DC is expensive. Like, $8 for a pre-cut cup of mango expensive. It is a melange of working class, yuppies, long-timers, and newbloods. Inequality is rampant.

In fact, DC has the most in-equal distribution of income of any state. Given this it might seem unnatural to have special empathy towards people who are highly educated and six figure earners.

To the contrary, I think there is a case to be made that $100,000 is not what it once was.

The median worker in the DC area earns about $55,600 dollars, which is a lot of money. However, middle class Americans are now responsible for their own retirement, and are more likely to be struck by lightning than to get a pension check in the mail. Social Security is 25% underfunded in the long run. Between these two factors, people who are too affluent to qualify for social programs must be ardent about filling their 401k, Individual Retirement Accounts, and Health Savings Accounts. The relative affluence of middle class people holds a lot less meaning if every year for a full working life one has to shovel ten to twenty thousand dollars away in hopes of surviving old age.

Millennials are also coping with a decade of housing shortage. Towns have made it illegal to build the amount of housing needed to cope with population growth over the last decade.¬† If you don’t already own a home, and don’t qualify for social housing, you are basically out of luck. Housing that is near jobs and opportunity will cost a lot, and those who want to access it will have to pay up. Even if it costs $2,000 a month for an apartment in good condition.

 

New housing units started in the 2010s-we are way short people! Credit: Len Kiefer

Lastly we need to think about healthcare. Even people who want to contribute by paying market rate insurance get dismal coverage that only kicks in after what can be a few months of pay as a deductible. Healthcare has transitioned from something you get when you are sick to a crisis that can bankrupt you at any second. Even without a heart attack, a night or two in the hospital can erase months of savings for someone, even with a six figure job.

Nobody would suggest that people earning six figures in America have it rough. But in many ways even the relatively affluent are just as vulnerable as the least among us. Conventional wisdom suggests that we should spend our efforts working for the poor, but this ignores the modern reality: the middle class is nearly as precarious as the truly poor.

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