Demographics of Washington, D.C.

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Race and ethnicity (2010)
Map of race and ethnicity in Washington, D.C.
African American50.7%

The demographics of Washington, D.C. (formally the District of Columbia) reflect an ethnically diverse, cosmopolitan, mid-size capital city. In 2010 the District had a population of 601,723 people. Washington, D.C. is unique among major U.S. cities in that its foundation was not organic, but rather established as a result of a political compromise. Therefore, the District had few residents during much of its early history up until the Civil War. The presence of the U.S. federal government in Washington is largely responsible for the city's later growth and development; however, the District's role as the capital has also perpetuated the mistaken belief that Washington has no native resident population.[1]

Distinct from many current majority-black cities, Washington has had a significant African-American population since the city's creation; several D.C. neighborhoods are well-noted for their contributions to black history and culture. Like numerous other border and northern cities in the first half of the 20th century, Washington received many black migrants from the South in the Great Migration, who moved North to escape lynchings and limited opportunities. Government growth related to World War II provided economic opportunities for African Americans, too. The percentage of African Americans in the city steadily increased as the city's total population went into decline as a result of suburbanization, federal highway construction, and white flight. The black population included a strong middle and upper class, although the city was known more for problems of crime related to drug use and poverty, which also affected overall population. Since the 2000 U.S. Census, the city has reversed some population losses. The District has had an increase in the percentages of Caucasians, Asians, and Hispanics, and a decline in the city's black population. Some of the latter have moved to the suburbs; others have moved to new opportunities in the South in a New Great Migration.


Historical population

Historical Populations[b]
Historical Population of Each D.C. Jurisdiction[3][4]

Washington, D.C. was established to be the new United States capital and is largely a planned city. However, there were already a number of settlements within the federal territory when it was created in 1790. Most important of these settlements were the cities of Georgetown, founded in 1751, and Alexandria, Virginia, founded in 1749. Both cities comprised the bulk of the District's early residents. The populations of each place were counted separately from that of the City of Washington until Alexandria was returned to Virginia in 1846 and until the District of Columbia was formed into a single municipality in 1871. In 1790, Alexandria had a population of 2,748.[5] By 1800, the City of Washington had a population of 3,210, Georgetown had 2,993, and Alexandria had 4,971.[4]

LeDroit Park, a neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The District's population remained small in comparison to other major U.S. cities. In 1860, directly prior to the Civil War, the District had about 75,000 residents,[6] far smaller than other cities such as New York at 800,000 or Philadelphia at more than 500,000.[7] It is notable, however, that Washington had a large African-American population even prior to the Civil War, but few were actually slaves. Due to slaveholders' manumission of slaves in the Upper South after the American Revolutionary War, the free black population in those states climbed markedly from an estimated 1% before the war to 10% by 1810.[8] Since many freed slaves were not permitted to remain within their home state's boundaries, they often relocated to the District; in 1860, approximately 80% of the city's African-American residents were free blacks.[9]

Following the Civil War, the District's population jumped 75% to more than 130,000.[6] Washington's population remained relatively stable until the Great Depression in the 1930s, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal legislation expanded the bureaucracy in Washington. World War II further increased government activity, adding to the number of federal employees in the capital;[10] by 1950, the District's population reached a peak of 802,178 residents.[11]

However, shortly thereafter, the city began losing residents due to suburbanization as an expanded highway network supported newer housing outside the city. Following social unrest and riots in the 1960s, plus increasing crime, by 1980 Washington had lost one-quarter of its population.[6] After the achievements of civil rights, more of the city's middle-class black population also moved to the suburbs. The city's population continued to decline until the late 1990s. Gentrification efforts started to transform the demographics of distressed neighborhoods.[12] The city's more businesslike administrations may have helped that effort. Recently, a trend of growth since the 2000 U.S. Census provided the first rise in the District's population in 50 years.[13]



In 2007 the U.S. Census Bureau data estimated the District's population at 591,833 residents,[14] continuing a trend of population growth in the city since the 2000 Census, which recorded 572,059 residents.[15] During the workweek, however, the number of commuters from the suburbs into the city swells the District's population by an estimated 71.8%, to a daytime population of over one million people.[16] The Washington Metropolitan Area, which includes the surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia, is the eighth-largest in the United States with more than five million residents. When combined with Baltimore and its suburbs, the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area has a population exceeding eight million residents, the fourth-largest in the country.[17]

There were 249,805 households within the District in 2007. Approximately 48% of those were householders living alone. There were also 107,252 family households; 42% of homes had children under the age of 18. Of those families with children, 51% were those headed by a female householder only. The average household size was 2.2 and the average family size was 3.3.[18]

Ethnic composition

Ethnic Makeup of Washington, D.C.[6]
(any race)

In 2010 the population distribution was 50.7% black, 38.5% white, 9.1% Hispanic (of any race), 4.4% other (including Native Americans, Alaskans, Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders), 3.5% Asian, and 1.6% mixed .[21] Even though they compose the city's largest ethnic group, Washington has a steadily declining black population, due to many African Americans' leaving the city for suburbs. At the same time, the city's Caucasian population has steadily increased, in part due to effects of gentrification in many of Washington's traditionally black neighborhoods.[12] This is evident in a 7.3% decrease in the African-American population, and a 17.8% increase in the Caucasian population since 2000.[15] In addition, some African Americans are going to the South in a New Great Migration, because of family ties, increased opportunities and lower cost of living.[22]

In 2007, there were an estimated 74,000 foreign immigrants living in Washington, D.C.[21] Major sources of immigration include El Salvador, Vietnam, and Ethiopia, with some concentration of Salvadorans in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood.[23]

The "Friendship Arch" is at the center of Chinatown.

The largest Hispanic group is Salvadoran, accounting for an estimated 18,505 of Washington's 45,901 Hispanics.[24] D.C. has a steadily declining African American population, due to many middle-class and professional African Americans moving to the suburbs, mostly in Maryland (for example, the African American majority in Prince George's County) and Northern Virginia aggravated by the rising cost of living in the area, in addition to the clear acceleration of gentrification.[25]

Social characteristics

The 2000 census revealed that an estimated 33,000 adults in the District of Columbia identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, about 8.1% of the city's adult population.[26] In December 2009, a same-sex marriage bill was passed by the Council of the District of Columbia and was subsequently signed by the mayor.[27] The District began issuing same sex marriage licenses in March 2010.[28]

A Robert Emery 2007 report found that about one-third of Washington residents are functionally illiterate, compared to a national rate of about one in five. This is attributed in part to immigrants who are not proficient in English.[29] A 2005 study shows that 85.16% of Washington, D.C. residents age five and older speak only English at home and 8.78% speak Spanish. French is the third-most-spoken language at 1.35%.[30]

In contrast to the high rate of functional illiteracy, nearly 46% of D.C. residents 25 and older have at least a four-year college degree, and 25% have a graduate or professional degree.[18] In 2006, Washington residents had a median family income of $58,526. This has not changed much during the past five years.[21]

According to data from 2000, more than half of District residents were identified as Christian; 28% of residents are Catholic, 9.1% are American Baptist, 6.8% are Southern Baptist, 1.3% are Eastern or Oriental Orthodox, and 13% are members of other Christian denominations. Residents who practice Islam make up 10.6% of the population, followers of Judaism compose 4.5%, and 26.8% of residents adhere to other faiths or do not practice a religion.[31]

See also


^[a] Alexandria would eventually be returned to the state of Virginia in 1846. See: District of Columbia retrocession
^[b] Data provided by "District of Columbia - Race and Hispanic Origin: 1800 to 1990" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. 2002-09-13. Retrieved 2008-07-29.  Until 1890, the U.S. Census Bureau counted the City of Washington, Georgetown, and unincorporated Washington County as three separate areas. The data provided in this article from before 1890 is calculated as if the District of Columbia were a single municipality as it is today. To view the population data for each specific area prior to 1890 see: Gibson, Campbell (June 1998). "Population of the 100 Largest Cities and Other Urban Places in the United States: 1790 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-07-29. 


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  2. ^ "Resident Population Data". United States Census Bureau. 2010-12-21. Retrieved 2010-12-21. 
  3. ^ The District of Columbia was consolidated under a single government in 1871.
    For Data 1800-1870, prior to D.C. consolidation:
    "1870 Census Information". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 

    Data 1880-1890, after D.C. consolidation: "1890 Census Information". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 
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  24. ^ HISPANIC OR LATINO ORIGIN BY SPECIFIC ORIGIN — Universe: TOTAL POPULATION for Washington city, District of Columbia 2005 American Community Survey. Accessed June 25, 2007.
  25. ^ Muhammad, Nisa Islam. "D.C. ‘exodus’ sparks district renewal efforts for Whites", The Final Call, June 21, 2007. Accessed June 25, 2007.
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