Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Demographics


By 2040, DC's population could be close to 900,000

The latest future population projections forecast that by 2040 the District of Columbia will have a population of 883,600. That would far eclipse the historic high of 802,178, from the 1950 census.

Projected population increase from 2010 to 2040, in thousands. Image by COG.

Despite that growth, DC would still rank as only the 4th most populous jurisdiction in the region, behind Fairfax, Montgomery, and Prince George's. But the next 26 years could narrow that gap considerably. Demographers project that only Fairfax will add more people than DC. Prince George's will add fewer than half as many.

The forecasts come from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), which is sort of a United Nations for local governments in the DC region.

COG's forecast report has a treasure trove of fascinating demographic info, not only about population, but also jobs and households. For example, by 2040 COG's demographers expect DC to have over 1 million jobs.

Of course, these are only projections. Nobody can predict the future with 100% accuracy. COG's forecasts often fail to predict the biggest peaks during booms and lowest dips during busts. But all in all they've historically been reasonably accurate.

So get ready for more neighbors.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Another way to see the US: Map of where nobody lives

There are more than 300 million people living in the United States today, but America is such a huge country that we still have staggeringly vast areas that are completely devoid of humans. This map illustrates those places. Everything colored green is a census block with zero population.

Map by Nik Freeman of

The eastern US is pretty well populated except for a few spots in mountains and swamps. But the west is a different story. It's covered with enormous stretches of land that are simply empty.

And Alaska's emptiness makes even the western contiguous states look densely populated. Those green areas near the Arctic Circle look bigger than most other states.

Map by Nik Freeman of

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


DC population grows more than any other local county

The US Census' newest county-level population estimates show that between 2012 and 2013, the District of Columbia added more residents than any other metro area county.

Loudoun County grew slightly faster by percentage. But even according to that measure, DC is second.

County 2012
District of Columbia 633,427 646,449 13,022 2.1
Loudoun (VA) 337,248 349,679 12,431 3.7
Fairfax (VA) 1,118,683 1,130,924 12,241 1.1
Montgomery (MD) 1,004,476 1,016,677 12,201 1.2
Prince George's (MD) 881,419 890,081 8,662 1.0
Prince William (VA) 430,100 438,580 8,480 2.0
Anne Arundel (MD) 550,175 555,743 5,568 1.0
Baltimore County (MD) 817,682 823,015 5,333 0.7
Howard (MD) 299,356 304,580 5,224 1.7
Arlington (VA) 221,275 224,906 3,631 1.6
Stafford (VA) 134,251 136,788 2,537 1.9
Charles (MD) 150,710 152,864 2,154 1.4
Alexandria (VA) 146,839 148,892 2,053 1.4
Frederick (MD) 239,520 241,409 1,889 0.8
Spotsylvania (VA) 125,772 127,348 1,576 1.3
Fauquier (VA) 66,526 67,207 681 1.0
Baltimore City (MD) 622,417 622,104 -313 -0.1

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


The American cities with the most growth in car-free households

The Washington metropolitan area is tied with New York for the 3rd-largest increase in car-free households over 5 years. Angie Schmitt summarizes a new analysis:

Data from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

The highest rate of vehicle ownership in America occurred in 2007, when the average household owned 2.07 vehicles, according to research by Michael Sivak for the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Recently, the average number of cars per household dipped below 2at the end of 2012, it was 1.98.

That's in part because a growing number of American householdsespecially in big citiesdon't own a car at all anymore. In 2012the latest year in which data was available9.2 percent of American households lacked a motor vehicle. That's compared to 8.7 percent in 2007, according to Sivak's review of Census data.

The share of car-free households varies considerably among the 30 largest American cities, from 56.5 percent in New York to 5.8 percent in San Jose. But between 2007 and 2012, the proportion of car-free households grew in 21 of those 30 cities. The change was especially pronounced in cities where a lot of people were already getting by without cars. The 13 cities with the highest proportion of car-free households in 2007 all saw an increase between then and 2012, reports Sivak.

Not all cities are seeing an increase in car-free households. Denver, Dallas, El Paso, Austin, San Antonio, and Columbus all bucked the trend, registering slight increases. Dallas registered no change.

Growth in car-free households reflects a number of local factors, including the quality of transit, walkability, and income levels, among other factors, according to Sivak. But he says wider social trends are at work as well.

This study is the latest in a series examining trends in driving behavior for the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institutewhich is funded in part by auto companies. Sivak's previous research has shown that in addition to owning fewer cars, Americans are driving less miles and consuming less fuel.

Sivak points out that all of these trends predate the recent economic crisis, suggesting they are the result of wider cultural influences, such as the rise in telecommuting, increasing urbanization, and changing preferences of young people.

Cross-posted from Streetsblog DC.


Who rides (and will ride) transit in Greater Washington?

About one in seven workers in the DC area commutes to work via public transportation, higher than any other large American metropolitan area outside of New York. But where and how we take transit to work will make increasing ridership a challenge.

Photo by techne on Flickr.

A new study by the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis (CRA) reveals many surprising insights about the region's transit commuters. Naturally, transit ridership is highest in the region's core and near Metro stations. But there are also many well-heeled, outer-suburban commuters who use transit by choice, and low-income suburban workers for whom transit is a lifeline.

These two populations will present a challenge to the region as it continues to grow. With limited resources making a massive transit expansion unlikely, we'll have to focus on smaller improvements in service, as well as encouraging transit-oriented development in suburban communities to encourage "reverse commutes," taking advantage of excess capacity on Metro.

The percentage of transit users will stay the same

According to new data from the American Community Survey, 14.3% of Washington-area residents commuted to work via public transportation during the three-year period covering 2010-2012. We're in second place among the 10 largest US metro areas, though first-place New York is far higher at 31%. Our transit use is higher than "older" areas that are often thought of as more transit-friendly, such as Boston (12%), Chicago (12%), and Philadelphia (9%).

But the overall share of Washington-area commuters who travel to work via public transit has changed little since 1990, and it is not expected to increase much in the future. In 1990, about 13% of all commuters in the area used transit. Looking ahead, a 2012 CRA study projected it will only be about 15% in 2040. While more people are now riding the bus and train to work, there are also more drivers, as well as more teleworkers and more people who walk or bike to work.

Where you live and where you work determines whether you use transit

Not surprisingly, more commuters use transit in some areas than others. DC residents are the most likely to commute via public transit, at 38.7%, followed by Arlington (27.2%), Alexandria (20.2%), Prince George's (17.6%), and Montgomery (15.6%). Fairfax (9.2%), Charles (7.0%), and Prince William (5.7%) are the only other major jurisdictions where more than 5% of commuters use transit.

The percentage of transit users by county and CDP (Census-Designated Places). All images by the author.

The above map shows the transit commuter shares for the region's major Census-Designated Places (CDPs), which include both incorporated and unincorporated cities, along with the shares in the balance of each county. There are nine CDPs in the region in which at least 20 percent of residents commute to work by transit: Chillum, Silver Spring, Suitland, Landover, North Bethesda, Wheaton, Rockville, Langley Park, and Bailey's Crossroads.

While income levels vary greatly in these areas, they all have frequent, high-capacity transit service. All of them but Langley Park and Bailey's Crossroads are located immediately adjacent to Metro stations, while those two areas both have frequent bus service and high shares of residents who do not have access to vehicles and are thus considered "transit dependent."

Median earnings and transit commuter shares by CDP in metro area.

Conversely, CDPs in the region with the lowest rates of transit use are far from Metro stations. This group includes some of the most affluent parts of the region, like McLean, Potomac, Franklin Farm, and South Riding, as well as places with moderate earning levels such as Sterling, Chantilly, and Ashburn.

Transit share by place of work.

However, where you work is a stronger determinant of whether you commute by transit than where you live. Among those with jobs in the District of Columbia, 36.9% take a train or bus to work, compared with 22.0% in Arlington and just 12.0% in Alexandria. The transit shares are considerably lower for those with jobs in the inner suburbs, particularly in Fairfax County, where just 3.2% of workers take transit to work. For those who work in areas beyond the reach of Metrorail, just 1.1% of commuters use transit.

Transit commuters vary depending on where they live and work

For the whole region, transit commuters have almost the exact same median income ($50,203) as for all commuters ($50,288). For residents of DC, Montgomery, Prince George's, Arlington, and Alexandria, those who commute by transit have either similar or lower incomes than do all commuters. But some transit commuters have higher incomes, like in Fairfax ($11,000 difference), Loudoun ($22,000 difference), and Prince William ($23,000 difference). Transit commuters living in these areas are clearly using buses and trains to access higher paying jobs in closer-in locations.

Median earnings summary for area commuters.

Meanwhile, those who take transit to jobs in suburban locations earn far less, while commuters working in either DC or Arlington earn about the same as all commuters. In Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince George's, and Prince William counties, the median earnings for transit commuters is less than half those of all commuters. This disparity is largely due to the fact that many people who take transit to jobs in these outlying locations are lower-income, transit dependent workers.

Just 4% of residents living in the region's outer suburbs (all areas outside of DC, Arlington, Alexandria, Montgomery, Prince George's, and Fairfax) commute via transit. But they stand out from closer-in transit commuters in three key ways:

1. More than half (52%) of outer-suburban transit commuters work for a local, state, or federal government agency. By comparison, just 26% of all outer ring residents work for the government. In the inner ring, 32% of all transit commuters are government employees.

2. Outer-ring transit commuters have very long commute times, at a mean of 76 minutes. That's almost twice as much as the mean travel time for all outer-ring residents of 39 minutes. Transit commuters in Fairfax, Montgomery, and Prince George's have an average travel time of 52 minutes, while it's just 37 minutes in DC, Alexandria, and Arlington.

3. Transit commuters from the outer suburbs use transit by choice, not by necessity. While 24% of the region's transit commuters do not have access to a vehicle, fewer than 3% of outer-ring transit commuters have no vehicles.

What does this mean for future transit?

It's clear that more people will commute via public transit where transit is readily available. As a result, it's tempting to argue that the region can overcome congestion simply by aggressively expanding its transit network.

This approach ignores two critical points. First, while some expansions are likely to occur, financial and political realities will prevent many large projects from being built. Second, the current profile of transit riders offers many opportunities to increase ridership simply by increasing service or developing near existing transit.

There are three things the region's already doing that will likely boost transit ridership:

  • Increasing the number of seats and frequency of service on existing suburb-to-core transit routes. To their credit, WMATA, MARC, VRE, and regional bus operators are all already working to expand the capacity on their existing routes, but more can be done.
  • Increasing commercial development around outlying transit stations. This will allow more people living in the region's core to "reverse commute," making use of excess capacity in the transit system. Proposals to relocate the FBI headquarters to Greenbelt or Springfield, along with Prince George's County's plans for the southern Green Line are excellent models for this approach.
  • Encourage transit-oriented development (TOD) around future rail transit. There are already a number of examples of TODs in the region that were planned around future transit lines, most notably King Farm and Crown along the planned Corridor Cities Transitway in Montgomery County. Even if proposed high-capacity transit lines do not materialize, these types of developments can encourage expanded commuter bus service and can limit non-commuting vehicle trips by locating shopping and dining closer to where people live.
While these approaches are helping the region battle its legendary traffic congestion, it's impossible to ignore the prediction that more than 75% of the region's commuters will still drive to work in 2040. And the region will have several hundred thousand more residents by then.

If the Washington metro area continues to grow in the same way it has before, it's reasonable to expect that congestion and its related problems will cause residents and businesses to leave. In order to remain competitive, our region clearly must do more to expand the appeal of transit.


DC grows by 83,000 residents in 10 years

Ten years ago, DC Mayor Anthony Williams famously set a goal of attracting 100,000 new DC residents within a decade. Pundits scoffed, but the latest population estimates show we made it closer than most imagined possible.

DC population change graph. Image from Google.

The official US Census population estimate for DC in 2003 was 563,384. The latest estimate for 2013 is 646,449. That's an increase of 83,065.

In 2003, DC's population was still shrinking. It had been about 569,000 in 2002, and 572,000 in 2000. Young single people had started flocking to some parts of DC, but families leaving for the suburbs still outnumbered people moving in and being born. Halting the decline seemed possible, maybe even likely, but growing by 100,000 people in a decade seemed outrageously optimistic.

And to be fair, we didn't quite make it. 83,000 isn't 100,000. But it's awfully impressive, awfully close. Far more than just about anybody thought possible.

DC's population peaked at 802,178 in 1950, then declined for the next half century. If today's impressive growth rate continues into the future, we'll catch up and surpass the 1950 high sometime in the mid 2020s.

We'll have to keep up impressive growth to meet Mayor Gray's goal of 250,000 new residents by 2032.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Events roundup: Bridges, bikes, and buses

This week, celebrate the new 11th Street bridge, learn how DC could become the nation's cycling capital, Metro's plans to run buses all night, and how to live a greener life at events all around Greater Washington.

Photo by DDOTDC on Flickr.

New 11th Street Bridge: On Saturday, Mayor Gray and DC officials will dedicate the bridge with a festival from 12-3pm on the local span featuring music, performances, and food trucks. Click here for more information.

Talk about bikes in Arlington: Dr. Ralph Buehler, professor and author of City Cycling, will talk about ways to promote biking with Shane Farthing of WABA, Arlington County board member Chris Zimmerman, and our own Jaime Fearer. The event will be on Thursday, September 12 at 6:30pm at the Virginia Tech Research Center, 900 N. Glebe Road in Arlington. Visit their website for info or to RSVP.

After the jump: Learn about the Purple Line in Bethesda and how Montgomery County's demographics are changing. And if you have any events for future roundups, email me at

Could Metrobus run all night?: Next week, the Action Committee for Transit hosts Jim Hamre, head of bus planning for WMATA, who'll talk about plans to increase late-night bus service. That meeting will be at 7:30pm on Tuesday at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place in downtown Silver Spring. For more information, visit their website.

Green Living Expo DC: Over 40 exhibitors, workshops, and eco-tours will offer information on bike lanes, home energy-saving resources and government grants, green roofs, urban forests, and more. The event will take place at the University of DC's Dennard Plaza on Saturday, September 7th from 10 am to 4 pm. Visit for more info.

Going Purple in Bethesda: Montgomery County planners are exploring potential design options for routing the Purple Line and the Capital Crescent Trail near Wisconsin Avenue and want public input. The event will take place at the Bethesda Regional Services Center, 4805 Edgemoor Lane on Saturday, September 7th beginning at 10 am. Find out more information at the Planning Department's website.

Discuss Montgomery County's future: The Committee for Montgomery will host a forum on the county's rapidly changing demographics featuring Metro's head planner Shyam Kannan and Gwen Wright, director of planning at the Montgomery County Planning Department. The discussion will happen on Monday, September 9 at 8am at Building 1 of the Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville. For more information or to RSVP, visit their website.


Aging Boomers could have huge impact on suburbs

There are about 1.5 million Baby Boomers in Greater Washington, representing 26 percent of its population. The housing choices of these individuals will have a profound effect on the region over the next 30 years. Where do they live now, and where will they live in the future?

Photo by LancerE on Flickr.

Where do Boomers live today?

The Baby Boom generation is defined as those born between the years of 1946 and 1964, The vast majority of Boomers in the Washington area are homeowners: as of 2010, there were about 823,000 households in the region with a Baby Boomer householder, 629,000 or 76% of which own their homes.

Boomer homeownership rates by jurisdiction. All images by the author unless noted.

While Boomers account for 26 percent of the region's population, they make up 47 percent of all homeowners. In Calvert, Fairfax, and Fauquier counties, Boomers make up more than half of all homeowner households, and slightly less than half in Stafford, Montgomery, and Prince George's counties. The concentration of Boomer homeowners was lowest in close-in jurisdictions like DC, Arlington, and Alexandria, and in Loudoun County, where younger homeowners drive most growth.

Boomers as share of homeowners by jurisdiction.

More specifically, Boomer homeowners can be found in affluent areas located outside the Beltway dominated by large-lot, single-family housing units. Over 60 percent of homeowners are Boomers in places like Brookeville in Montgomery County, Oakton in Fairfax County, and Upper Marlboro in Prince George's County. Less affluent inner suburban areas like Annandale and Bladensburg also have high concentrations of Boomer homeowners.

Boomer homeowner share by Census tract.

Where will they live in the future?

According to several national research studies, most Boomers plan to stay exactly where they are, as long as they can. A 2011 study by AARP found that 84 percent of Boomers want to stay in their current homes. A 2010 survey by retirement community developer Del Webb found that 64 percent of Boomers had not even thought about where they will live during retirement.

Due to the effects of the Great Recession, many Boomers plan to postpone retirement and remain in their current homes. In 1996, Del Webb found that 85 percent of 50 year olds surveyed thought they would be financially prepared to retire by the age of 65. In a 2010 survey of the same group, now 64, only 46 percent thought they would ever be able to retire.

But many aging Boomers won't be able to stay put. AARP found that 41 percent of Boomers surveyed thought they would always be in good health, and 35 percent expect to always be able to drive their own cars. But the National Association of Home Builders' "Characteristics of Home Buyers" report suggests that health issues will increasingly determine Boomers' housing choices, especially after age 75.

If Boomers do begin to move from their single-family houses in the suburbs in large numbers, where will they go? The Del Webb survey found that 56 percent of those who planned to leave their homes would move out of state, while the remaining 44 percent planned to stay local. This could mean a smaller home in the same suburban community, a retirement community or continuing care facility, or, as many have suggested, an apartment or condo in a more urban environment.

However, even those who suggest that Boomers will embrace city life concede that this only a "mini-trend" at this point. In all likelihood, most Boomer homeowners in the Washington metro area will stay put and continue to live in their single-family houses in the suburbs for at least the next 10 to 20 years. While this stability may appear to be a positive thing, it actually raises several key concerns about the future.

What will happen to the areas where they are currently concentrated?

Boomers who "age in place" will create major spillover effects for the suburban communities where they first moved to raise families.

Suburban jurisdictions will need to address the reality of having large elderly populations. If large numbers of Boomers do choose to age in place, the neighborhoods that once served as havens for families with children will suddenly become naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs).

This will drive increased needs for public services for the elderly, including recreational and social service programs, demand for paratransit for those who live in car-dependent areas but are not able to drive, and declining school enrollments. Perhaps more importantly, political priorities will shift, as older voters are more likely to advocate for lower taxes instead of making investments in infrastructure, schools, or parks.

Aging homeowners will struggle to maintain their properties. As the oldest Boomers reach 75, most will have to rely on retirement income and savings even as their health care costs increase. As a result, investment in the upkeep and maintenance on aging houses will become more difficult for many homeowners to afford.

This will be a particular issue in older suburbs where income levels tend to be lower and houses require more upkeep. Neglect of homes may become widespread in these areas, leading to permanent decline.

Boomers will shut Millennials out. The Millennial generation, currently aged between 15 and 35, is just starting to reach prime homebuying age. The conventional wisdom is that Millennials will reject the values of their Boomer parents and rent smaller units in urban environments.

While that may be true today, a 2011 Urban Land Institute study generated two contrary conclusions. First, three-quarters of older Millennials (those currently aged 28-35) expected to buy a home within five years. Second, 82 percent of all Millennials expected to live in a single-family detached house in five years.

Assuming that at least some Millennials do want to buy houses, there are few affordable options for them. The region's median home price in July 2013 was $425,000, and the median price for a single-family home was $541,750.

The ULI study found that the median income level for Millennials with full-time jobs was less than $50,000. Though the income level for Millennials in this region is undoubtedly higher, few Millennials can afford new single-family homes anywhere in the area. So long as Boomers stay put in their homes, the supply of existing homes will be limited, making it more difficult for younger buyers to find places to live.

The crash could be swift and painful. In 2040, just 27 years from now, the age range of the Baby Boom generation will be from 76 to 94. By that time, there will obviously no longer be 1.5 million Boomers living in metro Washington, and there will certainly not be 629,000 Boomer homeowners. Twenty years later, in 2060, all but the hardiest of Boomers will have passed away.

While Boomers seem to be committed to living in their suburban homes, at some point age and health will take their toll. If Boomers do intend to stay in their homes for the duration, their eventual departures from their homes and neighborhoods will likely occur under difficult circumstances. Most will either leave quickly due to health issues, or their surviving family members will need to sell their homes after they are gone.

As difficult as it may be to consider, the years from 2030 to 2050 will bring wholesale changes to the communities where Boomers are now living. As discussed above, many Boomers will have let their homes fall into disrepair by that point, so many of the stable suburban neighborhoods they currently inhabit are likely to decline. Local governments around the region need to understand and plan for these trends now so they do not have to face very difficult problems down the road.

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