One of FiveThirtyEight’s great interactive features looks at voters in different groups (college educated whites, Hispanics, etc.) and their effect on the Electoral College. One part graphs each group and its prevalence in various states. This graph really stuck out for how unusual DC is:
The X axis here is how much people vote Democratic versus Republican. It’s no shocker that people in DC, regardless of race or education level, overwhelmingly vote for Democrats. That’s not especially relevant to this discussion. But the Y axis is how prevalent each group is in the electorate; this graph is saying that non-college-educated whites make up only 2% of DC’s electorate.
Now, when you graph DC against the 50 states, it often looks like an outlier since it’s far more urban than any state. Even so, that percentage of non-college-educated white voters is remarkably small. 2%???
Is that typical of other center cities? In a word, not at all. Here’s the percentage of non-Hispanic white residents over 251 who lack a college degree for select center cities (since New York City is big, I included both all of New York and just Manhattan2):
Graphs by the author with data from the Census’ 2012 5-year American Community Survey.
For DC, that’s 11%. That’s super low. Low is good — but it’s not low for all groups.
There’s a huge chasm between white and black when it comes to education
DC’s high level of education among its white residents does not translate to African-Americans. Here is the proportions of whites and blacks without a college education in the same center cities:
These numbers are heart-breakingly high in all the cities. African-Americans, especially in center cities, lack educational opportunities at a tragic rate, perpetuating cycles of generational poverty that America has trapped them in for the nation’s entire history (cf. slavery, Jim Crow, racial covenants, redlining, etc.)
To be sure, as in other center cities, DC has a significant black middle and professional class who have access to good jobs. But while most cities have some blacks with opportunity and (more) blacks without, and whites with and (fewer) without, in DC, that fourth category is basically absent.
No major center city does much better on black education levels. San Jose is a little lower, but not much, and its population is only 3.07% black. Does the racial makeup of a city seem to correlate with education levels? Not really:
What about in our region?
This effect isn’t the same outside center cities. Here are the same graphs for major jurisdictions in our region2:
Again, DC has the widest gap between black and white, but Arlington isn’t far behind (while being far whiter). Howard and Loudoun have the lowest percentage of black residents without bachelor’s degrees; Loudoun is only 7% black, but Howard is a somewhat more respectable 17%.
Still, as the scatter plot here shows (and which won’t be much surprise to many of you), there are really only three counties in the region with large black populations, and they’re geographically adjacent.
The two besides DC — Prince George’s and Charles — have little difference in the educational attainment level between blacks and whites (and same for the least diverse county in this list, Frederick). In DC, there’s a great gulf.
If you want to play with the data, you can download the Census tables for white, black, and total population for the selected cities; and white, black, and total population for regional jurisdictions.
What do you notice?
2 Aka New York County, NY.
3 Sorry, small independent cities of Northern Virginia; in this analysis, you’re not different enough from your adjacent counties to warrant inclusion.