A Washington Post piece from earlier this week highlighted the growing income gap in the District. Citing a new study produced by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, the Post reported that the wage disparity between the District’s highest and lowest earners is greater than it has been in 35 years. It appears that the economic recovery has left behind the District’s most vulnerable.
According to the Post, over the period from 2007-2013, the average wage for high income workers in the District rose by $6.00 per hour. However, wages for low income workers have stagnated, decreasing by a few cents.
Differences are stark when broken out by race and education level, as well. While white wages rose by $3 an hour, wages for African-Americans and Hispanics rose by just $0.30 and $1 an hour, respectively. Wages for those with only a high school diploma fell by $1.50 an hour, to $13 an hour. During the same period, wages for those with a college diploma rose to $33 an hour. Further, nearly one third of workers with a high school diploma or less are underemployed.
And that’s just the story for those able to find work. The study indicates that while District unemployment has fallen from 10.4% to 7.3%, unemployment among African-Americans has increased from 10% at the beginning of the recession to 16% now. Those with a high school diploma are unemployed at a rate of 18%.
Legal Aid’s clients already know that the recovery has failed to reach too many Americans. Low wages or no wages can turn into eviction notices, lost child support payments, or debt collection calls.
The numbers in the study appear to reflect broad national trends, recently reported in the New York Times, as the richest one percent of Americans accumulates more wealth while middle class families fall into poverty.
The year 2016 will see the implementation of important measures like a higher minimum wage and improvements to paid sick leave and wage theft laws in the District. Still, as Mayor Bowser and the D.C. Council commence work on next year’s budget, income disparity locally and across the nation belies the economic recovery.