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Washington’s Young Adults Are Better Paid, More Educated, and More Diverse Than the Rest of the Country’s

A new Census Bureau tool shows how the region's 18-to-34-year-olds are doing compared to their peers.

Washington-area residents between the ages of 18 and 34 are better paid, more likely to have a four-year college education, and more diverse than their peers around the rest of the United States, according to a Census Bureau report published Thursday. The report examines demographic trends affecting people born between 1980 and the mid-90s, or, as headline writers are inclined to call them, millennials.

The report, “Young Adults: Then and Now,” shows how incomes, living situations, marriage rates, and other identifying qualities changed for young adults between 2009 and 2013, compared to levels in previous decades. The data confirm again how Washington largely avoided the worst effects of the Great Recession. Nationally, young adults suffered—and are still suffering from—some of the worst effects of the economic downturn, while those living here fared relatively better, with a higher employment rate, lower poverty rate, and higher likelihood of not living with one’s parents.

The percentage of the Washington area’s population made up by young adults has remained flat since the 2000 census at 24.6 percent after dropping over the previous 20 years. But that should not suggest that the average age of the area’s residents is stablizing. The District’s 18-to-34-year-olds now account for 35 percent of its population, up from about 30 percent in 2000, while the suburbs are getting older.

Young adults in Washington earned a median annual salary of $47,830, compared to $33,883 nationally. Further underlining how much better Washington’s younger workers have it, their local median salaries increased from 2000 by a very modest 4 percent, while the national median annual income for 18-to-34-year-old workers dropped by 9 percent.

One factor in local young workers besting their peers’ earnings by nearly 40 percent is that they’re more likely to have four-year college degrees.

However, Washington’s young adults are not spared their generation’s disproportionately large unemployment rate. While the 71.3 percent of Washingtonians betwen 18 and 34 holding down a job is greater than the 65 percent nationally, it does not come close to aligning with a metropolitan area unemployment rate of just 5 percent.

Of Washington’s young adults with jobs, only 71.9 percent are driving or carpooling to them, well below the 84.5 percent national rate. After diminishing slightly between 1980 and 2000, reliance on public transportation or other non-automotive modes of commuting is climbing back up, although Metro has said recently that trend might be waning.

Despite being better paid and better educated than their national peers, slightly more of Washington’s young adults are living in poverty now than over the previous three decades. While the poverty rate in DC has remained flat since 2000, it’s becoming more common in the suburbs. A Pew study published in August found that since 1970, the poverty rate in Washington’s suburbs across all age groups leaped by 23.5 percent.

And Washington’s 18-to-34-year olds aren’t immune to one of the most visible symptoms of the Great Recession. Nearly 30 percent today still live with their parents, up nearly 8 percentage points from 2000, while only 8.4 percent live alone.

Besides income, Washington’s young adults are far ahead of the rest of the country in terms of diversity. More than 55 percent locally identify their race and ethnicity as something other than non-Hispanic white, compared with 42.8 percent of 18-to-34-year olds nationally. Nearly 26 percent of the region’s young adults were born in a foreign country, and 30.2 percent speak a language other than English at home.

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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.