To close equity gaps in DC’s wards and neighborhoods, start with data
Opportunities for DC residents to be safe and healthy, to own a home and earn a living wage, and to improve their lives and prosper aren’t equitable across the District. Decades of discriminatory policies and practices have created inequities by ward and neighborhood and by race and ethnicity.
These gaps are measurable. And understanding the magnitude of the changes required can frame discussions around the scale of efforts already in place and what more is needed to advance equity. A new tool from Urban–Greater DC shows what it would take to close these gaps across wards and neighborhoods on 16 key indicators of opportunity.
Equipped with this knowledge, community members can be more specific and targeted when talking with public officials, service providers, and funders about their neighborhood’s needs. And we can see how far we have to go.
For instance, in many neighborhoods, including Congress Heights, Bellevue, and Washington Highlands, a much smaller share of people have incomes above the poverty threshold than in DC overall (62 percent versus 82 percent). Compared with Ward 4, small businesses in Ward 7 receive less per employee in loans that can be used to invest in growing their enterprises. If we closed this gap, nearly $5 million more would need to be lent to Ward 7’s small businesses annually. And Wards 4 and 6 have only half the share of homes sold that are affordable to the average household of color than across all of DC.
These data can empower residents and local decisionmakers to work together to close equity gaps. Some of that work is already under way through public, private, and nonprofit interventions. DC has invested substantially in affordable housing and education. Local policies and programs, such the DC earned income tax credit and DC Health Link, have extended benefits to those in need. And the social safety net, including supplemental nutrition assistance and temporary cash assistance programs, provide crucial support for our most vulnerable residents.
Yet despite these efforts, gaps remain. The example below uses the new equity tool to compare the share of adults with a postsecondary degree in Ward 7 with the share in DC overall and shows how many more adults need degrees to close the gap.
Why is equity on this measure important? A college education is increasingly necessary for people who want higher-wage jobs. Earnings for college graduates are higher, on average, than for workers without a college degree. And many good jobs in growing fields such as technology and health care require a college degree. Having places in DC where fewer people have access to postsecondary education means that the District is not living up to its economic potential, and many residents are missing out on job and earnings opportunities.
Community conversations can focus on how equity should be achieved. For example, while it may be possible to improve the share of adults with a postsecondary degree by attracting new, better educated residents into a neighborhood, that does not lead to equitable outcomes for people already living there. To bring about true equity, it’s crucial that we create opportunities for more adults to earn college degrees, such as increasing funding to public colleges and universities and spending on student services and improving the quality of K–12 education in communities that have not received an equitable share of public school funding in the past.
As DC continues to grow and change, conversations about equity, grounded in hard numbers, will be crucial to ensuring that all residents, old and new, can benefit from DC’s prosperity. We hope this tool can guide the policies and actions of policymakers, city leaders, residents, nonprofits, and others working together to reduce inequities in DC and ensure that everyone has the chance to thrive.