News & Politics

Less Than Half of Washington Residents Are Actually From Washington, Census Data Shows

Most people living in DC, Virginia, and Maryland are from other places, especially New York.

Excelsior! New Yorkers (whose state flag is pictured here) make up 4 percent of DC's population.

The “native Washingtonian” appellation carries a lot of totemic power to some District residents, and for good measure. People to whom that term applies have accounted for less than half the city’s population going back to at least 1900. According to Census Bureau data sifted through by the New York Times, 43 percent of DC’s 278,718 residents at the turn of the 20th century were born here. In 2012—with the District’s population eclipsing 632,000—that percentage fell to 37 percent.

The broad data befit Washington’s reputation as a largely transient city, but the Times’s report also digs into microdata that show where everyone else came from. And unlike most states, DC’s transplants aren’t led by people from just over the nearest state lines. Of District dwellers today, 5 percent—including, full disclosure, the one writing this post—are native New Yorkers. Maryland and Virginia are next, each representing 4 percent of the current population, while California, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina all claim 3 percent of the city’s residents. And 16 percent come from outside the United States.

Only Nevada and Florida have smaller percentages of native-born residents, though DC is hardly the retirement destination those two states are. (However, like the District, Florida’s biggest segment of transplants also comes from New York.)

The District’s Beltway-hugging neighbors also have more than half their populations come from somewhere else. Virginia, where 51 percent of the population comes from out of state, also appears to be a favored destination for ex-New Yorkers, who now make up 4 percent of the Commonwealth. Overall, 18 percent of the newcomers are federal employees.

In Maryland, where 52 percent of current residents moved from elsewhere, DC has been the leading source of new people since 1970. Native Washingtonians account for 9 percent of Maryland dwellers going back to the 2000 census; that figure peaked at 10 percent in 1990. Pennsylvania and New York are next, claiming 4 percent of the state’s population. Like the rest of the region, federal jobs are the biggest incentive to move, with 17 percent of non-native Marylanders working for the government, according to the Times’s analysis.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.