A Wealthier Middle Class Is Emerging in Washington, DC, Study Finds

But as these families get richer, many are getting poorer.

In the wake of the epic housing crash and continued growth in wealth inequality, America’s middle class has been facing a bleak financial future. Across much of the country, cities are seeing middle-class households of yesteryear — manufacturing workers, small shop owners, working baby boomers — decline in number.

Fortunately, that isn’t the whole story, and in many cities — including Washington, D.C. — a new and thriving middle class has emerged.

A recent GOBankingRates study investigated the social and financial health of middle-class families across the 200 largest cities in the U.S. The main factors evaluated were growth in middle-class incomes, households, businesses and industries employing them. To classify middle class, the study utilized the definition Pew Research gives:  Middle-class incomes are those that are two-thirds to double the median household income. This is crucial because it demonstrates how being middle class actually shifts from place to place.

In the course of the study, several patterns were revealed, most notably the dominance of western U.S. cities. However, the nation’s capital stands out among the rest. Read on to find out how much middle-class families are now earning in Washington and why they’re thriving.

Click to See the Full Study: America’s Middle Class Isn’t Dead — It’s Thriving in These 20 Cities

How Much Middle-Class Families Are Earning in Washington, D.C.

Over the last five years, Washington has seen a substantial rise in family incomes (which is different from “household incomes”) and the number of middle-income earning families. Where the median household income grew by 20.8 percent in the last five years, the median family income rose by 21.5 percent — from $78,993 in 2012 to $95,995 in 2017.

Based on the current median family income of $95,995, the range of middle-class family incomes in Washington is from $63,997 (two-thirds of the median) to $191,990 (double the median). Five years ago, those respective figures were $52,662 and $157,986.

Looking at changes from 2012 to 2017, you can observe a marked increase in the number of middle-class income families in Washington. Take a look at the breakdown of the five-year change below:

Middle-Class Incomes and Families in Washington, D.C., 2012-2017

Family IncomesTotal Number of Families, 2012Total Number of Families, 20175-Year Change
109,643121,41110.7%
Less Than $10,0008,6358,423-2.5%
$10,000-$14,9993,9684,0421.9%
$15,000-$19,9993,9104,0944.7%
$20,000-$24,9993,7344,1019.8%
$25,000-$29,9993,4933,90011.7%
$30,000-$34,9994,3623,846-11.8%
$35,000-$39,9993,9883,002-24.7%
$40,000-$44,9993,7773,010-20.3%
$45,000-$49,9993,4273,081-10.1%
$50,000-$59,9996,0675,947-2.0%
$60,000 to $74,9997,5037,6732.3%
$75,000 to $99,99910,88911,2563.4%
$100,000 to $124,9998,7349,80312.2%
$125,000 to $149,9996,6887,94018.7%
$150,000 to $199,99910,64813,19223.9%
$200,000 or more19,82028,10141.8%
Median family income$78,993$95,99521.5%
Lower middle-class income$52,662$63,99721.5%
Upper middle-class income$157,986$191,99021.5%
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Did You Know: 22% of Americans Mistakenly Think They’re Middle Class

Based on Washington’s middle-class income range, the growth in the number of middle-class families is startling. The number of families earning at least $60,000 a year increased, while those earning between $30,000 and $59,999 saw a significant decline. The number of families earning more than $100,000 increased by double-digit percentage points, with the highest middle-income bracket — $150,000 to $199,999 — increasing by 23.9 percent in five years.

This data is important because it underscores a key point: More often than not, when it comes to changes in income over time, there tends to be winners and losers rather than growth across the board. Lower-income families — those earning less than two-thirds of the median income — have been declining substantially in Washington. For example, families earning between $30,000 and $49,999 saw a major decrease in number in those five years:

  • $30,000 to $34,999: -11.8%
  • $35,000 to $39,999: -24.7%
  • $40,000 to $44,999: -20.35
  • $45,000 to $49,999: -10.1%

Meanwhile, the number of families earning between $10,000 and $29,999 has been rising:

  • $10,000-$14,999: +1.9%
  • $15,000-$19,999: +4.7%
  • $20,000-$24,999: +9.8%
  • $25,000-$29,999: +11.7%

Find Out: The Most Tax-Friendly States for the Middle Class

Why Are Middle-Class Incomes Rising in Washington, D.C.?

The growth in incomes and wealth among middle-class families in Washington could be due to changes in the workforce. Namely, an increase in employment in higher-paying industries and sectors.

Workers in the financial activities industry earn an average of $35.54 per hour — or $73,923 a year — based on a 40-hour week, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s much higher than the current median household income in the U.S., $57,652. And looking at business and financial operations occupations specifically in the Washington metro area, the annual mean wage is $93,580.

Back in 2009, the average number of employees in financial activities was 105,700. By the end of 2018, that number had risen to 121,500 employees in financial activities — an increase of 15 percent. Professional and business services — where workers also earn more than the U.S. median income — experienced similar growth of 14 percent, from an average of 553,300 employees in 2009 to 630,200 by the end of 2018. By comparison, employment in the government only grew by 2 percent over that same period, from an average of 578,300 in 2009 to 591,500 in 2018.

If you want to improve your take-home pay, then choosing the right and industry and employment is critical. Find out which occupations have the highest pay in your state.

More on the Middle Class

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