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In the current issue of Time, Andrew Ferguson takes a crack at that most overdone of “local” Washington stories: How separate and apart the regional economy is from the rest of the country, how difficult it must be for us to feel the nation’s pain. Using the popularity of the pricey personal cab service as an indicator of the wealth coursing through D.C.’s leisure corridors, he terms these new young things “Uber-Washingtonians”:
The young fill entire neighborhoods with an undergraduate air. On a warm night in Clarendon in northern Virginia or in the H Street NE corridor, with the crowded sidewalks and lines outside the door-to-door bars, you might think you’ve landed on fraternity row in Chapel Hill, N.C., or Charlottesville, Va. They’ve brought the college lifestyle with them—-group houses, hookups, late-night cram sessions and lots of drinking. The local drugstores seem to devote more shelf space to condoms and pregnancy tests than diapers and formula. (Another big seller at pharmacies: Pedialyte, used as the ultimate hangover cure.)
I’ll point out a couple things. One: The trend of increasing wealth in the Washington area is true enough, but the activity he notices downtown is more than that. It’s also the result of a gradual move to cities, D.C. in particular, as they’ve become more attractive places to live. Those young folks wouldn’t necessarily be having as much fun as they are without the city investment and planning that helped bring neighborhoods back from ruin.
And two: Ferguson does recognize the stark divide that marks the city, quoting Danny Harris talking about how little his young professional cohort seems to understand what’s going on a few neighborhoods over. But he cites the region’s unemployment rate of 5.5 percent, well under the national average of 8.2 percent—-not unemployment in the District itself, which stands at 9.5 percent. That’s lower than it has been, which could be because the long-term unemployed are getting jobs, or because they’ve just stopped looking. In any case, it would seem to disprove the idea that it’s hard to find people still struggling in the midst of the recession. You just have to look.