Census study shows educated, high-earning millennials want to live near transit

By David Pendered

It may seem like old news in metro Atlanta, but a new demographic study of Washington, D.C. by the U.S. Census Bureau has determined that well-educated, high-earning young people disproportionately reside near a transit rail stop.

Homes near Washington Metro

A Census study shows that rail stops in Washington, D.C. attract to nearby homes a high proportion of college-educated millennials who are highly paid. Credit: postlets.com

This report could find its way into the debate in Fulton County over a possible sales tax for transportation. Elected officials are considering if MARTA should receive any of a possible 1 percent sales tax for transportation in order to expand the rail system.

Economic development could become a larger part of the sales tax discussion. If it does, transit advocates may point to this Census study to contend that MARTA should be expanded in order to attract good jobs and a well-educated workforce.

The Census study is contained to one geographic area – Washington, D.C. and five surrounding counties. It doesn’t extrapolate the findings to other regions. The report was released in December 2015.

The results could not be more decisive. And it didn’t matter if the rail stop were in an urban or a suburban neighborhood.

“In both cases, young and highly educated workers disproportionately reside near rail,” the study noted in its conclusion.

In both geographies, about 40 percent of workers who lived within a half-mile of a rail stop were between the ages of 25 years and 34 years. In neighborhoods farther from a rail stop, workers were distributed more evenly across age groups, especially in the suburbs.

DC bicycle station

The rate of workers who ride a bike at least part way to work has doubled in Washington, D.C., as the transit system has provided bike storage areas. Credit: 2mstreet.com

College graduates account for almost 75 percent of all residents in neighborhoods within a half-mile of a rail stop. This is significantly higher than the region-wide rate of 55 percent of residents over age 25 with at least a bachelor’s degree.

The cohort of college grads grew by 10 percent in the city of Washington between two time periods that were studied – 2006-2008, and 2011-2013.

In terms of earnings, almost a quarter of workers who reside near a rail stop earned at least $100,000 a year. Again, this finding was the same in both rural and urban neighborhoods.

In terms of who’s moving into neighborhoods near a rail stop, the Census study determined workers who had moved into the region from elsewhere during the past year favored rail-accessible neighborhoods. The rate was slightly higher for recent movers into the suburbs. For Washington, the rate of recent movers near a rail stop was 25 percent of the area’s residents. For the five surrounding counties, the rate was 28 percent.

Households without children account for more than three-quarters of all households located near a rail stop in both the city and suburbs. The rate was 84.1 percent in Washington and 79.1 percent in the five counties.

WMATA map

The Census study examined demographic patterns within a half-mile of rail stops. Credit: wmata.com

Children were more likely in households in areas farther from a rail stop. The rate of no children in a household farther from a rail stop in Washington was 75 percent, and 61.9 percent in the five counties.

The proportion of black workers decreased over time in neighborhoods near a rail stop. The proportion of black/not Hispanic fell by almost 9 percent in Washington, to 24.1 percent. It fell by just over 2 percent in the suburbs, to 13.6 percent. The proportion of other groups either increased or didn’t change significantly.

To put this in context, the city’s black population declined from 60 to 48.8 percent between 2000 and 2013. The city’s white population increased from 30.8 to 40.9 percent during the period.

Of note, the paper did not mention the number of new homes that may have been built between the two periods the study examined. It could be that new apartments were built and became home to the young, affluent recent-movers to the neighborhood.

This is part of the explanation the paper provides:

  • “Between study periods, the proportion of white workers in rail-accessible neighborhoods in Washington, DC increased by about 6 percentage points, from 50.3 percent to 56.0 percent. This trend is consistent with findings from a recent study showing white population growth in large cities between 2010 and 2014, after decades of white population loss. When comparing Washington, DC to the five-county area that surrounds it, rail-accessible neighborhoods show more racial and ethnic similarities than do neighborhoods without rail access.”
WMATA bike to metro

Transit police in Washington, D.C. provide a free bicycle registration service to help identify and recover stolen bicycles. Credit: wmata.com

When it comes to the mode of commuting, workers who reside near a rail stop are more likely to commute by transit than workers who live farther than a half-mile from a stop. This category did show a difference based on whether the worker lived in the city or a suburb.

Some 42 percent of city residents who reside near a rail stop ride transit to work; 25 percent drive alone to work. Among workers who reside in a suburb, almost 35 percent take transit and almost 47 percent of them drive alone to work.

The rate of riding a bike at least part way to work nearly doubled between the two time periods that were studied. Bicycling rose from 2.4 percent to 4.6 percent. The study noted that the bike sharing program is expanding, and a growing number of bicycle docks are located near stations.

Metro Atlanta and metro Washington share similarities in demographic profiles that have evolved over the past decade.

Poverty has grown from the urban core into once-affluent suburbs. The population in the central city is growing. The white population in the urban core is increasing. Edge cities offer their own mix of homes and commercial centers.

In regards to bicycle sharing systems, Washington has one of the nation’s largest and Atlanta is fostering a nascent system.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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