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Washington, D.C.
District of Columbia
Aerial view of the Lincoln Memorial, reflecting pool, and Washington Monument
U.S. Capitol Building dome
The Gothic Washington National Cathedral
Train arriving at the McPherson Square metro station with a domed concrete ceiling
Colorful rowhouses in Adams Morgan
Planes suspended from the ceiling of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum lobby
Manicured South Lawn of the White House
Flag of Washington, D.C. Official seal of Washington, D.C.
Seal
Nickname(s): 
D.C., The District
Motto(s): 
Justitia Omnibus
(English: Justice for All)
Anthem: "Washington"
"Our Nation's Capital" (march)
Country  United States
Residence Act 1790
Organized 1801
Consolidated 1871
Home Rule Act 1973
Named for George Washington, Christopher Columbus
Area
 • Federal capital city and federal district 68.34 sq mi (177.0 km2)
 • Land 61.05 sq mi (158.1 km2)
 • Water 7.29 sq mi (18.9 km2)
Highest elevation
409 ft (125 m)
Lowest elevation
0 ft (0 m)
Population
 (2020)
 • Federal capital city and federal district 689,545
 • Rank 20th in the United States
 • Density 11,294.76/sq mi (4,361.45/km2)
 • Metro
6,385,162 (6th)
Demonym(s) Washingtonian
Time zone UTC−5 (EST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
ZIP Codes
20001–20098, 20201–20599, 56901–56999
Area code(s) 202, 771 (overlay)
Major airports
Commuter rail MARC train.svg Virginia Railway Express.svg
Rapid transit WMATA Red.svg WMATA Blue.svg WMATA Orange.svg WMATA Yellow.svg WMATA Green.svg WMATA Silver.svg
Washington, D.C., state symbols
Living insignia
Bird Wood Thrush
Fish American shad
Flower American Beauty rose
Mammal Little brown bat
Tree Scarlet Oak
Inanimate insignia
Beverage Rickey
Dinosaur Capitalsaurus
Food Cherry
Rock Potomac bluestone
Slogan Federal City
State route marker
District of Columbia Route 295 marker
State quarter
Washington, D.C., quarter dollar coin
Released in 2009
Lists of United States state symbols
WashingtonCapitol-Mall
Looking West at the Capitol & the Mall, Washington DC

Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia, also known as just Washington or just D.C., is the capital city and only federal district of the United States. It is located on the east bank of the Potomac River, which forms its southwestern and southern border with the U.S. state of Virginia, and shares a land border with the U.S. state of Maryland on its remaining sides. The city was named for George Washington, a Founding Father and the first president of the United States, and the federal district is named after Columbia, a female personification of the nation. As the seat of the U.S. federal government and several international organizations, the city is an important world political capital. It is one of the most visited cities in the U.S., seeing over 20 million visitors in 2016.

The U.S. Constitution provides for a federal district under the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress; the district is therefore not a part of any U.S. state (nor is it one itself). The signing of the Residence Act on July 16, 1790, approved the creation of a capital district located along the Potomac River near the country's East Coast. The City of Washington was founded in 1791 to serve as the national capital, and Congress held its first session there in 1800. In 1801, the territory, formerly part of Maryland and Virginia (including the settlements of Georgetown and Alexandria), officially became recognized as the federal district. In 1846, Congress returned the land originally ceded by Virginia, including the city of Alexandria; in 1871, it created a single municipal government for the remaining portion of the district. There have been efforts to make the city into a state since the 1880s, a movement that has gained momentum in recent years, and a statehood bill passed the House of Representatives in 2021.

The city is divided into quadrants centered on the Capitol Building, and there are as many as 131 neighborhoods. According to the 2020 Census, it has a population of 689,545, which makes it the 20th-most populous city in the U.S., third-most populous city in both the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, and gives it a population larger than that of two U.S. states: Wyoming and Vermont. Commuters from the surrounding Maryland and Virginia suburbs raise the city's daytime population to more than one million during the workweek. Washington's metropolitan area, the country's sixth-largest (including parts of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia), had a 2019 estimated population of 6.3 million residents.

The three branches of the U.S. federal government are centered in the district: Congress (legislative), the president (executive), and the Supreme Court (judicial). Washington is home to many national monuments and museums, primarily situated on or around the National Mall. The city hosts 177 foreign embassies as well as the headquarters of many international organizations, trade unions, non-profits, lobbying groups, and professional associations, including the World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization of American States, the AARP, the National Geographic Society, the Human Rights Campaign, the International Finance Corporation, and the American Red Cross.

A locally elected mayor and a 13-member council have governed the district since 1973. Congress maintains supreme authority over the city and may overturn local laws. D.C. residents elect a non-voting, at-large congressional delegate to the House of Representatives, but the district has no representation in the Senate. District voters choose three presidential electors in accordance with the Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1961.

History

Various tribes of the Algonquian-speaking Piscataway people (also known as the Conoy) inhabited the lands around the Potomac River when Europeans first visited the area in the early 17th century. One group known as the Nacotchtank (also called the Nacostines by Catholic missionaries) maintained settlements around the Anacostia River within the present-day District of Columbia. Conflicts with European colonists and neighboring tribes forced the relocation of the Piscataway people, some of whom established a new settlement in 1699 near Point of Rocks, Maryland.

In his Federalist No. 43, published January 23, 1788, James Madison argued that the new federal government would need authority over a national capital to provide for its own maintenance and safety. Five years earlier, a band of unpaid soldiers had besieged Congress while its members were meeting in Philadelphia. Known as the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783, the event emphasized the need for the national government not to rely on any state for its own security.

Article One, Section Eight, of the Constitution permits the establishment of a "District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States". However, the Constitution does not specify a location for the capital. In what is now known as the Compromise of 1790, Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson agreed that the federal government would pay each state's remaining Revolutionary War debts in exchange for establishing the new national capital in the Southern United States.

Foundation

On July 9, 1790, Congress passed the Residence Act, which approved the creation of a national capital on the Potomac River. The exact location was to be selected by President George Washington, who signed the bill into law on July 16. Formed from land donated by the states of Maryland and Virginia, the initial shape of the federal district was a square measuring 10 miles (16 km) on each side, totaling 100 square miles (259 km2).

Two pre-existing settlements were included in the territory: the port of Georgetown, Maryland, founded in 1751, and the city of Alexandria, Virginia, founded in 1749. During 1791–92, a team under Andrew Ellicott, including Ellicott's brothers Joseph and Benjamin and African-American astronomer Benjamin Banneker, surveyed the borders of the federal district and placed boundary stones at every mile point. Many of the stones are still standing.

A new federal city was then constructed on the north bank of the Potomac, to the east of Georgetown. On September 9, 1791, the three commissioners overseeing the capital's construction named the city in honor of President Washington. The same day, the federal district was named Columbia (a feminine form of "Columbus"), which was a poetic name for the United States commonly in use at that time. Congress held its first session there on November 17, 1800.

Congress passed the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801 which officially organized the district and placed the entire territory under the exclusive control of the federal government. Further, the unincorporated area within the district was organized into two counties: the County of Washington to the east of the Potomac and the County of Alexandria to the west. After the passage of this Act, citizens living in the district were no longer considered residents of Maryland or Virginia, which therefore ended their representation in Congress.

Burning during the War of 1812

British Burning Washington
Following their victory at the Battle of Bladensburg, the British entered Washington, D.C., burning down buildings, including the White House.

On August 24–25, 1814, in a raid known as the Burning of Washington, British forces invaded the capital during the War of 1812. The Capitol, Treasury, and White House were burned and gutted during the attack. Most government buildings were repaired quickly; however, the Capitol was largely under construction at the time and was not completed in its current form until 1868.

Retrocession and the Civil War

LincolnInauguration1861a
President Abraham Lincoln insisted that construction of the United States Capitol dome continue during the American Civil War (1861).

In the 1830s, the district's southern territory of Alexandria went into economic decline partly due to neglect by Congress. The city of Alexandria was a major market in the American slave trade, and pro-slavery residents feared that abolitionists in Congress would end slavery in the district, further depressing the economy. Alexandria's citizens petitioned Virginia to take back the land it had donated to form the district, through a process known as retrocession.

The Virginia General Assembly voted in February 1846 to accept the return of Alexandria. On July 9, 1846, Congress agreed to return all the territory that Virginia had ceded. Therefore, the district's area consists only of the portion originally donated by Maryland. Confirming the fears of pro-slavery Alexandrians, the Compromise of 1850 outlawed the slave trade in the district, although not slavery itself.

The outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 led to the expansion of the federal government and notable growth in the district's population, including a large influx of freed slaves. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act in 1862, which ended slavery in the district of Columbia and freed about 3,100 enslaved persons, nine months prior to the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1868, Congress granted the district's African American male residents the right to vote in municipal elections.

Growth and redevelopment

By 1870, the district's population had grown 75% from the previous census to nearly 132,000 residents. Despite the city's growth, Washington still had dirt roads and lacked basic sanitation. Some members of Congress suggested moving the capital further west, but President Ulysses S. Grant refused to consider such a proposal.

Congress passed the Organic Act of 1871, which repealed the individual charters of the cities of Washington and Georgetown, and created a new territorial government for the whole District of Columbia. President Grant appointed Alexander Robey Shepherd to the position of governor in 1873. Shepherd authorized large-scale projects that greatly modernized the City of Washington, but ultimately bankrupted the district government. In 1874, Congress replaced the territorial government with an appointed three-member Board of Commissioners.

The city's first motorized streetcars began service in 1888. They generated growth in areas of the district beyond the City of Washington's original boundaries. Washington's urban plan was expanded throughout the district in the following decades. Georgetown's street grid and other administrative details were formally merged to those of the legal City of Washington in 1895. However, the city had poor housing conditions and strained public works. The district was the first city in the nation to undergo urban renewal projects as part of the "City Beautiful movement" in the early 1900s.

Increased federal spending as a result of the New Deal in the 1930s led to the construction of new government buildings, memorials, and museums in the district.

World War II further increased government activity, adding to the number of federal employees in the capital; by 1950, the district's population reached its peak of 802,178 residents.

Civil rights and home rule era

March on Washington edit
Crowds surrounding the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool during the March on Washington, 1963

The Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1961, granting the district three votes in the Electoral College for the election of president and vice president, but still no voting representation in Congress.

After the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on April 4, 1968, riots broke out in the district, primarily in the U Street, 14th Street, 7th Street, and H Street corridors, centers of black residential and commercial areas. The riots raged for three days until more than 13,600 federal troops and D.C. Army National Guardsmen stopped the violence. Many stores and other buildings were burned; rebuilding was not completed until the late 1990s.

In 1973, Congress enacted the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, providing for an elected mayor and thirteen-member council for the district. In 1975, Walter Washington became the first elected and first black mayor of the district.

Geography

Climate

Washington is in the humid subtropical climate zone (Köppen: Cfa). The Trewartha classification is defined as an oceanic climate (Do). Winters are cool to cold with light snow more common but heavy snow not uncommon, and summers are hot and humid. The district is in plant hardiness zone 8a near downtown, and zone 7b elsewhere in the city, indicating a humid subtropical climate.

Spring and fall are mild to warm, while winter is cool to cold with annual snowfall averaging 15.5 inches (39 cm).

Summers are hot and humid with a July daily average of 79.8 °F (26.6 °C) and average daily relative humidity around 66%, which can cause moderate personal discomfort. Heat indices regularly approach 100 °F (38 °C) at the height of summer. The combination of heat and humidity in the summer brings very frequent thunderstorms, some of which occasionally produce tornadoes in the area.

Blizzards affect Washington, on average, once every four to six years. The most violent storms are called "nor'easters", which often affect large sections of the East Coast. From January 27 to 28, 1922, the city officially received 28 inches (71 cm) of snowfall, the largest snowstorm since official measurements began in 1885. According to notes kept at the time, the city received between 30 and 36 inches (76 and 91 cm) from a snowstorm in January 1772.

Hurricanes (or their remnants) occasionally track through the area in late summer and early fall. However, they are often weak by the time they reach Washington, partly due to the city's inland location. Flooding of the Potomac River, however, caused by a combination of high tide, storm surge, and runoff, has been known to cause extensive property damage in the neighborhood of Georgetown.

Precipitation occurs throughout the year.

The highest recorded temperature was 106 °F (41 °C) on August 6, 1918, and on July 20, 1930. while the lowest recorded temperature was −15 °F (−26 °C) on February 11, 1899, right before the Great Blizzard of 1899. During a typical year, the city averages about 37 days at or above 90 °F (32 °C) and 64 nights at or below the freezing mark (32 °F or 0 °C). On average, the first day with a minimum at or below freezing is November 18 and the last day is March 27.

City Design

L'Enfant plan
L'Enfant's plan for Washington, D.C., as revised by Andrew Ellicott (1792)

Washington, D.C. was planned before it was built. Pierre L'Enfant drew a plan for the city that said where all the streets, parks, and important buildings would be. Unlike most U.S. cities, D.C. has many roundabouts or traffic circles. The city was supposed to have long and wide avenues, and many open spaces for monuments and parks. The National M

Representation

Local Government

Washington, D.C. is not a state, and its citizens have less control over their city than most Americans. While D.C. has an elected mayor and a city council since 1973, the U.S. Congress controls the local government and can overturn or get rid of any local laws. Congress and the people of D.C. often do not agree on what is best.

In Congress

The license plates on the cars in Washington D.C. say "Taxation Without Representation." This is a protest from people who live in Washington, D.C. about having to pay taxes to the United States without having a vote in the United States House of Representatives. It resembles the protest made by colonists before the American Revolution about having to pay taxes to England. Some people are against letting Washington, D.C. have a Congressman or Congresswoman because the Constitution only allows states to have Congressman or Congresswomen. Other people are against it because Washington, D.C. government is almost completely Democratic Party controlled.

Culture

Performing arts and music

Kennedy Center at Sunset
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is along the Potomac River.

Washington, D.C. is the center of the nation for its arts. The National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington National Opera, and the Washington Ballet are all inside the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Kennedy Center Honors are given every year to the people who have greatly helped the cultural life of the United States. The President and First Lady usually go to the Honors ceremony.

Infrastructure

Transportation

Blue Line train at Farragut West station, December 2019
A Blue Line train at Farragut West, an underground station on the Washington Metro

There are 1,500 miles (2,400 km) of streets, parkways, and avenues in the district. Due to the freeway revolts of the 1960s, much of the proposed interstate highway system through the middle of Washington was never built. Interstate 95 (I-95), the nation's major east coast highway, therefore bends around the district to form the eastern portion of the Capital Beltway. A portion of the proposed highway funding was directed to the region's public transportation infrastructure instead. The interstate highways that continue into Washington, including I-66 and I-395, both terminate shortly after entering the city.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) operates the Washington Metro, the city's rapid transit system, as well as Metrobus. Both systems serve the district and its suburbs. Metro opened on March 27, 1976, and, as of 2014, consists of 91 stations and 117 miles (188 km) of track. With an average of about one million trips each weekday, Metro is the second-busiest rapid transit system in the country. Metrobus serves more than 400,000 riders each weekday and is the nation's fifth-largest bus system. The city also operates its own DC Circulator bus system, which connects commercial areas within central Washington.

Union Station Washington DC
Washington Union Station is one of the busiest rail stations in the United States.

Union Station is the city's main train station and serves approximately 70,000 people each day. It is Amtrak's second-busiest station with 4.6 million passengers annually and is the southern terminus for the Northeast Corridor and Acela Express routes. Maryland's MARC and Virginia's VRE commuter trains and the Metrorail Red Line also provide service into Union Station. Following renovations in 2011, Union Station became Washington's primary intercity bus transit center.

Three major airports serve the district. The closest is Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which is about 5 miles from the city and is primarily reserved for domestic flights, but is the least busy in the region. The busiest by international flights is Washington Dulles International Airport located about 24 miles away from the city center, and the busiest by total passenger boardings is Baltimore/Washington International Airport, about 30 miles from the city. Each of these three airports also serves as a hub for a major American airline: Reagan is a small hub for American Airlines, Dulles is a major hub for United Airlines and Star Alliance partners, and BWI is a major focus city for Southwest Airlines.

2018-10-25 13 51 18 View west along Interstate 66 (Potomac River Freeway) from the overpass for Triangle Park-Virginia Avenue-New Hampshire Avenue-25th Street in Washington, D.C.
I-66 in Washington, D.C.

According to a 2010 study, Washington-area commuters spent 70 hours a year in traffic delays, which tied with Chicago for having the nation's worst road congestion. However, 37% of Washington-area commuters take public transportation to work, the second-highest rate in the country. An additional 12% of D.C. commuters walked to work, 6% carpooled, and 3% traveled by bicycle in 2010. A 2011 study by Walk Score found that Washington was the seventh-most walkable city in the country with 80% of residents living in neighborhoods that are not car dependent. In 2013, the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metropolitan statistical area (MSA) had the eighth lowest percentage of workers who commuted by private automobile (75.7 percent), with 8 percent of area workers traveling via rail transit.

An expected 32% increase in transit usage within the district by 2030 has spurred the construction of a new DC Streetcar system to interconnect the city's neighborhoods. An additional Metro line that will connect Washington to Dulles airport is expected to open by July 2021 at the earliest. The district is part of the regional Capital Bikeshare program. Started in 2010, it is one of the largest bicycle sharing systems in the country with more than 4,351 bicycles and more than 395 stations, all provided by PBSC Urban Solutions. By 2012, the city's network of marked bicycle lanes covered 56 miles (90 km) of streets.

Utilities

Flickr - USCapitol - Capitol Power Plant
The Capitol Power Plant, built to supply energy for the U.S. Capitol Complex, is under the jurisdiction of the Architect of the Capitol.

The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (i.e., WASA or D.C. Water) is an independent authority of the D.C. government that provides drinking water and wastewater collection in Washington. WASA purchases water from the historic Washington Aqueduct, which is operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. The water, sourced from the Potomac River, is treated and stored in the city's Dalecarlia, Georgetown, and McMillan reservoirs. The aqueduct provides drinking water for a total of 1.1 million people in the district and Virginia, including Arlington, Falls Church, and a portion of Fairfax County. The authority also provides sewage treatment services for an additional 1.6 million people in four surrounding Maryland and Virginia counties.

Pepco is the city's electric utility and services 793,000 customers in the district and suburban Maryland. An 1889 law prohibits overhead wires within much of the historic City of Washington. As a result, all power lines and telecommunication cables are located underground in downtown Washington, and traffic signals are placed at the edge of the street. A plan announced in 2013 would bury an additional 60 miles (97 km) of primary power lines throughout the district.

Washington Gas is the city's natural gas utility and serves more than a million customers in the district and its suburbs. Incorporated by Congress in 1848, the company installed the city's first gas lights in the Capitol, the White House, and along Pennsylvania Avenue.

Economy

See also (related categories): Category:Companies based in Washington, D.C. and Category:Non-profit organizations based in Washington, D.C.
Aerial view of Federal Triangle - facing west
Federal Triangle, between Constitution Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue. The U.S. federal government accounts for about 29% of D.C. jobs.

Washington has a growing, diversified economy with an increasing percentage of professional and business service jobs. The district's gross state product in 2018-Q2 was $141 billion. The Washington Metropolitan Area's gross product was $435 billion in 2014, making it the sixth-largest metropolitan economy in the United States. Between 2009 and 2016, GDP per capita in Washington has consistently ranked on the very top among U.S. states. In 2016, at $160,472, its GDP per capita is almost three times as high as that of Massachusetts, which was ranked second in the nation. As of 2011, the Washington Metropolitan Area had an unemployment rate of 6.2%; the second-lowest rate among the 49 largest metro areas in the nation. The District of Columbia itself had an unemployment rate of 9.8% during the same time period.

In December 2017, 25% of the employees in Washington, D.C., were employed by a federal governmental agency. This is thought to immunize Washington, D.C., to national economic downturns because the federal government continues operations even during recessions. Many organizations such as law firms, defense contractors, civilian contractors, nonprofit organizations, lobbying firms, trade unions, industry trade groups, and professional associations have their headquarters in or near Washington, D.C., in order to be close to the federal government. The city of Rosslyn, Virginia, located across the Potomac River from D.C., serves as a base of operations for several Fortune 500 companies, due to the building height restrictions in place within the District of Columbia. In 2018, Amazon announced they would build "HQ 2" in the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia.

Tourism is Washington's second-largest industry. Approximately 18.9 million visitors contributed an estimated $4.8 billion to the local economy in 2012. The district also hosts nearly 200 foreign embassies and international organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Pan American Health Organization. In 2008, the foreign diplomatic corps in Washington employed about 10,000 people and contributed an estimated $400 million annually to the local economy.

The district has growing industries not directly related to government, especially in the areas of education, finance, public policy, and scientific research. Georgetown University, George Washington University, Washington Hospital Center, Children's National Medical Center and Howard University are the top five non-government-related employers in the city as of 2009. According to statistics compiled in 2011, four of the largest 500 companies in the country were headquartered in the district. In the 2021 Global Financial Centres Index, Washington was ranked as having the 14th most competitive financial center in the world, and fourth most competitive in the United States (after New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles).

Demographics

Historical population
Census Pop.
1800 8,144
1810 15,471 90.0%
1820 23,336 50.8%
1830 30,261 29.7%
1840 33,745 11.5%
1850 51,687 53.2%
1860 75,080 45.3%
1870 131,700 75.4%
1880 177,624 34.9%
1890 230,392 29.7%
1900 278,718 21.0%
1910 331,069 18.8%
1920 437,571 32.2%
1930 486,869 11.3%
1940 663,091 36.2%
1950 802,178 21.0%
1960 763,956 −4.8%
1970 756,510 −1.0%
1980 638,333 −15.6%
1990 606,900 −4.9%
2000 572,059 −5.7%
2010 601,723 5.2%
2020 689,545 14.6%
Source: Note:
2010–2020
Demographic profile 2020 2010 1990 1970 1940
White 39.6% 38.5% 29.6% 27.7% 71.5%
 —Non-Hispanic whites 38.0% 34.8% 27.4% 26.5% 71.4%
Black or African American 41.4% 50.7% 65.8% 71.1% 28.2%
Hispanic or Latino (of any race) 11.3% 9.1% 5.4% 2.1% 0.1%
Asian 4.8% 3.5% 1.8% 0.6% 0.2%

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the district's population was 705,749 as of July 2019, an increase of more than 100,000 people compared to the 2010 United States Census. When measured on a decade-over-decade basis, this continues a growth trend since 2000, following a half-century of population decline. But on a year-over-year basis, the July 2019 census count shows a population decline of 16,000 individuals over the preceding 12-month period. Washington was the 24th most populous place in the United States as of 2010. According to data from 2010, commuters from the suburbs increase the district's daytime population to over a million. If the district were a state it would rank 49th in population, ahead of Vermont and Wyoming.

The Washington Metropolitan Area, which includes the district and surrounding suburbs, is the sixth-largest metropolitan area in the United States with an estimated six million residents in 2014. When the Washington area is included with Baltimore and its suburbs, the Baltimore–Washington Metropolitan Area had a population exceeding 9.8 million residents in 2020, the third-largest combined statistical area in the country.

According to 2017 Census Bureau data, the population of Washington, D.C., was 47.1% Black or African American, 45.1% White (36.8% non-Hispanic White), 4.3% Asian, 0.6% American Indian or Alaska Native, and 0.1% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. Individuals from two or more races made up 2.7% of the population. Hispanics of any race made up 11.0% of the district's population.

Race and ethnicity 2010- Washington, DC (5559893527)
Map of racial distribution in Washington, D.C., according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Each dot is 25 people: White, Black, Asian, Hispanic or Other (yellow)

Washington has had a significant African American population since the city's foundation. African American residents composed about 30% of the district's total population between 1800 and 1940. The black population reached a peak of 70% by 1970, but has since steadily declined due to many African Americans moving to the surrounding suburbs. Partly as a result of gentrification, there was a 31.4% increase in the non-Hispanic white population and an 11.5% decrease in the black population between 2000 and 2010. According to a study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, D.C. has experienced more "intense" gentrification than any other American city, with 40% of neighborhoods gentrified.

About 17% of D.C. residents were age 18 or younger in 2010, lower than the U.S. average of 24%. However, at 34 years old, the district had the lowest median age compared to the 50 states. As of 2010, there were an estimated 81,734 immigrants living in Washington, D.C. Major sources of immigration include El Salvador, Vietnam, and Ethiopia, with a concentration of Salvadorans in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood.

Researchers found that there were 4,822 same-sex couples in the District of Columbia in 2010, about 2% of total households. Legislation authorizing same-sex marriage passed in 2009, and the district began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in March 2010.

A 2007 report found that about a third of district residents were 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. As of 2011, 85% of D.C. residents age 5 and older spoke English at home as a primary language. Half of residents had at least a four-year college degree in 2006. In 2017, the median household income in D.C. was $77,649; also in 2017, D.C. residents had a personal income per capita of $50,832 (higher than any of the 50 states). However, 19% of residents were below the poverty level in 2005, higher than any state except Mississippi. In 2019, the poverty rate stood at 14.7%.

Of the district's population, 17% is Baptist, 13% is Catholic, 6% is evangelical Protestant, 4% is Methodist, 3% is Episcopalian/Anglican, 3% is Jewish, 2% is Eastern Orthodox, 1% is Pentecostal, 1% is Buddhist, 1% is Adventist, 1% is Lutheran, 1% is Muslim, 1% is Presbyterian, 1% is Mormon, and 1% is Hindu.

As of 2010, more than 90% of D.C. residents had health insurance coverage, the second-highest rate in the nation. This is due in part to city programs that help provide insurance to low-income individuals who do not qualify for other types of coverage. A 2009 report found that at least three percent of district residents have HIV or AIDS, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) characterizes as a "generalized and severe" epidemic.

Education

LOC Main Reading Room Highsmith
The Library of Congress is one of the world's largest libraries, with more than 167 million cataloged items.

District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) operates the city's 123 public schools. The number of students in DCPS steadily decreased for 39 years until 2009. In the 2010–11 school year, 46,191 students were enrolled in the public school system. DCPS has one of the highest-cost, yet lowest-performing school systems in the country, in terms of both infrastructure and student achievement. Mayor Adrian Fenty's administration made sweeping changes to the system by closing schools, replacing teachers, firing principals, and using private education firms to aid curriculum development.

The District of Columbia Public Charter School Board monitors the 52 public charter schools in the city. Due to the perceived problems with the traditional public school system, enrollment in public charter schools had by 2007 steadily increased. As of 2010, D.C., charter schools had a total enrollment of about 32,000, a 9% increase from the prior year. The district is also home to 92 private schools, which enrolled approximately 18,000 students in 2008. The District of Columbia Public Library operates 25 neighborhood locations including the landmark Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

Higher education

Georgetown Day
Georgetown Day at Georgetown University

Private universities include American University (AU), the Catholic University of America (CUA), Gallaudet University, George Washington University (GW), Georgetown University (GU), Howard University (HU), the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and Trinity Washington University. The Corcoran College of Art and Design, the oldest art school in the capital, was absorbed into the George Washington University in 2014, now serving as its college of arts.

The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) is a public land-grant university providing undergraduate and graduate education. D.C. residents may also be eligible for a grant of up to $10,000 per year to offset the cost of tuition at any public university in the country.

The district is known for its medical research institutions such as Washington Hospital Center and the Children's National Medical Center, as well as the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. In addition, the city is home to three medical schools and associated teaching hospitals at George Washington, Georgetown, and Howard universities.

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