Welcome to another edition of DC Mythbusting. This week we’ll tackle the myth that no one is really from DC. The District has a reputation as a transient city, with young go-getters coming here after college, putting in a few years on the Hill, then moving on to bigger and better things. But is DC really more transient than other similar cities? Is no one really from DC?
The answer is no, but there’s a bit of a qualifier to that. The best resource to answer this question would be the US Census, which asks a question about where you lived 5 years ago compared to where you live now. But the 2000 Census is seriously outdated (especially since the demographic makeup of the District has changed significantly since then), and the 2010 Census hasn’t started yet. So the next best resource is the annual American Community Survey, which asks two questions that help us answer this question: where was your residence one year ago? and which state were you born in? After the break, see what the American Community Survey tells us about DC.
First, the question of where a person lived a year ago. While this is not a perfect measure of how many DC residents are not from here, if the myth is true that no one is really from here, we would expect to see a higher percentage of residents that lived elsewhere last year. But take a look at the graph above: while Washington and Boston are both on the lower side of the selected cities, DC certainly doesn’t look like an outlier. Washington, Boston, and San Francisco were all within three percentage points of one another. So this would mean that a somewhat typical number of DC residents lived here a year ago– not what we’d expect to see if this were a city with a higher-than-average percentage of residents from somewhere else. As a side note, the average national rate of people living in the same house or city/county in the past year is somewhere around 93%, but we can generally expect city residents to move more frequently because of a higher level of renters (rather than homeowners) and younger median populations in general.
Next, we move on to the question of what state residents were born in. This is a tricky question, because in this sense our city is being compared with other states. If I lived in Boston and was born elsewhere in Massachusetts (perhaps in a suburb of Boston), I would respond affirmatively. But if I lived in DC and was born in a Maryland suburb, I would respond negatively. So we’d expect that the District’s average would be significantly lower than any other city, just because of the way the question is written.
But, wow. It’s not. Approximately 40% of DC residents were born in DC, but only 37% of San Francisco residents were born in the State of California. I find that to be a pretty surprising finding. While it’s true that San Francisco and New York City are known as international cities, which would lower the percentage of residents born in that state, the way the question is asked here would mean that DC’s rate should be the lowest of all (especially since we’ve got a pretty strong international presence here too). So this question leads us to believe that a somewhat typical percentage of DC residents were born here. They may not be the people in your social circles, but they’re here.
So even though the data is not great for doing this sort of analysis, both of these results show that DC is within the normal range of peer cities. (For the record, I chose Boston and San Francisco because of similar population levels and characteristics as ‘peer cities’, and Philadelphia and New York as other major East Coast cities.) Even though we’ll need to wait until the 2010 Census results to get strong data that confirm or deny that today’s DC residents move more frequently than those in other cities, I think we can safely say that the myth that no one is from DC is clearly false. Forty percent of the District’s residents are from here, and many more (including myself) if you count the surrounding suburbs.
Myth BUSTED! Using the available recent demographic data, DC is made up of residents just like any other city, and it doesn’t deserve a reputation for being a transient city that no one comes from.