Top 5 Takeaways from Census Data

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September 25, 2023
Blog Post

By Rachel Metz on September 25, 2023

Earlier this month the Census released 2022 results from its American Community Survey (ACS). This annual federal survey provides community leaders and policy makers with vital information about our communities. Some key takeaways from last week’s data release include:

  1. More DC renters spent at least half their income on rent

While the percentage of District renters paying at least half of their income in rent has stayed roughly the same (just under a quarter) nearly every year in the last decade, because the number of overall renters in the District has increased, the number of renters who are severely burdened has increased from roughly 37,700 in 2012 to 44,400 in 2022. This massive financial burden leaves little money left over for other necessities.

Lower-income households disproportionately bear this burden. According to the United Planning Organization, over 90% of the 44,000 severely burdened DC renter households had incomes under $50,000. More and more low-income households are impacted, from half of households in 2014 to nearly two out of three in 2022. Residents throughout the District are affected, with those east of the river at highest risk. Black renters are also more likely than renters overall to be severely rent burdened. We need to invest more in creating and preserving deeply affordable housing throughout the city, as well as in rental assistance, and do more to control the rate at which rents can be increased, so families can afford to live here.

  1. DC has fewer children, particularly young children

The District’s overall population increased between 2021 and 2022, reversing the decrease during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The District’s population of Black residents, however, decreased slightly during that year, continuing a decades-long trendBetween 2000 and 2013 alone, 20,000 Black District residents were displaced. One newer trend is a decrease in the number of children in the District. The population of children–particularly ages four and under–peaked in 2017 and has decreased ever since (with accelerated decreases in 2020 and 2021). Unsurprisingly, given the broader trend, the percentage decrease is slightly more for Black children than white children.

One reason DC is home to fewer kids is likely the result of Black families moving out of the District. While buying a house in the DC suburbs may no longer be more affordable than buying one in the District, you get more space for what you pay, which can allow more people to share household costs or may simply be appealing to current or prospective parents. The declining child population may also be due to more people choosing to be child-free or have fewer kids. ACS data show a decrease in the share of households with at least one child under the age of 18. For the District to continue to be a healthy, growing city, we need to do as much as possible to be family friendly to reverse this decline. One daunting expense is child care, and investing in affordable child care may help reverse this population decline.

  1. Black family incomes are increasing

The good news is that incomes are increasing for families, especially those in which the head of the household is Black. Numbers for those living alone or with roommates don’t paint a clear picture. Policies like raising the minimum wage, which is disproportionately earned by Black and Latinx workers, and increasing pay for infant and toddler educators–primarily Black and brown women–have likely contributed to that progress. While we’re headed in the right direction, we continue to have a huge income gap between Black and white families – $79,300 vs. over $250,000 (so high it maxed out how high the Census will report). The District should continue policies that reduce income inequality.

  1. While the official poverty rate for children stayed flat nationally and went down in DC, the more accurate supplemental poverty rate nearly doubled nationally largely due to the end of the expanded Child Tax Credit

To calculate the official poverty rate, the government compares before-tax income to food costs. The more comprehensive supplemental measure, however, accounts for non-cash benefits (e.g. SNAP benefits) that can be used to meet basic needs, as well as subtracting taxes or adding tax credits (like the Child Tax Credit), and instead of looking just at food costs, includes food, clothing, housing, and utility costs.

Nationally, the supplemental poverty rate for children fell nearly in half between 2020 and 2021 (from 9.7 to 5.2) as the expanded Child Tax Credit was introduced, then doubled between 2021 and 2022 (up to 12.4%) as the expanded Child Tax credit ended. During the same time, the official poverty measure stayed essentially flat (between 16 and 17 percent) nationally. In the District, the official child poverty rate increased between 2019 and 2021 (from 19 to 24 percent), and then decreased again between 2021 and 2022 (to 17 percent), presumably reflecting the state of the economy during the first couple of years of the COVID-19 pandemic (unemployment in 2022 was 4.7%, down from a high of 7.9% in 2020 and even 2019’s 5.5% rate).

Unfortunately, the supplemental poverty measure isn’t available for states on a single-year basis. But given that the official measure, as well as unemployment rates, suggest that economic need increased in 2020 and 2021, support from the Child Tax Credit and other social safety programs that the federal and District governments bolstered during the pandemic was especially important. Moving forward, we should permanently implement these successful strategies.

  1. Black residents’ official poverty rate drove the decrease in the official poverty rate for DC overall

The 2022 poverty rate for Black District residents decreased from 27.7 percent to 21.3 percent  in 2021. While that’s certainly progress, it’s still a very high rate, nearly four times as high as the 5.9 percent for white DC residents. We cannot address poverty without addressing the systemic racism that produces it.

Having data like these can help community leaders, policy makers, and others understand where we stand, and help advocates make the case for moving  in the right direction. More ACS data is available at https://data.census.gov. The newly released data discussed above cover the District as a whole in 2022. In October, In December, the Census will release average 2018-2022 data available for smaller geographic areas, such as DC’s wards, and we’ll gain additional insight.