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Are the crime rates of D.C. and New York comparable?

Commenter mjames2 doesn't think so:

This post is a bit unconvincing. Is the problem that DC residents don't care about murders? Or is it that DC is filled with poor people with little hope, and unlike New York or Philly, it has not expanded to include former suburban areas that would increase its middle class population. DC is much like Baltimore, a relatively small big city with a lot of poor people.

D.C. isn't actually all that poor. The average personal income is more than $55,000, which is higher than any other state. But at the same time, it has a lot of poor people: More than 19 percent of residents live in poverty, which is higher than any state save Mississippi. Among cities, though, New York City's personal income is lower, its poverty rate similar, and it’s much, much safer. But, New York is way, way, larger than D.C. Atlanta, however, has a lower per capita income, comparable poverty rate, a comparable size and a lower murder rate.

But my knowledge of crime data is pretty weak. Maybe the commenters, or actual crime-policy expert Mark Kleiman, can jump in here.

By Ezra Klein  |  November 17, 2009; 12:47 PM ET
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The real reason I'm not sure you can compare DC and NYC is that DC is shorter and more auto-centric. No one can steal your car if you don't own one, and it's much harder to mug someone when they're living on the 6th floor.

Posted by: NicholasBeaudrot | November 17, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse

One thing about crime in DC -- especially violent crime -- is that it isn't endemic throughout the city. Some neighborhoods you can feel pretty safe walking alone at 1, 2, or even 3 AM. Others even during daylight hours it might be touch and go.

The fix to the problem comes down in large part to jobs; increasing family support; early intervention, etc (unfortunately, the kind of social support that tends to get cut during tough economic times).

Posted by: JPRS | November 17, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

i don't live in or around DC so I am not as qualified to comment on this but does the $55,000 figure reflect government employees of which some have inflated salaries? If you looked at non-government employees I'd expect that number to be far lower.

Posted by: visionbrkr | November 17, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Government employees don't have particularly inflated salaries (as compared to who? Lawyers? teachers? bankers?), they just have the salaries they have. And it's of course true that if you remove large, good employers from any area, the average income would be lower, but you wouldn't take Wall Street out of NY's numbers or Hollywood out of LA's.

Posted by: Ezra Klein | November 17, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, this would be an opportune time have used the median, not the mean average income.

*does the $55,000 figure reflect government employees of which some have inflated salaries?*

All of us here in the DC area who left our jobs as government employees got a pay raise. Those who left their jobs in the private sector for a government job were taking a pay cut. The dynamic here is one in which you enter the private sector to "cash in" on your public sector experience, of you "cash out" of your private sector job after you've paid off your loans or paid down the mortgage to take a public sector job that you really want.

People like to say how the DC metro area has ultra-low unemployment. In parts of DC itself, though, like Ward 8, unemployment is running at about 30%.

Posted by: constans | November 17, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

good points by Ezra and constans although I don't know that I'd include teachers in that pay (from my experience)unless you included their corresponding health benefits as income. Living in a suburb all my life has given me a distorted view of many things urban including this.

And when i was speaking of salaries I meant of Senators and congresspeople (as well as their staffs). I didn't mean someone that to me is in a more public position as opposed to a political position. I'm differentiating between an aide to a congressman or woman (who may make $150k or more) vs an employee at a government run agency that's based in DC (who may make $40k)

Posted by: visionbrkr | November 17, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

visiobrkr, the highest paid position working for a congressman, outside of being a congressman, is to be the chief of staff. This job pays about $150k/yr (for comparison-- this is less than the starting salary of a 1st-year associate at a prestigious corporate law firm in DC). Obviously, there are only 535 (+/- delta) of them, out of a city of more than 500,000, and they are far outnumbered by the staff assistants and legislative assistants who make a fraction of that (it is that latter group that leaves for the private sector with much higher salaries).

The vast majority of the federal workforce in DC is not congressional and white house aides and advisors but rather the civil service employees.

Posted by: constans | November 17, 2009 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Great point about the income level, but it's becoming increasingly meaningless to throw about avg/mean/median income, as the highest 1-10% terrifically skew those numbers.

As an excellent and connected policy analyst, can you direct me to some sites, offices, or organizations that have calculated the local and national averages withOUT the top 1-10-20% included?

That would present a much truer snapshot, as those upper income brackets actually make most of the income. (Imho, of course)

Any leads would be much appreciated.

Posted by: Renko1 | November 17, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr -- Go to and check out the Congressional salaries you envy so much. Aside from a small handful of very senior staff (Chiefs of Staff and Committee Directors) with advanced degrees and many years of experience, you will not find a whole lot of staffers cracking $100K, let alone $150. BTW, salaries for Members of the House and Senate are $170K, about what a graduate from a good law or business school makes in thier first year.

Posted by: WoodbridgeVa1 | November 17, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Unless mjames2 is complaining about the 1898 New York City Five-Borough Merger or the 1854 Philadelphia City-County merger, he has no idea what he's talking about. Neither city has expanded its borders at all since then.

Posted by: tomveiltomveil | November 17, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

What government employees get paid doesn't have any clear correlation to the average income in DC, since so many government employees (like non-government employees) work in Washington and live in the suburbs, where their income gets counted and taxed. Also, a major chunk of the federal workforce, in Washington as elsewhere, is in neither political nor civil service jobs, but in the postal service.

Posted by: thehersch | November 17, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

1. I agree with above, it is unbelievably misleading to use a mean income in DC, which almost certainly has greater wealth disparities than any state.

2. I think it would be very helpful to divide crime numbers up by Ward. Surely you can get something like that from the police?

Posted by: rusty_spatula | November 17, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

There are 107,000 people on food stamps in DC out of 550,000? That's a lot of poverty....

Posted by: robinshuster | November 17, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Any attempt to analyze DC as one city is doomed to failure. It is two entirely separate cities, neither of which really has much to do with the other, except that some residents of city #2 commute to and work in city #1.

City #1 (downtown, Capitol Hill, NW DC, and a few isolated areas in NE DC) is an extremely wealthy professional area not unlike lower Manhattan, with a median income probably close to six figures, only limited racial integration, almost no unemployment, and very little crime.

City #2 (the rest of the city) is a poor, almost exclusively black area with very high unemployment (25%+) and very few good local employers outside of the DC city government, housing authority, and school district. Most of those people with decent incomes in City #2 actually work in City #1.

The two cities meet only at the borders, and only in a few areas: the rapidly gentrifying corridor between 14th Street and Georgia Ave, the mixed parts of NE above Rhode Island Avenue, and the northern border of Capitol Hill. Another major border between them is the Anacostia River -- everything east of it is City #2.

Posted by: dal20402 | November 17, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

As suggested above, average wage is not what you want to use when there is not a normal distribution, i.e. where the histogram of wages is not bell-curve shaped. You really want to look at the median or mode.

Median income for Washington DC in 2007 was $36,160 (estimated) according to Wolfram Alpha. I suspect the wages histogram is largely skewed at the low end.

Posted by: enormousturnip | November 17, 2009 7:05 PM | Report abuse

According to the US Census Bureau, the median household income for Washington for the years 2006 to 2008 was $56,428 in 2008 dollars. For the US as a whole, the median household income was $52,175.

Posted by: thehersch | November 18, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

The fix to the problem comes down in large part to jobs; increasing family support; early intervention, etc (unfortunately, the kind of social support that tends to get cut during tough economic times).

I'm not trying to be inflammatory, but you have to remember that DC is a rapidly gentrifying city as well. The rise in the quality of schools and the fall in violent crime have more to do with demographic shifts (as the extremely poor are forced out into the suburbs) than any particular public policy.

In the case of the two most recent high-profile murders--both the 9-year-old, and George Rawlings--the suspects were apprehended in PG County. These are people who have some historical tie to the neighborhood, but no longer live there.

In ten years, they'll stop coming back, because there'll be nothing left to come back to--no grandparents, etc...

Then the violent crime you're currently seeing in DC proper will be taking place in NoVa and Maryland, where housing prices are cheaper.

Posted by: antontuffnell | November 18, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

darn, that first paragraph was a quote. Forgot how much WaPo comments engine stinks..


Posted by: antontuffnell | November 18, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

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