D.C. population growth flatlines as cost of living remains high

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The number of people moving out of the D.C. metropolitan area is larger than the number of people moving here from other states, the first time this has occurred in the last four years of available data.

Experts say D.C. residents have increasingly left the area for more affordable cities, especially as the economy has lagged. They also said that people are less likely to move into D.C. because of the high cost of housing in the city.

About 20 percent of the population growth in the metro area between 2010 and 2011 was made up of people moving into the area from other states, according to a report from George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis. That percent dropped to about 5 percent of the growth between 2012 and 2013, according to the report.

In total, the population in the D.C. metro area increased just about 1 percent between 2013 and 2014, according to the data. That trend has continued for about the last decade, according to a second report released by the economic research department of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis last month.

David Versel, the senior research associate from the Center for Regional Analysis, said people have increasingly moved out of D.C. and to other parts of the country because of a lagging economy and cuts Congress has made to the federal budget.

“We’ve had a very poor year for job growth. We only added 19,000 jobs in the metro area this year,” Versel said. “Basically we were second to last to Detroit compared to other metro areas.”

D.C.’s economy is the slowest growing in the nation, just after Virginia and Maryland. It was the fastest growing metropolitan area in 2009 but dropped to No. 16 this year, according to data from the Center for Regional Analysis.

The average cost of living in D.C. is $28,416 annually, according to a study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, higher than other cities like New York and San Francisco.

Christopher Leinberger, chair of GW’s Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis, said people have increasingly moved to cities like Houston and Atlanta because of the high cost of housing in D.C.

“What is negatively affecting D.C. locally and attracting people away from D.C. is the high cost of housing and allure of low-housing towns such as Atlanta,” Leinberger said.

Loudoun County, which is on the fringe of the D.C. area, has grown about 3.4 percent between 2012 and 2013, according to the data. Fairfax County, which is close to D.C. near the middle of the metro area, has “gone flat,” said Leinberger, with a population increase of only 0.3 percent.

David Almasi, executive director of the National Center for Public Policy Research, said D.C. is “getting to be a younger town where you get younger professionals” who move into the city for their first jobs.

But Almasi also said people are moving out of the area after living here for several years as they outgrow city living or may want more space to settle down with a family. He said cities like Alexandria, Va. are appealing because rent costs less and larger spaces are more affordable — but perhaps not for long.

“They might have moved to Arlington in their 20s, but now that they’re having kids they’ll naturally go for a bigger place they can afford,” Almasi said.

Housing prices in D.C. have increased by about 5 percent while prices for homes in Alexandria have decreased by about 1 percent between 2013 and 2014, according to another report from the Center for Regional Analysis.

The number of housing units in D.C. with rent of more than $1,500 per month more than doubled from 2005 to 2012, according to Greater Greater Washington.

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