Growing diversity and income equality
Greater Washington is increasingly diverse, but increasingly inequitable.
Over the past decade, the Greater Washington region has grown increasingly racially and ethnically diverse and today is one of the most diverse areas in the nation. Hispanic children are the fastest-growing population of children in the region and nationally, and the population of children and youth from Asian backgrounds is also growing in Greater Washington. Additionally, an increasing number of children are born to parents who are immigrants. In most regional jurisdictions, no single racial or ethnic group makes up a majority of the child population, and the mix of races and ethnicities is still changing within jurisdictions.
The region as a whole has a strong economy and a median income that far exceeds the national average. Yet the gap between rich and poor has been widening for many years nationally, and the gap is especially large in the District of Columbia. Despite the area’s general prosperity, the trends in child poverty in the region have not been as positive as they have been nationwide, particularly in some jurisdictions. The region’s families with children have not experienced consistent improvement in their median income, with some areas experiencing stagnant or increasing rates of child poverty. Black and Hispanic children, in particular, are not benefiting proportionally from the growth and prosperity that the region has experienced since the end of the Great Recession.
The population of young people in the Greater Washington region is becoming more diverse, with Hispanic children and youth leading the growth among racial and ethnic groups.
While White children still constitute the single largest category (36 to 39 percent) within each age group, the region has become more diverse over the past decade, reflecting, in particular, recent immigration trends (see Figure 1).
For the region as a whole:
- Hispanic children are the fastest-growing racial/ethnic group: In 2017, Hispanic children represented 22 percent of the region’s children and youth, an increase of 3 percentage points since 2010.
- The population of children from Asian backgrounds is also growing: In 2017, Asian children represented 11 percent of the region’s children, an increase of 2 percentage points since 2010.
- An increasing number of children have at least one parent who is an immigrant: In 2017, this group represented 47 percent of the region’s children (versus 25 percent nationwide), up from 41 percent in 2010.
- The proportions of both Black and White children in the region have declined: In 2017, 36 percent of the region’s children were White, while 28 percent were Black—decreases of 4 and 2 percentage points, respectively, since 2010.
- No one racial or ethnic category accounts for the majority of the child population: The majority (71 percent) of the region’s children belong to groups other than White. Among the under-15 population (today’s young teens and tomorrow’s young adults), White children account for just over one third (35 percent), compared to a nationwide estimate of 50 percent.8
Racial/ethnic patterns among children and youth differ across the region’s nine jurisdictions.
- In the District of Columbia and Arlington County, White children and youth comprise a growing share of the child and youth population.
- In the District of Columbia, the majority of children and youth are Black in all but two age groups:
- Forty-five percent of 20- to 24-year-old young adults were Black in 2017, up from 41 percent in 2010, but still under half the District’s population.
- Forty-nine percent of the District of Columbia’s youngest children (birth to age 4) were Black in 2017, compared to 57 percent in 2010.
- While they do not comprise the majority of children and youth in any jurisdiction, Hispanic children account for the second-largest category in many age groups in Falls Church city and in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, and Montgomery counties.
Figure 1. Race and ethnicity by jurisdiction, ages 0-24, 2017
Additionally, the proportion of children who have at least one parent who is an immigrant varies considerably across jurisdictions (see Figure 2). For example:
- In Alexandria, Fairfax County, and Montgomery County, more than half of children have at least one immigrant parent (54, 54, and 52 percent, respectively).
- The share of children with at least one immigrant parent is considerably lower in the District of Columbia (28 percent) and Falls Church (21 percent).
Figure 2. Percentage children of immigrants, by jurisdiction, 2010 and 2017
Source: Child Trends’ calculations from 2006, 2010, and 2017 American Community Survey 1-year estimates, *Falls Church data from 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-year estimates.
While the child poverty rate is low overall, it varies widely across jurisdictions and subgroups, ranging from one in fifty children in Loudoun County to one in four children in the District of Columbia.
Greater Washington is a region of contrasts: It has high concentrations of wealth and prosperity,9 as well as 61,000 children who live in poverty. Some children, particularly Black and Hispanic children, are not benefiting as much as others from the region’s recent growth and prosperity.
Most jurisdictions fall below the national average for children living in poverty (18 percent), but Alexandria and the District of Columbia exceed the national average (see Figure 3). During a post-recession period that led to overall decreases in child poverty in the U.S. by four percentage points between 2010 and 2017, child poverty levels have not consistently fallen across jurisdictions in the Greater Washington area. Alexandria in particular saw a steep increase in child poverty, from 14 to 25 percent, moving from below to well above the national average.
While the child poverty rate across jurisdictions is generally lower in Greater Washington than the national average, it varies widely across jurisdictions and subgroups, ranging from one in 50 children in Loudoun County to one in four children in the District of Columbia.
Greater Washington is a region of contrasts: It has high concentrations of wealth and prosperity,10 as well as 61,000 children who live in poverty. Some children, particularly Black and Hispanic children, are not benefiting as much as others from the region’s recent growth and prosperity.
Most jurisdictions fall below the national average for children living in poverty (18 percent), but Alexandria and the District of Columbia exceed the national average (see Figure 3). While child poverty decreased by 4 percentage points overall in the United States in the post-recession period from 2010 to 2017, child poverty levels have not consistently fallen across jurisdictions in the Greater Washington area.
For example, since 2010:
- Child poverty increased most steeply in Alexandria, rising from below the national average in 2010 (14 percent) to well above it (25 percent) in 2017.
- Arlington County saw the largest drop, a decline from 14 percent in 2010 to 3 percent in 2017.
- In the District of Columbia, the rate decreased from 30 percent in 2010 to 26 percent in 2015, where it remained through 2017.
- In other Greater Washington area jurisdictions (Fairfax County, Falls Church city, Loudoun County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, and Prince William County), poverty rates fluctuated slightly, increasing or decreasing by 1 to 3 percentage points between 2010, 2015, and 2017.
- Child poverty also varied by racial and ethnic group within each jurisdiction. Changes in the poverty rates for Hispanic children varied across jurisdictions (see Table 1):
- From 2013 to 2017, the poverty rate among Hispanic children increased from 18 to 30 percent in Alexandria.
- Smaller increases (of less than 2 percent) in child poverty for Hispanic children were found in Montgomery County and Prince William County.
- In Arlington County, the percentage of Hispanic children in poverty decreased from 27 percent in 2013 to 23 percent in 2017.
- In Loudoun County, the poverty rate for Hispanic children decreased from 12 percent to 8 percent from 2013 to 2017.
- The percentage of Black children in Greater Washington affected by poverty differs from national trends. Nationally, the poverty rate for Black children declined from 39 percent in 2013 to 33 percent in 2017. By contrast, the poverty rate for Black children in all Greater Washington jurisdictions barely budged, remaining the same or ticking up slightly.
- For example, in Alexandria, poverty among Black children was 31 percent in 2013 and 32 percent in 2017.
- In the District of Columbia, the poverty rate for Black children was 40 percent in 2013 and 39 percent in 2017.
- In most jurisdictions, the poverty rate for White children fell or stayed the same during this timeframe.
- In a few jurisdictions, the poverty rate for White children increased:
- The poverty rate among White children increased from 10 to 15 percent in Alexandria.
- The rate also increased for White children in Fairfax County, from 6 percent to 8 percent.
- The rate of White children in poverty almost doubled (from 5.1 to 9.2 percent) in Prince George’s County.
Figure 3. Percentage of children in poverty, by jurisdiction, 2010 and 2017
Table 1. Number/percent of children in poverty by race/ethnicity, 2013 and 2017
While median income for families with children rose for the region overall, it has not risen equally in all jurisdictions and has fallen among single mother-headed households.
While median incomes have increased within the region as a whole, the median income of families with children has not increased steadily region-wide.
- In five jurisdictions (Loudoun and Prince George’s counties, and Alexandria, Falls Church, and the District of Columbia), median incomes have increased since 2010.
- In Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery, and Prince William counties, median incomes either stayed the same or fell.
Family structure has become more diverse in the United States over the last several decades, with increases in single-parent families and families headed by cohabiting parents. This is true for families at all income levels and across racial and ethnic groups. At the same time, the costs of raising children increasingly require two incomes, especially in areas like Greater Washington that have high costs of living.
- In most jurisdictions, families headed by married couples had median incomes that ranged from two to four times the median incomes for families headed by single mothers, on average (see Figure 4).
- The largest income gap between families headed by married couples and single mothers was in the District of Columbia, where families headed by married couples ($187,764) benefited from median incomes that were eight times that of families headed by single mothers ($23,528), on average.
In most of the jurisdictions across Greater Washington, median incomes for families headed by single mothers fell from 2010 to 2017 (see Table 2). By contrast, in most jurisdictions, median incomes increased for families headed by married couples or single fathers. Research finds that single fathers have higher incomes, on average, compared to single mothers. It is possible that the slower economic progress by single mothers signals a lack of access to opportunities for lower-income families more broadly.
- In the District of Columbia, median income in single mother-headed families decreased from $25,780 to $23,528; by contrast, median income among families headed by married couples increased from $169,913 to $187,764.
- Similar patterns were found in Loudoun County, where median income for families headed by single mothers decreased from $75,264 to $72,607, while income for families headed by married couples increased from $157,963 to $174,728 during the same timeframe.
- The only jurisdiction in which median incomes for families headed by single mothers increased was Arlington. In 2010, the median income of families headed by single mothers was $35,760. By 2017, the median income had increased to $72,083.
Figure 4. Median income for married couple- and single mother-headed households, by jurisdiction, 2017
Table 2. Median income of families with own children under 18, by family type, 2010 and 2017