Economic Inclusiveness Tool Reflects Large Racial Wealth Gap In D.C. Region

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A dashboard tracking the region’s progress toward economic inclusivity identified large racial gaps, with white D.C.-area residents owning more businesses and more homes. pinelife/Flickr hide caption

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A regional economic development group launched a new dashboard to document the area’s progress towards making an inclusive economy – and it looks like D.C. has a long way to go.

Greater Washington Partnership’s inclusive growth dashboard tool is designed to highlight the racial wealth gaps in the region, analyze what drives those inequities, and provide policy recommendations for both lawmakers and local business leaders. Compiled using publicly available data, the new tracker shows that the D.C. area’s economy — while one of the wealthiest in the U.S. — has deep racial gaps.

According to the dashboard, 17.7% of Black D.C.-area residents live in racially or ethnically-concentrated areas of poverty, compared to only 1% of white D.C.-area residents. If that gap was closed, the data estimates that 129,000 fewer Black residents would live in a concentrated area of poverty.

Black residents make up nearly 50% of D.C.’s population, and about 25% of the D.C. region examined on the tracker. But it reports that 11.4% of Black D.C.-area residents live below the poverty level, compared to 4.3% of white residents. About 10.5% of Hispanic residents live below the poverty line. (Hispanic D.C. residents also saw soaring rates of food insecurity in the past year, per a report published earlier this month.)

When it comes to housing, there’s a $156,000 gap in median home value between Black and white residents, and Black residents are nearly two times as likely to be rent-burdened, meaning that housing costs ate up 30% or more of a household’s income.

Greater Washington Partnership/

Greater Washington Partnership/

Greater Washington Partnership/

The new metrics, analyzed in partnership with the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., come shortly after a study published earlier this month found that as the D.C. region has grown more diverse in the past two decades, it’s also grown more geographically segregated. This residential segregation, the authors note, contributes to the racial wealth gap; poverty rates are lower — 14% compared to 21% — in integrated neighborhoods compared to segregated communities of color, and Black children raised in integrated neighborhoods go on to earn almost $1,000 more per year than adults raised in deeply segregated communities of color.

The partnership’s dashboard metrics reflect this trend in economic mobility, too: 6.7% of Black children whose parents were in the bottom income quartile move into the top 20% of earners, compared to 15.7% of white children.

Perhaps the largest disparity identified in the new data set is that between Black and white business owners. 69.8% of the area’s small business are white-owned, compared to just 5.2% that are owned by Black residents.

The new tracking page is a product of the Greater Washington Partnership’s newly created Inclusive Growth Strategy Council, a group of business heads tasked with finding solutions to the region’s gaps in equity. The council is co-chaired by Sheila Johnson, CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts, and Jason Write, the Washington Football Team president. The dashboard is compiled using data from several federal sources, like the U.S. Census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Federal Reserve economic data, and will be updated every year with the intention of continuously informing policy and business regulation.

Eliana Golding, a policy analyst at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute focused on inclusive economies, says that presenting trackable metrics in an easily digestible or visual way allows activists and organizers to add quantitative data to their lived experiences when advocating to lawmakers.

“I think there’s always a tension when advocates come in and say ‘this is my lived experience, I experienced inequality, or inequities, or food apartheid in this way.’ We shouldn’t need to get exact numbers in order to be able to back up the reality of those experiences… [but] unfortunately numbers make things more legible and more convincing to decision makers, and so I think the more that stuff can be accessible to folks to use, the better,” she says.

At the same time, Golding says that numbers aren’t the only factor that should drive policy change or movements towards racial equity.

“Folks who have been impacted by certain policies over a long period of time, those communities have been speaking out about these things for a long time using their lived experience.” Golding says. “I would want to lift up the the narratives and stories that people share in testimonies, or when they’re meeting with their councilmembers, or when they’re doing their organizing, as information or data that’s just as important as these numbers.”

This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.

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