Class-Divided Cities: Washington, D.C. Edition

The fourth installment in our series mapping the class divides in America's cities and metros.

This is the fourth of a series of posts that explore the class divides across America’s largest cities and metros. Using data from the American Community Survey, each post explores the geography of class within a large city and metro area. For a detailed description of methodology, see the first post in the series, on New York.

The map above charts the geography of class for the entire metro area of Washington, D.C., which includes Northern Virginia and parts of Maryland. The D.C. metro area is the nation's seventh largest, with approximately 5.7 million people, and the fourth largest in in economic output [PDF], producing $434 billion in goods and services.

The creative class lives in the areas that are shaded in purple, the red areas are primarily service class, and the blue are working class. Each colored space on the map is a Census tract, a small area within a city or county that can be even smaller than a neighborhood.

The most striking thing on the D.C. map is how much purple there is. More than any other metro we've covered, greater Washington, D.C. is a creative class region. That's not surprising actually. The creative class — which includes people who work in science and technology, business and management, arts, culture, media and entertainment, law and healthcare professions — make up nearly half of the metro's workforce (46.8 percent), which is the third highest percentage in the nation (14 percentage points above the national average of 32.6 percent). These are high-skilled, highly-educated, and high-paying positions where workers average $90,442 in wages and salaries, fourth highest in the nation, and considerably above the national creative class average of $70,890. 

Still, the class divide in the region is pronounced. The creative class is concentrated in the center of the metro, as the map shows, in and around Northwest D.C., Arlington, and Alexandria and out to Fairfax, Manassas, and Leesburg in Northern Virginia, and Bethesda, Gaithersburg, and Frederick in Maryland. There are considerable sections of lighter purple farther out surrounding these darker shaded areas. In an email to me, D.C.-based urbanist and Cities contributor Kaid Benfield suggests a difference between the metro's creative class around Fairfax, Dulles, and Loudoun County, which prefers more suburban living and is more tech-oriented, and the creative class in D.C., Arlington, Alexandria and parts of Montgomery County, which prefers greater urbanity and likely has a greater arts and design focus.

The service class is pushed to the metro's far corners and the in-between spaces between creative class concentrations. What's also striking is the complete absence of blue (working class clusters) on the map. Greater Washington is a fully post-industrial region, divided between the creative and service classes.

The class divide in the District itself is even sharper and more well-defined, running across a sharp east/west axis, with the creative class concentrated in the west, especially the northwest, and the service class massed in the east. (Click on the map of the city shares to the right for a larger image.)

The creative class areas (shaded in purple) are clustered in the NW quadrant — home to Georgetown, George Washington and American universities, as well as K Street and many government offices. The areas with the deepest shade of purple are all in the far Northwest, especially around Cleveland Park and Chevy Chase. But there are also substantial creative class clusters in and around downtown and Capitol Hill, reflecting the more recent transformation of these neighborhoods. Philip Auerswald, author of The Coming Prosperity and a professor at George Mason University's School of Public Policy, pointed out in an email to me:

The class map in D.C. certainly has evolved quite a bit over the twenty years since I lived in Mount Pleasant. But mostly that's been a story of boundaries having moved eastward from Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan and Westward from Arlington along Route 66. The only new creative concentration that really seems to me to be changing the shape of the map in D.C. is H Street, NE (northeast) on the other side of Union Station.

The next two maps are interactive: Click on a tract to see its percentages for each of the three major classes. The map below charts the geography of class for the city of Washington, D.C.

The second interactive map (below) charts the class geography for the entire metro area, which includes parts of Maryland and Northern Virginia.

Greater Washington D.C. is one of a small number of metros whose dominant class is the creative class. Across the metro, fully two-thirds of all Census tracts have 40 percent or more of their residents made up of the creative class, while the creative class makes up more than half of all residents in 45 percent of the tracts in the metro (considerably higher than any of the metros covered in this series). The creative class makes up more than two-thirds of all residents in nearly one in five tracts (18.5 percent), and more than three-quarters of all residents in 7.5 percent of the region's Census tracts (also the highest of any of the metros we looked at for this series).

The table below shows the top 10 creative class locations (defined as Census tracts with more than 500 people) in the metro. The creative class makes up more than 80 percent of residents in each of them — more than 2.5 times the metro average of 46.8 percent.

Top 10 Creative Class Locations in the Washington D.C. Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Creative Class Share
Alexandria, Virginia (2007.01) 95.7%
Courthouse, Arlington, Virginia (1016.02) 89.6%
Bethesda/Chevy Chase, Maryland (7055.01) 87.4%
Clarendon, Arlington, Virginia (1018.01) 86.1%
Cleveland Park/North Cleveland Park, NW, D.C. (6) 85.2%
Adams Morgan, NW, D.C. (40.01) 85.0%
Bethesda, Maryland (7056.02) 84.6%
North Rosslyn, Arlington, Virginia (1016.03) 84.5%
Lanier Heights, NW, D.C. (39) 84.3%
North Highland, Arlington, Virginia (1016.01) 84.1%
Metro Average 46.8%

 

Three tracts are located in the District itself, in a handful of neighborhoods that stretch from one of the city's most bustling nightlife districts (Adams Morgan) to an area that tends to attract young professionals and families (Cleveland Park). 

Five of the top 10 are located across a sliver of Northern Virginia, including four in Arlington and one in Alexandria, located along two Metro lines.

Arlington, which was once considered a declining older suburb, has added both residential and commercial density and is home to the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies, as well as George Mason University's law school and public policy school. The city has transformed once sterile automotive corridors into lively, walkable mixed-used streets filled with shops, bars, and restaurants, and in doing so has become a location of choice for singles and families alike. Christopher Leinberger of the George Washington University and the Brookings Institution and past contributor to The Atlantic pointed out to me in an email: "That so many of these census tracts are in Arlington is not surprising. Arlington is the best example of an urbanizing suburban jurisdiction in the country," adding that lots of areas that were once commercial strip developments have been transformed into thriving urban neighborhoods.

Bethesda, Maryland, is home to two. An affluent suburb just north of D.C. along a Metro line with a compact center filled with upscale shops and restaurants, it is home to the National Institutes of Health and large corporations like Lockheed Martin, Marriott, and HMSHost, among others.

The second major class in the Washington D.C. metro is the service class, which spans workers low-wage, low-skill jobs in fields like food service and preparation, retail sales, clerical and administrative positions, and the like. While the service class is the largest class of workers for the country as a whole (where it makes up 46.6 percent* of the workforce), it accounts for just 40.3 percent of the D.C. metro workforce, smaller than the percentage of the region's creative class. The metro's service workers average $34,336 in wages and salaries, better than the $30,597 for service workers nationally, but just 38 percent of that of the metro's creative class workers. The service class comprise more than 50 percent of residents in just 13.6 percent of the region's tracts, the smallest fraction of any metro in this series.

Top 10 Service Class Locations in the Washington D.C. Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Service Class Share
Garfield Heights, SE, D.C. (74.08) 72.4%
Deanwood, NE, D.C. (78.07) 72.4%
Georgetown University, NW, D.C. (2.01) 70.7%
Shipley Terrace, SE, D.C. (74.09) 69.5%
Historic Anacostia, SE, D.C. (75.03) 68.6%
Carver-Langston, NE, D.C. (89.03) 68.5%
Suitland, Maryland (8021.07) 66.7%
Landover, Maryland (8034.01) 66.1%
Congress Heights, SE, D.C. (104) 66.0%
Northwest of Minnesota Avenue Metro, NE, D.C. (96.02) 66.0%
Metro Average 40.3%

 

Seven of the 10 top service class tracts are located within historically black neighborhoods within D.C. city limits, including four tracts in southeast and three in the northeast D.C. Two are in Maryland's Prince George's County, which wraps around the southern border of the District and is sometimes colloquially referred to as the city's Ninth Ward. One tract includes Georgetown University campus, a small area that includes Georgetown dorms where 97 percent of residents are between the ages of 18 and 24, and thus are likely to be students or immediate post-graduates doing temporary spells in service employment before moving onto more professional work. This is an isolated island in a neighborhood that is predominantly creative class. In the broader metro, the service class is located at the outskirts of creative class concentrations.

The working class is virtually invisible on the maps. Even when we include those workers in transportation and construction along with those in manufacturing, blue-collar workers comprise just 12.8 percent of the metro's workers (almost 10 percentage points less than the national average). The metro's blue-collar workers average $41,951 in wages and salaries, better than the national average of $34,015 but still less than half that of the metro's creative class workers. The working class makes up more than 50 percent of residents in less that one percent (0.1% actually) of the metro's Census tracts, the lowest share of any metro in this series. Conversely, the working class comprise less than ten percent of residents in 40 percent of the region's tracts and less than five percent in 20 percent of them.

Top 10 Working Class Locations in the Washington D.C. Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Working Class Share
Langley Park, Maryland (8056.01) 61.0%
Langley Park, Maryland (8056.02) 56.5%
East Riverdale, Maryland (8039) 46.7%
Bailey's Crossroads, Virginia (4516.01) 41.9%
Manassas Park city, Virginia (9201) 40.7%
Riverdale Park, Maryland (8065.01) 39.5%
Wheaton-Glenmont, Maryland (7034.04) 38.7%
Woodbridge, Virginia (9006) 38.6%
Woodlawn, Maryland (8038.01) 37.6%
Manassas city, Virginia (9104.01) 37.0%
Metro Average 12.8%

 

None of the top 10 tracts are located within the city limits. The top two tracts for working-class shares are both located in Langley Park, Maryland, a neighborhood on the border between Montgomery and Prince George's counties that's become increasingly popular with Central American immigrants in recent years. According to the Census, 76.6 percent of Langley Park residents in 2010 were Hispanic or Latino (versus 15.2 percent for Prince George's County and 17.5 percent in Montgomery County the following year). Six of the top 10 are in Maryland. The rest can be found in farther out suburbs and exurbs in Northern Virginia, which have similarly been magnets for recent immigrants, both Hispanic and Asian, in the past decade.

Auerswald notes in his email that the class divide in greater D.C. is different than that in either New York or Los Angeles, noting that the split in D.C. cuts directly across the city in a "Cartesian" pattern, while the class geography of both New York and L.A. is more atomized or "fractal" in nature.

Tim Gulden, an analytical geographer at George Mason University, explains it this way.

My experience of the city — living in Bethesda, commuting to Fairfax, sometime going out in Adams Morgan, doing business in Dupont Circle and occasionally visiting friends in the hipper parts of Capitol Hill (all predominantly purple) — is amazingly cut off from the red parts of the city.  I have to go way out of my way to interact with someone from the service or working class except in the course of their actual service or work. Some of this is just me getting older, having kids, and living a different kind of life. But a big part of it, I think, is the way the classes are separated in the region.  My concern with D.C. is that it is so segregated by class, the creative class so isolated, that people born into the service class have few models for moving out of it — and people born (or more likely, migrated) into the creative class areas don't have the experience of living in an actual city — or at least they are missing some parts of that experience.

Leinberger suggests transit may be able to help the metro overcome its sharp class divide at least to some degree. He points out that much of the District's growth over the past decade or so has occurred along the Red and Orange lines on the Metro. But he adds:

... for the first time, growth is beginning to go to the Northeast and Southeast on the Green line, the newest line with most capacity...to PG County. This will be the most important social change of the early 21st century if it plays out — bringing jobs and opportunity closer to where they are needed the most — reversing at least a 60 year trend.

All maps by MPI's Zara Matheson.

Prior posts in this series:

*Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that the service class makes up 46.3 percent of the country's workforce. It actually makes up 46.6 percent.

About the Author

  • Richard Florida is Co-founder and Editor at Large of CityLab.com and Senior Editor at The Atlantic. He is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at NYU. More
    Florida is author of The Rise of the Creative ClassWho's Your City?, and The Great Reset. He's also the founder of the Creative Class Group, and a list of his current clients can be found here