March 20, 2012
Throughout the brutal and agonizingly long recession, only one large metropolitan area escaped largely unscathed: Washington, D.C. The city that wreaked economic disasters under two administrations last year grew faster in population than any major region in the country, up a remarkable 2.7 percent. The continued steady growth of the Texas cities, which dominated the growth charts over the past decade, pales by comparison.
Boom times in the capital — particularly amid a weak recovery elsewhere — are driving this growth. Since 2007, notes Stephen Fuller at George Mason University, the D.C. region’s economy has expanded 14 percent compared with a mere 3 percent for the rest of the country. Washington’s unemployment never scaled over 7 percent, well below the national average, and is now down to around 5.5 percent, about the lowest of any major metropolitan area. Unemployment of course is much higher, reaching 25 percent, in some of the district’s poorer neighborhoods.
This prosperity is rooted largely in the steady growth of the federal workforce, as federal spending accounts for one-third of the region’s economy. Over the past decade 50,000 bureaucratic jobs have been added in the area while local federal spending grew 166 percent. The D.C. region, with 5 percent of the nation’s population, garners more than three times that percentage in payroll and more than four times that percentage in procurement dollars.