Inside the Beltway: Almost Heaven?

When buying or selling a home, the old quip was that only three things mattered: location, location, location. Of course, nobody can buy or sell a home these days, unless you live and work Inside the Beltway or in one of its appendix communities. Location matters.

And right now there is no better location than DC. And I wonder how that shapes the worldview of the politicians, lobbyists, federal government workers, policy wonks and other miscreants who dominate the public policy agenda?

Here’s from Politico, “Census: D.C. is country’s wealthiest area“:

Washington, D.C., is now the country’s wealthiest metro area, replacing Silicon Valley in the top slot, according to new data from the Census Bureau.

The average household income for residents of the Washington metro area was $84,523 in 2010, when the nation’s median household income was $50,046, Bloomberg reported in an analysis of census data.

According to the new data, — Bloomberg reports that San Jose had an average income of $83,944 in 2010, dropping from $84,483 in 2009. The average household income for Washington last year also fell from 2009, when the average was $85,168.

Federal workers last year had average total compensation of $126,369, representing an increase from $122,697 in 2009. As of June, the Washington metro area had 170,467 federal employees, according to the analysis.

The Washington metro area has about 5.6 million residents with a total household income of about $221.4 billion; the San Jose area population is about 1.8 million, and has a total income of $67 billion, Bloomberg also reported.

And from Mediaite, “Washington, D.C., is America’s Best-Paid City“:

Normally, hearing that your city offers the highest average income in the country is something to celebrate, but today’s news that the Washington metropolitan area (which includes the District of Columbia and parts of Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia), has surpassed San Jose’s metropolitan area (better known as Silicon Valley), for the highest average income is likely to be met with jeers and groans.

With an informed base of Tea Partiers angry with the Washington elites, and thousands of protesters on the streets of every major city in America placing blame on Wall Street and the Washington cronies who protect Wall Street’s interests, this news couldn’t have come at a less opportune time.

According to Frank Bass and Timothy R. Homan of Bloomberg News:

Federal employees whose compensation averages more than $126,000 and the nation’s greatest concentration of lawyers helped Washington edge out San Jose as the wealthiest U.S. metropolitan area, government data show.

Last year, the typical household in the Washington metro area earned $84,523. In San Jose, that number was $83,944. The national median income for 2010 was $50,046. Pushing the Washington numbers up? Lots of lawyers and lobbyists. Bloomberg computed that Washington has one lawyer for every 12 city residents. By comparison, New York State boasts one out of every 123 residents, while California’s is one in 243. And the 12,964 registered lobbyists in the Washington area combined to set a record for money spent on lobbying efforts, reaching $3.51 billion last year, up from $3.49 billion in 2009.

Wow. And what’s the median pay for public school teachers in Ohio? I digress.

Anyway, here’s an interesting analysis in the NYT, “Why Washington Really Likes Itself“:

IF it sometimes seems as if Washington exists in a totally different economic universe from the rest of us, rest assured: it does. According to Gallup, the District of Columbia is the most economically optimistic part of the country.

Every day, the polling organization surveys Americans of all income levels about whether they think current economic conditions are good, and whether the economy is getting better. The results of these two questions make up Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index.

The latest index report shows that the District of Columbia is far more confident in the economy than any state, by a long shot. In every state, most residents think the economy is getting worse; in the nation’s capital, fully 60 percent think the economy is getting better.

And yet the District of Columbia also has an unemployment rate above the nation’s — 10.8 percent, compared with 9.1 percent — and persistent ills like crime and poverty.

“If ever there were a place where people not only tend not to face economic facts, but it’s almost their purpose not to face economic facts, it’s Washington,” said P. J. O’Rourke, a contributing editor at The Weekly Standard and a political satirist.

And more:
According to the government’s housing price index, the worth of homes nationwide fell 2 percent last quarter. In Washington, they grew 2 percent. Zillow, a company that tracks real estate data, says three of every thousand homes in Washington are in foreclosure, less than a third the rate for the nation.

There is, of course, a large subset of Washingtonians who are not flush with federal largesse, as indicated by the high jobless rate.

Washington has one of the nation’s highest poverty rates, with 18.4 percent of residents living below the poverty line, a rate exceeded by only three states in 2009, the most recent year for which data are available.

Washington also has the highest income inequality in the country, according to the Census Bureau. For decades there has been a sharp divide between the haves and the have-nots in Washington. Northwest Washington is mostly white and wealthy; the other sections are largely black and poor.

“I do think that the views of politicians, specifically, are warped by their social networks and backgrounds,” said Larry M. Bartels, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University and author of “Unequal Democracy.”

Perhaps this enduring divide explains a complacency among the better-off toward how others live. To the extent that those in Washington who are suffering from economic downturn are the same people who are normally suffering during boom times, the heightened pain may not be that noticeable. “There are high and deep pockets of poverty in Washington, but they’ve been here for a while,” Mr. Bernstein said. [Note: Quote from Jared Bernstein, one of the architects of the administration’s Stimulus One plan and now a policy wonk opinion on economic and policy issues.]

Longtime Washingtonians may also have become inured to the cries that the national economy is teetering on the edge of the abyss. There are, after all, myriad politicians and pundits who have built entire careers on proclamations that the sky is falling.

Ah, dudes. In many parts of the country, the sky is falling.

But not apparently in DC. So to paraphrase the late warbler John Denver,  Almost heaven, Inside the Beltway.


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