The Washington, D.C. economy is moving through the second half of 2012 in fairly good shape. Although the signs of the past recession are still evident, the city has gotten high marks from some unlikely quarters, at least as far as rating metropolitan areas go. “Today, seven years after the Montreal Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals, they have surprised the prognosticators with, as of Friday, the second-best record in baseball, behind only the Cincinnati Reds,” according to The New York Times. This source identified the baseball team’s rise with the rise of the city’s fortunes. “Washington may have the healthiest economy of any major metropolitan area in the country,” according to the Times. “Downtown Washington is full of cranes building City Center D.C.—a mix of apartments, stores, offices and a park scheduled to open next summer.” The District of Columbia has received more stimulus dollars per capita than any state, The New York Times reports, citing a study by Pro Publica.
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), total non-farm employment in the District grew by 6,600 jobs (0.9%) from May 2011 to May 2012. This is a modest increase and D.C has certainly seen larger year-over-year increases. The BLS covers the surrounding suburbs as the greater Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) and reports that this region saw non-farm employment grow by 39,500 jobs (1.3%) in the May-to-May time span. For the District, overall Government employment fell by 3,100 jobs (1.3%). For the MSA, Government employment increased by 3,000 jobs (0.4%).
With such a large concentration of Government employment, any changes in federal policies loom large in the economy of both the District and the MSA. Thus, the Washington Business Journal reported earlier this year, “Federal Cuts to reshape D.C-area Economy.” This source quoted Stephen Fuller, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis, who pointed out that “without even considering the $1.2 trillion in federal cuts scheduled to kick in January 2013—called sequestration—those numbers will dip, with the federal government driving only 36.6% of the economy by 2015. Of that, procurement—which funneled $862 billion into the region between 1980 and 2010—will account for 17.4% of the Washington-area economy,” Fuller said. But even the prospect of federal cuts has not affected D.C.’s standing. “For the second year in a row, the Washington DC metropolitan area ranked as the strongest local economy in the United States in POLICOM’s annual ‘economic strength’ rankings,” POLICOM stated in late May and announced via PR Newswire.com. POLICOM annually ranks the 366 Metropolitan Statistical Areas and 576 Micropolitan Statistical Areas in the United States for “economic strength.” Notably, private sector employment has been active in both the District and the MSA. For Washington, D.C., total Private employment grew by 9,700 jobs (2.0%) in the 12 months ending May 2012, while Private employment in the MSA as a whole was up 36,500 jobs (1.6%).
Employment Services, which includes temporary employment agencies, is often considered a bellwether sector in that it indicates that companies are doing some hiring even in a questionable economy, shows strength. District employment for this sector was up 1,200 jobs (8.8%), while the MSA as a whole saw a decrease of 600 jobs (1.5%). Construction and related sector employment is up in D.C., where BLS data indicate an increase of 1,100 jobs (9.2%) in the 12 months ending in May 2012, and 5,800 jobs (4.1%) for the MSA. For the service sectors, the BLS reports the Leisure and Hospitality sector saw a year-over-year increase of 2,500 (4.0%) jobs in May 2012 for the District and 10,900 (4.0%) for the MSA.
No report on D.C. is complete without a look at the lobbying industry, covered as Business and Professional Organizations by the BLS. This industry saw employment increase by a modest 600 jobs (2.3%) in D.C. Professional and Business Services employment actually fell by 100 jobs (0.1%). On the public side, the substantially government-funded Education and Health Services sector saw employment increase by 4,100 jobs (3.6%) in D.C. and 12,100 jobs (3.3%) in the MSA.