Fireworks by PES
Now on to the place where tribute is brought!
When the Obama administration launched the We the People petition initiative—which lets anyone start a petition on the White House website—it set the response threshold at 5,000 signatures. In the digital era you can collect that many signatures for a petition to make navel lint the official textile fiber of the United States. So the White House bumped up the threshold to 25,000. Turns out that’s a pretty easy bar to clear, too. Just look at the Death Star petition.
That petition asked the administration to start building a “Star Wars”-like Death Star by 2016. In short order it collected enough signatures to compel an official reply. The White House responded that it (a) “does not support destroying planets,” and (b) opposes wasting money “on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship.” (Technically, the Death Star was destroyed by a Jedi apprentice who was aided by The Force, channeling Obi-Wan Kenobi, and firing proton torpedoes from an X-wing starfighter. But let’s not get all “Big Bang Theory” about it.)
There have been many other tongue-in-cheek petitions as well. They have asked, e.g., that the folk-rock group the Mountain Goats be named poet laureate(s) of the U.S.; that the Twinkie industry be nationalized in order to “prevent our nation from losing her sweet creamy center”; and that funding be provided for the “genetic engineering of domestic cat girls.”
True, most of the petitions are serious. Yet it’s encouraging to see so many Americans using We the People to have a bit of fun. Putting out a suggestion box for the public is a nice idea in some ways. After all, not everyone can afford to keep a K Street lobbyist on retainer. But there are some other facets to the project that look a bit less nice.
Potomac: “place where people trade” or “the place to which tribute is brought”
Six of the 10 richest counties in the nation are in the Washington region, as median household incomes rise and Washingtonians benefit from a government-driven economy.
Loudoun County maintained its crown as the wealthiest county in the nation, with a median household income of $119,525 in 2011, according to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau. And Montgomery County crept back into the top 10, as its household median income rose from $88,559 in 2010 to $92,288 in 2011 — a spike of more than 4 percent.
For some local perspective on why Washington is at the top of the charts, I spoke this morning with Scott, the general manager at the wine store Schneider’s of Capitol Hill.
He pointed to the general trend of wine being increasingly popular in America. But he got specific about local wine consumption, saying that there’s a positive correlation between wine consumption and income, noting the amount of white-collar jobs in DC, particularly at new government jobs such as the Department of Homeland Security.
“In this town, it seems that a lot of business is done around wine. More so than anywhere else I’ve lived. It seems that there’s always a bottle of wine open,” he said. He also noted the cosmopolitan nature of the city with many people from countries rich in wine tradition.
In his Capitol Hill neighborhood, he said the food choices were improving too with many good restaurants and farmers’ markets. “If we were all eating brats, we’d probably be drinking beer.” He said there is a lot of demand for investment-grade wines to stock cellars in area homes.
He also mentioned the ability of shops in the District to import wine directly, which means “we have wines that nobody else has.” So alluring is the offering, he says, that Virgina and Maryland residents who don’t have as many specialty shops load up the car before heading home.
The rankings in the 2011 American Community Survey released Thursday expand Washington’s dominance among high-income households, reflecting a regional economy that was largely cushioned as the recession yanked down income levels elsewhere. Household incomes rose in most counties around Washington last year, even as they continued to sink around the country.
The stability of an economy built on the pillars of the federal government, its legions of contractors and a flourishing high-tech sector is evident in the income rankings.
In 2007, before the recession began, five counties in suburban Washington made it into the top 10. By 2010, there were six. The seven in the latest ranking is an all-time high.
Those of you who live in more normal housing markets may feel a bit faint at the thought of paying $700,000 for a 2,000 square foot townhome, however recently renovated with the finest that Home Depot has to offer. You are strongly encouraged to sit down, and perhaps take a small restorative brandy.
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So where is all this money coming from?
Contractors and lobbyists, says my mother’s real estate agent. He’s seeing an enormous number of young two-income couples who are making $200,000-400,000 a year. Usually there’s a law degree involved, but sometimes it’s a PhD or an MBA. Those couples are priced out of Georgetown, or maybe they want something a little less stodgy. So they buy on the edge of U Street, Logan, or Capitol Hill/H Street–and in the process push the singles or couples making $120,000-$150,000 (of which DC has a lot) out into the fringes of the gentrified areas. Things rapidly gentrify around those couples, and then the next round begins in a new neighborhood a couple of years later.
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There’s also a fair amount of empirical support for the theory that lobbying dollars are driving up home prices in the District. And so anecdote and data both suggest that as long as government spending continues apace, the boom will also keep roaring along.
A more interesting question is what happens when the spending stops. You might think it’s obvious that no money means no lobbying. But with the peculiar logic of lobbying, that ain’t necessarily so.
The District has one of the highest levels of income inequality among the nation’s cities, with the top fifth earning on average 29 times the income of the bottom fifth.
Only Atlanta and Boston showed higher levels of income inequality in 2010, according to an analysis of census data by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.
Driving the gap is the enormous gulf between a sliver of top earners and a mass of households with paltry incomes. According to the analysis, the top 5 percent of households in the District averaged $473,000 a year, far above the $292,000 averaged by their counterparts in other large cities.
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The institute’s report, to be issued Thursday, said the dichotomy was the result of two vastly different economies in the District. One is populated by college graduates thriving in well-paying information and government jobs. The other is for people lacking higher education, scrambling for even low-paying work.
Nothing to see here.