D.C. is a more affordable place for millennials to live than Baltimore, Charlotte, or Philadelphia.
That doesn’t sound quite right: Rents in D.C. are nearly twice as high as in these other cities. But taking salaries into account, the District is actually more affordable than many comparable cities—-in some cases, by a wide margin.
The ever-handy District, Measured blog, from the Office of Revenue Analysis, has crunched the numbers on median rents and salaries for millennials, defined as residents from age 18 to 34, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, zumper.com, the Economic Policy Institute, and NerdWallet. The first result is not surprising: Rent in D.C. is higher than in most of these cities (though considerably lower than in New York or San Francisco). But the second conclusion is. Once you factor in average earnings, millennials have more disposable income in D.C. than in any of the seven other cities studied.
Even though more Washingtonians suffer from a rent burden (putting more than 30 percent of their income toward rent) than residents of Baltimore or Charlotte, their higher incomes make for more disposable income. Put another way: Washingtonians have a smaller slice of the income pie left over for food and clothes and transportation and fun, but they have a much bigger pie to begin with.
Of course, you can quibble with the methodology, particularly surrounding the purchasing power of that disposable income. But once you add in other factors, like the cost of transportation, some of the differences could actually be augmented, since it’s much easier to get by without a car in D.C. than in, say, Charlotte.
And then there’s the population sampled. Millennials skew wealthier in D.C. than some other populations, since they include the bulk of the recent transplants who are working in government or law or lobbying or, yes, journalism. If you were to run the same numbers for seniors, you’d likely find much lower incomes, but comparable housing burdens. Then the city starts to look less affordable.
Chart from District, Measured