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The Pain of Poverty in a Wealthy Region

April 8, 2010

Author: Terri Lee Freeman

I can only imagine that it’s like living in a glass fishbowl: you can see the signs of economic development and prosperity all around you, the cranes that stretch high above the city signaling building and growth.  You can hear, from the nightly news reports, that Washington, DC and its surrounding area has one of the best economies in the United States. You’ve been told that, because of the presence of the federal government, this town is “recession-proof.” You’ve even heard that jobs are starting to come back.

But as you look around your neighborhood, those signs are elusive at best. Little development is occurring, and that which is is out of your reach financially. What you do see, however, are longer lines at the government offices that provide food and housing assistance. You’ve taken part in workforce development programs, only to be met with the frustration of the lack of jobs and opportunity. In short, beyond the glass bowl, things are passing you by, and you feel that you have been forgotten.

Unlike some Midwestern cities that were formerly industrial powerhouses where everyone, both white collar and blue collar workers, have been affected by the demise of manufacturing, the Washington, DC metro region’s economic engine has always been driven by the federal government and identified as a “service economy.” Today, that service economy has been joined by the “knowledge economy.” And all too frequently folks living in poverty have also had to live with insufficient academic opportunity, thus leaving them ill-prepared for the jobs in the region.

According to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, the stats for the District of Columbia’s residents living in poverty are frightening.

  • 1 out of every 3 DC residents is low-income.
  • At 32%, the child poverty rate in the District is nearly twice the national average.
  • Employment among African Americans and those with no more than a high school diploma has fallen to its lowest rate in 30 years.
  • Hourly earnings for low-wage working DC residents rose just 6% between 1979 and 2006.
  • 20% of DC households spend half or more of their income on housing alone.

What can we do about this? The answer is simple. We can support a coalition of organizations and residents that come together to help focus the 2010 mayoral and city council candidates on serious discussions about how we defeat poverty in the nation’s capital city. For more information about the coalition go to, there you can learn about the various nonprofit organizations involved with the coalition as well as the disturbing trend of rising poverty in the District of Columbia. The demise of poverty begins with leadership that recognizes it as a problem and is committed to ending it.
P.S.: Join our Facebook “Neighbors in Need” page at

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