- 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.”

The region consistently tops the lists of most-educated U.S. populations. And this year, the District was named the country’s most-literate city by researchers at Central Connecticut State Univer<t-6>si<t-5>ty.

About two-thirds of the District’s growth came from new residents — roughly 2,400 foreigners and 8,300 people who moved to the city from elsewhere in the United States.

Many of the new residents are young, college-educated professionals whose presence has increased demand for upscale housing, entertainment and restaurants, and has drastically changed the city’s demographics.

More than 70 percent of D.C. residents were black in 1980, but the percentage declined to 60 percent by 2000, and plummeted to just 50.7 percent in 2010 — the city’s lowest black representation since the 1950s.

Though much of the city has prospered, communities east of the Anacostia River have struggled with poverty, poor test scores among students and persistent unemployment, which is estimated to be as high as three times the national rate of 8.6 percent in November. The unemployment rate in the District was 10.6 percent last month.

Mr. Gray in large part ran his mayoral campaign last year on a theme of “One City,” pledging to resolve the social and economic disparities the city faces.

Council member Tommy Wells, a vocal proponent of “livable, walkable” planning, said a renewed sense of public service has helped the District become an “indispensable city” during the recession.

“We’re the city where government had to response to the public crisis,” Mr. Wells said, crediting President Obama with making good government attractive again.

Mr. Wells also placed an emphasis on “reliable, safe and attractive” transit options in the city, including Metro, bike options and plans for streetcars.

“People don’t want to spend their days in cars,” he said. “They want to be close to their children.”

The Ward 6 Democrat also noted that the District increasingly has attractive amenities, such as a thriving theater scene and the addition of a major league baseball team in recent years, while neighborhoods like NOMA (North of Massachusetts Avenue) and the riverfront in Southwest and Near Southeast continue to emerge.

“The city is showing it can produce a high quality of life,” he said.

• David Hill can be reached at dhill@washingtontimes.com.

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