- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 2, 2000

washington d.c. census statistics prosperity population

Statistics can tell a story by themselves but, if not viewed in the proper context, may convey more fiction than fact. Take, for example, population trends.

New census estimates show the white population in the District is on the rise for the first time in years. In 1991, the District was home to 600,000 residents, and by 1999 that number had declined to 519,000. Not all the traffic was one way, however. According to U.S. Census figures released Wednesday, whites now account for 151,000 residents, or 29 percent, of the population, up 2 percentage points since 1990. Meanwhile, there are far fewer blacks as a percentage of the population. Whereas blacks represented 71 percent of the District's population in 1970, their numbers are now down to 61 percent, or 318,600.

Several factors were at play. First of all there was black and white flight. Well, actually there was white flight (in the 1960s), black flight (that began in 1970s and continues today) and more white flight (in the late 1980s). Almost all of them fled to the suburbs. But many of them had something else in common, and that something was a city of problems from poor schools and high crime rates to abominably high taxes and a bloated government that thrived on red tape. Indeed it seemed the more money the city spent trying to solve its problems the worse off taxpayers were.

Hard evidence of a turnaround came in 1996. Elected officials implemented tax cuts, pushed hard for procurement and regulatory reform, and, it seems, they might finally be coming around to the notion that the government can't be all things to all people.

The District's full financial recovery, however, remains tenuous. To be sure, a boom in new home sales proves the national economy remains robust, and the rise in white residents proves the city has become more attractive. But not all neighborhoods are benefitting from either of those trends.

There is much talk about downtown and the New York Avenue corridor and where Metro should and should not go. In the meantime, while D.C. officials play nursemaid to downtown D.C., poor neighborhoods in Anacostia and other parts of Southeast need supermarkets for groceries and for jobs.

The real challenges of economic development, then, lie ahead. If city officials pull them off, though, if neighborhood revitalization becomes more than proposals and deferred dreams, Washington and its new residents will surely prosper.

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