I think that much as claims about the economic vibrancy of the DC area are rightly tempered by the observations that conditions are much worse for the city’s working class residents than for affluent professionals, claims about the city being “a city divided” need to be tempered by the reality that these divisions exist all over the place. The five percentage point increase in the unemployment rate for black residents in the city is bad. But nationwide African-American unemployment hit a low of 7.7% in August of 2007, rising to 10.7% in August 2008, 15% in August 2009, 16.2% in August 2010, and all the way up to 16.7% in August 2011. In other words, the nationwide increase in black unemployment was larger than the DC-specific increase in black unemployment.
Similarly, while for DC the Hispanic unemployment rate may have “nearly doubled,” nationwide it hit a low of 5.1% in March 2007, much more than doubled to 13.2% by November 2010, and has slowly oozed downward to 11.3% today.
Yglesias’ analysis is missing an obvious data point: Namely for DC to be pretty much the same as the rest of the country in terms of racial disparities and unemployment ratios, white people in DC would have to have be similarly “slightly better off” than their counterparts nationally when it comes to unemployment. Except they’re not. They’re MUCH better off.
In 2009 in DC white unemployment went up to 4.1 percent from 3 percent, while nationally white unemployment peaked in 2009 at about 8.3 percent. Now THAT’s “insulated from the recession.” There’s a reason for this—more than 80 percent of white residents in the District have college degrees, compared to 30 percent of whites nationally. That’s pretty much how it goes in general—if you have a college degree you’re more likely to have kept your job or found a new one.
Of course, the difference between the relatively large increase in minority unemployment in Washington DC, corresponding with a nearly nonexistent rise in white unemployment during the worst recession in years, helps illustrate the stark economic contrasts within the city itself that are the point of the story. And I suppose if you just ignore the fact that white people in Washington DC are more educated and far less likely to be unemployed than white people in the rest of the country then it’s easy to pretend that there’s nothing unusual about the city’s particular socio-economic divides.
Yglesias writes that “the fact that the DC metro area has been insulated from the impact of the recession is not an idiosyncratic feature of the town’s white population.” No, the fact that white people in Washington DC have been insulated from the impact of the recession is an idiosyncratic feature of the town’s white population. For whatever reason, that seems to make some of the idiosyncratic members of the town’s white population feel defensive.