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In the simplistic paradigm adopted by some conservatives, the people of the world can be divided into makers and takers. The makers earn their money; the takers leech off the system (and the makers) by deriving their income from the government-imposed largesse of others.
So is D.C. a city of makers or takers? According to a report out today from the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, we’re makers in a big way. The average Washingtonian’s income from wages and salaries is $36,974, compared to the U.S. average of $20,656. (That’s an overall ratio of the total income to the total number of residents, not a median.) In other words, we’re 79 percent more makerish than the average American. Add in other types of work-related income (benefits and proprietors’ income) and we’re more than 90 percent above the U.S. average.
But we’re also a city of takers. Our nonwork-related income is 35.9 percent higher than the national average. Granted, some of that is income from property, which the maker-taker dichotomists tend to view as somehow worthier than welfare income—-we’re 51.8 percent higher than the national income in this category. But we also take in a whopping 151.6 percent more Medicaid income on a per-capita basis than the rest of the country, and 38 percent more income in unemployment benefits. Our nonwork income, on the whole, is 35.9 percent higher than the national average.
Obviously, part of the explanation here is that there’s simply more money flowing through D.C. than most other places. In fact, our total per-capita income is 25 percent higher than the state with the most income, Connecticut. But these figures also reflect the sad reality that D.C. is a very unequal place, where high earners lift our average income, but low earners also lift our Medicaid and unemployment income. Yesterday’s passage of a minimum wage hike is aimed at countering that inequality and making an expensive city affordable to more people. But as the figures in this report show, we still have a long way to go.
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