Academic journal article Policy Review

Black Flight: Years of Liberal Government Drives Away D.C.'S Middle Class

Academic journal article Policy Review

Black Flight: Years of Liberal Government Drives Away D.C.'S Middle Class

Article excerpt

Washington is a city of monuments. Its grandest and most expensive is a work still in progress, but nearing completion: the District of Columbia itself, which commemorates the ruin of American liberalism.

The D.C. government is bankrupt today because liberal policies have decimated its tax base. Washington is a hollow community of extreme rich and poor. Landlords and private employers have fled by the thousands, followed by nearly the entire middle class of taxpayers. Although Washington is the center of one of the most dynamic information-based economies in the U.S, it has a declining population and a growing number of people below the poverty line. This year, twice as many households as in 1988 lack phones. In no other laboratory of democracy has the liberal experiment taken such pure form. Nowhere else have the results been so damning.

The District is perhaps the most liberal city in America. Nine of every 10 registered voters are Democrats, and the Socialist Workers Party fields more candidates for local office than the Republican Party. Conceived at the high tide of American liberalism, the District government is a product of its times, more concerned with the rights of groups than with the responsibilities of individuals. Many of the original office holders, political activists with no experience in private enterprise, are still in power today. The results are tragic. Among all U.S. states, the District has the highest percapita murder and violent-crime rates, the highest percentage of residents on public assistance, the highestpaid school board, the lowest SAT scores, and the most single-parent families.

The political activists have built a government they can't afford. Although the city takes in an astounding $8,950 in revenue for every man, woman, and child in its jurisdiction (compared with $4,100 and $3,700 in nearby Maryland and Virginia, respectively), the District still manages to spend $1,000 more per person than it receives. The result is a budget deficit edging closer to $1 billion with each new audit.

The victims of this ferociously progressive government are not the wealthy and privileged, but the middle class and beleaguered. Today, in some parts of the city, it seems entire neighborhoods are for sale. In places like Shepherd Park, Lincoln Park, Marshall Heights--communities once redolent of African-American pride and history--there are lonely streets whose only splash of color appears on the real-estate signs that seem to sprout from every other garden plot.

At the end of one of these streets stands the Florida Avenue Grill. From behind the counter of the often-crowded restaurant, Lacey Wilson Jr. has seen the District of Columbia ebb and flow. These days, it's mostly ebbing. Back in 1944, when Wilson's father opened his soul-food restaurant on the corner of Florida Avenue and 11th Street, near the LeDroit Park section of Northwest Washington, the city was a thriving community of educated descendants of freed slaves, flourishing family businesses, and urban sophistication. It was also a magnet of opportunity for blacks seeking to escape rural poverty. At mid-century, wartime Washington offered stable, well-paying white-collar jobs in the federal bureaucracy. People came and put down roots.

Eighteen years ago, when Lacey Wilson Jr. began working at the Grill full time, the neighborhood brimmed with well-kept houses and children playing. Today, the Grill stands alone in an otherwise vacant lot. In the short time since the District was granted home rule in 1974, Washington has gone from promised land to no-man's-land. "Most of the families who lived here have moved out to Maryland," says Wilson, himself a refugee to "the peace and quiet" of suburban Virginia. Those who stayed in the neighborhood, according to Wilson, are trapped in houses that have lost 30 percent of their value in the last eight years.

Business used to be better, says Wilson. The vacant lot next door means more taxicabs can park at lunch time, but the crime that holds this city hostage each night has cut his after-dark dinner traffic by half. …

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