Continued from page 2

Moreover, federal jobs come with sizable raises that were largely missing in the private sector during the recession. Even during the height of the recession last year, federal workers in Washington received average raises of 4.2 percent, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. That was twice the national average.

“This state of affairs is a thumb in the eye of the private sector, which continues to struggle with high unemployment,” said Cato Institute budget analyst Ted DeHaven. “Many private-sector employees have been forced to take pay and benefit cuts.”

The Washington housing market, however, was hit hard by the collapse of the housing bubble starting in 2006. The market normally thrives from the constant ebb and flow of people moving to the region and doing business with the government.

The loss of thousands of real estate and construction-related jobs helped lift Washington’s unemployment rate to a high of 7 percent — twice its level during the boom years, but still far below the national high of 10.1 percent reached last fall.

“One of the downsides of being a relatively well-off economy with strong future growth prospects is that we had a bigger housing bubble than most places,” said Ms. Rivlin. “When the bubble burst, a steeper decline and more foreclosures” followed.

Washington’s overall prosperity during the recession also belies disparities within the region that generally fall along an east-west divide, Ms. Rivlin said. “Poverty has risen in the less-prosperous parts of the area, especially in the District, and child poverty is remarkably high,” she said.

The District of Columbia has the Washington area’s highest unemployment rate at 9.8 percent.

City residents not well-established in the job market appeared to be disproportionately hit by the collapse in homebuilding, as well as by the relatively small losses of blue-collar jobs in transportation, utilities and other basic industries.

“D.C. added ‘good’ jobs while it lost ‘bad’ jobs’” during the recession, said George Mason’s Mr. Fuller, but “seems to have fared better than the suburbs in terms of overall performance.”

Washington typically makes the list of top five places to live and find work in rankings compiled by Kiplinger and other magazines.

But Ms. Rivlin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, said such high levels of government spending and debt are not sustainable.

“Avoiding a future debt crisis will take heavy-duty budget action, both on the spending and revenue sides,” she said. She predicted that most discretionary spending programs that fuel the Washington economy eventually will be frozen or reined in.