units in all classes of market rate apartment building in September 2017, an increase of 5,433 over the prior year. This was the largest one year gain since 2001, the period covered by the data base. The 5,433 one-year gain exceeded the annual gains that occurred before the Great Recession and following the relaxation of sequestration restraints.

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In 2005 DC’s population started to increase, with the city adding 125,000 residents by 2017, a 22% increase. Not surprisingly, this growth had an impact on the market for apartments. From 2005 to 2017.3 the net inventory of units increased by 35,615. This increase in supply was almost matched by growing demand as occupancy grew by 33,443. The overall vacancy rate rose only slightly—from 4.6% in 2005 to 5.1% in 2017.3.

The balancing by market forces of inventory and demand evident over the past decade is consistent with the modest decrease in the construction of new units that has occurred recently. In September there were 13,022 new units under construction, a decrease of 630 from a year earlier and of 1,687 from the peak pace of 14,709 in March 2017. While occupied units rose sharply over  the past year, inventory grew even more: a 6,727 net increase in inventory versus the 5,443 increase in occupied units. The vacancy rate in 2017.3 for all units also rose somewhat—to 5.1% from 4.7% a year earlier.

As noted in the accompanying chart, new construction began to accelerate in 2010. With some ups and downs, this was soon followed by annual increases in net inventory and in occupied units that have carried to the present time. Most of this activity involved Class A apartments. In the 7 years from 2010.3 to 2017.3, 88% of the net increase in apartment units and 84% of the increase in occupied units were accounted for by152 new Class A buildings. (Class A buildings are new or newly renovated, well located, generally larger buildings with higher rents.)   An increase of 69 Class B buildings accounted for about 15 % of the gains in inventory and occupancy. The number Class C buildings, representing about 38% of the District’s inventory of market rate units, declined over this time. Vacancy rates rose for Class A buildings, which require long lease-up periods, and fell for both Class B and Class C units.

 

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From 2009 to 2012, the three years in which DC experienced the largest annual increases in population over the past decade, the total increase in occupied apartment units for the three years was 4,987 (see the shaded area in the table below). This was less than the increased occupancy that occurred in the last 12 months. This suggests there have been some changes in the connections between a growing population and the city’s housing stock over the past 10 years or so. In the middle part of the decade of the 2000’s, more of the increase in population may have been accommodated by group homes or taking in roommates, by changes to single family or other smaller structures, or by owner-occupied units. Census Bureau estimates of DC’s population in 2017 will not be available until December, so comparison of population and housing unit changes over the past year is not yet possible. The ways in which the District and the owners of its housing stock adapt to changing demographics and housing patterns will no doubt continue to be an area of great interest.

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About the data. The information is from CoStar’s historical data bases of market rate apartments which goes from the first quarter of 2000 to the third quarter of 2017.  The data includes the total for all apartment buildings as well as for buildings classified as Classes A, B, or C. CoStar Group, Inc. is an American commercial real estate information and marketing provider with headquarters in Washington, DC. Information in the CoStar data base is undated on a continuous basis.

The information here was included in the District of Columbia Economic and Revenue Trends report for October 2017, which was issued by the Office of Revenue Analysis of the Office of the Chief Financial Officer of the Government of the District of Columbia.

 

DC’s unemployment as been increasing over the past six months, with the rate rising to 6.4% in July

More DC residents are working, but resident employment growth has not kept up with that of the labor force

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), unemployment in the District of Columbia has been rising over the past six months. Seasonally adjusted unemployment rose from 22,376 in January 2017 to 25,706 in July 2017, an increase of 3,330 (14.9%). The rate of unemployment rose from 5.7% in February to 6.4% in July.

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The rise in unemployment does not mean, however, that the number of employed DC residents fell. To the contrary, there were 4,313 (1.2%) more DC residents working in July 2017 than there were in January. Unemployment rose because for the past 6 months the increase in jobs for DC residents did not keep up with the even faster growth in the DC labor force.

table 1 sep 2017

As explained below, unemployment can be viewed as the difference between the labor force and resident employment. Unemployment goes down if resident employment increases more than the labor force. This is what happened from July 2016 to January 2017. At that time unemployment decreased by 1,324, following the trend of the prior two years. Unemployment goes up if resident employment increases less than the labor force. This is what happened from January 2017 to July 2017 when the labor force increased more than twice as much as in the prior 6 months, and unemployment rose by 3,330.

Unemployment is defined by BLS as people without jobs who are looking for work. This is calculated each month based on a monthly survey of a sample of households. The survey also counts people who are working. The labor force is then estimated by adding together the number working and the number who are unemployed. Unemployment can therefore be viewed as the difference between the labor force and resident employment, and the unemployment rate expresses unemployment as a percentage of the labor force.

The following charts and table show that for most of the past 3 years DC’s resident employment has grown faster than the labor force, with the consequence that unemployment and the unemployment rate steadily declined. The data does not explain why unemployment has started to rise in recent months. The reasons the labor force can grow more than resident employment include arrival in the city of more workers looking for jobs and existing residents returning to the labor force because of improving prospects of finding work. Whatever the reasons, DC’s unemployment rate over the past 6 months rose from 5.7% to 6.4% as the US rate was falling from 4.8% to 4.3%.

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About the data. The data discussed here are labor force statistics prepared each month for the US and the states by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The data are derived from household surveys, and are subject to sampling and reporting errors as well as changes in underlying demographic information that is taken into account by BLS in making the estimates. In practice, labor force is constructed by adding together those who say they are working and those who say they are unemployed (this is, not working but looking for work). All calculations are from seasonally adjusted data. The data reflect revisions to the original July 2017 estimates made by BLS in its August report, but the data are also subject to further revision by BLS. Seasonal adjustment is the method BLS uses for removing seasonal elements (such as school graduates seeking to enter the labor force or holiday period fluctuations) from monthly labor market statistics. This is done to reveal underlying trends and cycles in the data.

A version of this blog appeared in the September 2017 OCFO report District of Columbia Economic and Revenue Trends.

Job growth in food services in DC has bounced back from last year’s slowdown, but retail has not

New stores and restaurants are tangible evidence of the continued growth of DC’s economy, and these sectors have also been important contributors to employment growth since the Great Recession. Food services and retail combined accounted for 25.2% of the increase in all DC private sector employment in the 7 years since April 2010, when the recession’s effects on DC employment were beginning to wear off. The share of all private sector jobs in food services and retail increased from 11.8% in April 2010 to 13.9% in April 2017—from one in every 8.5 jobs to one in every 7.2.

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During most of 2016, however, the amount of increase over the prior year in jobs in food services and retail began to slow down. From December 2015 to August 2016 the annual gain in food services fell from 3,000 per year to just 500. Retail fell from 1,200 to 400. In the fall of 2016, the pace of job growth in food services picked up, but retail continued to slow down. In April 2017 food services employed 2,700 more workers than a year earlier, but retail employed 230 fewer people.

 

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In the years since the Great Recession, there have been ups and downs in food service and retail employment growth. For example, the pace of food services growth hit a high of 3,867 in December 2011, and fell by more than half (to 1,600) a year later. Retail job growth was slightly negative for a brief period in the summer of 2011 and then rose steadily to a gain of 1,433 in June 2014, But the drop in 2016 was the most significant since 2010.

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Measured as percent change over the prior year, growth in both food services and retail has been greater over most of the post-recession period than for the rest of DC’s private sector. Only toward the end of 2016 did the rates begin to converge.

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Outlook. For the three months ending April, the increase in food service jobs over the prior year, 2,700, was slightly above the average for the past seven years, and the percent change, 5.3%, was slightly below the 5.7% average annual growth over that time. The sector would therefore seem to be poised to add additional jobs if DC’s population, employment, and income continue to grow along the lines of the prior year.

On the other hand, food services employment in the US has been slowing over the past year, falling from a 3.9% rate of growth in April 2016 to 2.2% in April 2017. Although the percentage growth of the sector in DC has generally been above the US average for most of the past decade, DC’s rate of growth last summer declined much faster than the national growth rate. By August 2016 DC’s increase in food services jobs was just 1% while the US rate was over 3%. If the rate of increase in US food services continues to slow or stays at a low level, it remains to be seen whether DC food services jobs can continue to outpace the US as it has over the past several months.

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Nationally, the rate of growth of retail employment has fallen over the past year, going from 1.6% in April 2016 to 0.5% in April 2017. DC’s recent decline in retail jobs is thus consistent with national trends, just more exaggerated. For most of the past decade, DC’s rate of growth in retail jobs was well above the US average. Then over the past year DC’s rate of growth fell from 3.8%—more than twice the US rate—to negative 1%. Looking ahead, in addition to factors such as population, employment, and income growth, the retail sector faces the twin headwinds of on-line commerce and checkout automation that could make it harder to sustain job increases in the retail sector.

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About this data. All data is wage and salary employment in DC and the US from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The date is calculated as 3-month or 12-month averages from the monthly series.  The April 2017 amounts used here reflect revisions to the data contained in the May 2017 monthly release from BLS.

Note: A version of this blog appeared in the June 2017 District of Columbia Economic and Revenue Trends, issued by the DC Office of Revenue Analysis.

 

DC’s median home price, 3 times more than median family income in 1991, is now 5 times more

A measure of house affordability developed by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) relates median family income to median house price. (All further mention of home prices and family income refer to their median numbers.) Before looking more closely at this index, however, we first describe what has happened to home prices and family incomes in DC over the past 25 years. (The home price includes both single family and condominium units.)

Home price and family income in DC. DC’s housing market changed fundamentally after the year 2000. During the 1990’s, home price and family income grew at the same pace. Then, from 2000 to 2006 home prices grew much more quickly than income. The median home price rose from $198,550 to $447,850 over those 6 years, a 125.6% gain, while median family income grew only 34.5%. With the Great Recession the home price fell by 25%, but this only brought prices partway back to the growth path of family income. In the recovery period since 2009, housing prices have modestly outpaced the growth in family income (36.8% compared to 26.3%). (For more details, see the table at the end of this post.)

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One way to summarize change in DC’s housing market is the ratio of median home price to median family income. The ratio was close to 3 in the 1990’s, and then shot up to about 7 in 2006.4, just before the onset of the recession. During the recession, the ratio did not fall to its previous low level, but only to about 5, where it has remained during the recovery period.

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The Affordability Index. As noted earlier, the National Association of Realtors’ Affordability Index compares median family income with the income needed to purchase a median-priced home. The income needed to afford the median house is calculated by assuming (1) 20% down, (2) a 30-year mortgage to finance the balance, and (3) household income at 4 times the amount needed to pay the mortgage. An index over 100 means median income exceeds the amount needed to purchase the median-priced single family or condominium home; an index less than 100 means income is less than what is needed. (An index of 110, for example, means that median family income is 110% of the amount needed to afford the median home.)

The Affordability Index for DC is estimated by Moody’s Analytics. The index was 115.1 for DC in 1991 and fell sharply as housing prices rose after 2000. The index has been close to 100 for most the 7 years since the recovery from the US recession began in 2009, and was 105.4 in the last quarter of 2016.

Given that DC’s median home price increased proportionately much more than family income over the past 25 years, it might seem surprising that the 2016 index of 105.5 is not that much lower than the 115.1 index in 1991. The reason these indices are so close is that interest rates for 30 year mortgages have fallen substantially over the past 25 years. In 1991, the rate was 9.3%; in 2016 it was less than half that—3.9%.

The way the Affordability Index works, a rise in mortgage interest rates, should this occur, would lower the Affordability Index. For example, if the interest rate were to rise by a percentage point (to 4.9%), DC’s index in the last quarter of 2016 would drop to about 95 if the median house price and median family income remained the same. It should be noted, however, that housing prices can also be affected by interest rates. Low interest rates also enable families to pay more for houses, helping to drive up prices. If rates rise and people can’t afford to borrow as much, prices cannot be bid up as high.

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Comparison with the US. In the US as a whole, housing prices and incomes were affected by developments that started in 2000, but the changes were less dramatic than in DC. Prices did not rise as sharply before the recession, and the spread between median home price and median family income never got as large. The result is that deterioration of housing affordability seen in DC has not occurred to nearly the same extent in the US.

  • The ratio of median home price to median family income in the US rose only to about 4 before the recession compared to 7 in DC. The ratio in the US has now fallen back to 3.3, compared to 5.1 in DC.
  • Just before the recession, the Affordability Index in the US was about 120, not too far below what it was in 1991, whereas DC’s fell to 58. The current index in the US (184) is more than 50 points above what it was in 1991, whereas DC’s is now about 10 points less than 1991.

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About this data. Data for median housing prices, median family incomes, and the Affordability Indices for DC and the US are from Moody’s Analytics. Quarterly data for the period from the first quarter of 1991 to the last quarter of 2016 have been used to calculate 12-month moving average values for the years 1991 to 2016. Similarly, quarterly data on the interest rates for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages has been used to calculate 12-month average rates. All index numbers have been calculated using the 12-month average value for the 4th quarter of 1991 as the base value of 100. The National Association of Realtors calculates the Affordability Index for the US and regions of the country. The values of the index for DC were calculated by Moody’s Analytics.

The following tables show values and percent changes over the 1991 to 2016 period for median home prices, and median family income for DC and the US , along with the Affordability Index and the ratio of median house price to median family income.

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Note: A version of this blog appeared in the May 2017 District of Columbia Economic and Revenue Trends, issued by the D.C. Office of Revenue Analysis.