Racial Wealth Divide in Washington DC

by Andrew Willis Garcés

Here’s at least two things we can learn from this Washington Post story about rising income inequality in DC:

1. White residents now earn on average 3x what African-Americans do
2. We can’t expect the Post to talk about long-term, bottom-up strategies for turning this trend around

The story is somewhat incomplete — middle class people of color are also gentrifying DC, although not nearly as much as us white transplants. Not all African-American professionals, as the story implies, move to Prince George’s County. But the reality is the same. Whites also have around 2% unemployment, compared to 15-50% in communities of color in some District neighborhoods.

We think this is a huge problem for the future of our city. An income, wealth and employment imbalance like ours must be tackled from many angles. To use one example, employers mandated to hire a certain percentage of DC workers must be held to account. But multiple mayoral administrations have proven themselves incapable of enforcing these laws, and the biggest employers, who get government subsidies, keep raking in the dough. What to do?

We’re not waiting on the DC government to get its act together. History has shown us that change comes from below, and our job as the DC Fund is to make a down payment on that change. We’re investing in organizations led by people of color not because it’s the “right” thing to do, and not out of charitable sentiment.

We do it because that’s the way forward. We believe institutions led by the people most impacted by oppression are the best at creating change.

The real news, the news we all need, is the quiet building happening on front porches, in church basements, at neighborhood farms. The impacts of our grants may not be visible to the naked eye for several years, but these job creators and movement builders are weaving networks of support and gathering spaces that will be crucial in the fight for a just DC.

I can’t wait to hear about it.