- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The population of the District of Columbia is growing faster than that of any state in the country, according to a new U.S. Census report that shows an acceleration of a trend in which largely skilled and educated workers have flocked to the city’s resilient local economy and its well-paying jobs connected to the federal government.

The city added 16,000 residents between April 2010 and July of this year, more than half as many as it added in the entire previous decade, the report said.

In all, the District has added more than 45,000 residents since 2000, the nadir of a 50-year slide in which nearly a quarter-million residents fled the urban center and crime and poverty increased.

Jim Dinegar, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, said that in the midst of a national economic downturn that began in earnest in 2008, the city has become attractive to job seekers because the federal government and government contractors have not been forced to make the large-scale layoffs seen in the private sector.

“I think you have a strong desire for people to live close to where they work,” Mr. Dinegar said. “And it’s not just young professionals. It’s all across the board.”

The District’s population grew by 2.7 percent since the 2010 census, outpacing the country’s fastest-growing state, Texas, which grew by 2.1 percent, equal to 529,000 more residents. It was the first time since the early 1940s that the District, which for the purposes of the survey was counted among the states, led the states in growth.

Utah had the next-fastest growth at 1.9 percent. The District’s population grew at more than double the rate of 42 states, including Maryland and Virginia, whose populations increased by 0.9 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively.

The country as a whole grew by 2.8 million people, or 0.9 percent, its smallest growth over a 15-month span since the 1940s.

Signs that the District continues to grow and prosper are evident throughout much of the city, particularly in Northwest and now in Northeast, where neighborhoods such as Penn Quarter, Chinatown and the H Street Corridor continue to attract high-income residents with first-class restaurants, condominiums, hip clubs and shopping.

Former Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who served from 1999 to 2007, is credited with starting the trend with a pro-development, business-friendly agenda that helped revive the downtown commercial districts and neglected neighborhoods while improving schools and public safety. Improvements in city services, along with development, continued through the administration of former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who served from 2007 to last January.

The number of homicides in the city declined from 479 in 1991 to 132 last year and stands at 108 in the waning days of 2011.

Mr. Williams, a Democrat, set an ambitious goal in 2003 of attracting 100,000 new residents to the city over the following 10 years. He even disputed the U.S. Census Bureau in 2005 when it projected that the city would lose 138,000 residents by 2030.

City projections at the time said the District would add roughly as many residents in the span, raising its population to more than 700,000. The city’s population now stands at nearly 618,000.

City officials on Wednesday were elated with the new population figures.

“The District is a wonderful place to call home,” Mayor Vincent C. Gray said. “We’ve made historic investments in public safety, education, infrastructure, economic development and sustainability, and those investments are now paying dividends.”

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