Opinion

Not sharing the wealth in D.C. | Rich Elfers

The last time I visited Washington D.C., was in the 1980s. On my most recent visit a few weeks ago, I was shocked by the changes that have occurred. New multi-story buildings abound. New national monuments and museums have been built. Money and prosperity have come to the nation’s capital while the rest of the nation has languished with a long-term recession.  Let’s find out why this is so.

Much of the increase in spending and building has come through American tax dollars focused on Washington, D.C. Young professionals pay $3,000 per month to rent apartments in the city. According to an article – which is the basis of this column – by Annie Lowrey of the NY Times Magazine, January 10, 2013,  “Since 2007, the regional economy has expanded about three times as much as the overall country’s. By some measures, the Washington area has become the richest region in the country.”

According to an expert on the region, Professor Stephen Fuller of nearby George Mason University, “We get about 15 cents of every procurement dollar spent by the federal government.” Local spending brought on by the War on Terrorism and the subsequent creation of Homeland Security, and fighting two foreign wars, greatly increased spending between 2000-10 where it reached $80 billion a year by that decade’s end.

This change in the way things were done began in the Reagan years when the shift in thinking was to decrease the size of the government. This resulted in many former jobs, once done by government employees, now being contracted out to private companies that often charged double the salaries of what government workers got. In 1993, President Bill Clinton announced the “reinventing government” program that cut about 250,000 government jobs.

The work still had to be done, though. Those jobs went to private employees who, according to  2011 report is Bad Business: Billions of Taxpayer Dollars Wasted on Hiring Contractors, got paid roughly twice as much as former government employees doing the same work. A computer IT engineer who worked for the government might get paid $135,000 per year had now been replaced by a private engineer who made $270,000 for the same service.

Thousands of young professionals poured into the city and the region. Walking the streets of Washington, D.C., as I recently did showed me this very clearly: there are lots of young, prosperous 20- and 30-somethings in “This Town” as it is called by the locals. The median age is 26. According to the NY Times article, D.C. has become a two-tiered town: about one third make less than $60,000 per year while 45 percent make $100,000 and more. There are few of what might be called middle class remaining.

It’s a sad state of affairs to see that not only has there been a shift of wealth from the middle class and poor to the top 1 percent, but also that our nation’s government should be shifting the wealth of the nation from the hinterlands to Washington, D.C.  So much for the small government philosophy. It seems like the trickle-down theory of funding the rich to increase jobs for those below them has now shifted to the “trickle to” Washington, D.C., theory where government is now the new conduit for increasing the wealth of a few in the nation’s capital at the expense of us taxpayers.

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