Welcome to another Mythbusting feature! This week, we’ll be tackling the myth that the District of Columbia is a company town– that is, that the majority of jobs in the city are federal government jobs. DC is the center of the federal government, so wouldn’t it make sense that most of the jobs in the city are federal government jobs? And secondly, aren’t the majority of federal jobs here in DC? And what are the largest federal agencies here, anyway? Read on for the answers to all of these questions, as well as the surprise largest private employer in the city.
First off, even though it seems like the majority of jobs in the area are government jobs (especially on federal holidays when it seems like I’m the only person going to work), federal jobs account for only 27% of all the jobs in the city. There are less than 200,000 federal employees who work in the city, and around 234,000 federal employees in the whole DC area. So only one quarter of DC workers are working for the feds. That definitely doesn’t sound like a company town to me!
Granted, many of the jobs in the district are related to the federal government presence here. Many non-profits, law firms, and lobbying firms have headquarters here to solidify access to the federal government. So when you factor in all the contractors working for the federal government, you’d see that many jobs in DC are here because of the federal government.
What about the biggest federal employers? What are the largest agencies? In no big surprise, the largest government agency in the area is the Department of Defense, with 65,000 employees. Here’s the rest of the top ten:
- Department of Defense: 65,000 employees
- Department of Health and Human Services: 28,000
- Department of Justice: 23,000
- Department of Commerce: 21,000
- Department of Homeland Security: 20,000
- Department of the Treasury: 14,000
- State Department: 12,000
- Department of Agriculture: 11,000
- Department of Transportation: 9,000
- Department of Veterans’ Affairs: 7,000
As a caveat, these figures show DC-area jobs, not just jobs in the city itself, so it’s definitely over-counting the DoD since it is including the Pentagon and Fort Meade in that total. And interestingly enough, even though it feels like most federal employees work in DC, only one tenth really do. Ninety percent of federal employees work outside of DC!
So who are the other biggest employers in the city? Well, DC government has about 35,000 employees total, and Metro has 11,000 employees in the area. And then there are about 460,000 employees who work in the private sector. Who are the largest private employers, you may ask? Here’s the top ten (as of 2003):
- George Washington University
- Georgetown University
- Washington Hospital Center
- Howard University
- Fannie Mae
- Children’s National Medical Center
- Georgetown University Hospital
- Howard University Hospital
- American University
- Providence Hospital
I found this list surprising, because for some reason I thought that lawyers and lobbyists would far outnumber any other group. But since there are lots of law firms out there, and only a few major hospitals and universities. In the private sector, the largest employers by far are hospitals and universities (and the now-government-owned Fannie Mae). Many of these businesses don’t publish employment figures, but GWU’s employee base is around 10,000 for reference.
The above data shows that DC really isn’t as government-focused as you’d think. Only a quarter of jobs in the city are federal jobs, and the majority of federal jobs in the country aren’t in DC. Of the remaining 3/4 of jobs, many are in the city government or in WMATA, and outside that, hospitals and universities dominate. So long story short, DC is not as much of a company town as you’d think, though having the large federal presence here does buffer the area from the recession.
Thanks to Jay for suggesting this myth to bust. Have a DC myth that you’d like to see busted? E-mail me at shannon at welovedc.com, or leave it in the comments!