Friday, June 19, 2015
Media Source: 
Washington Post (DC)
Glenn Kessler

“This morning I was in Washington, Iowa. Washington, Iowa, is a little different than Washington, D.C. It’s pretty, the people there are hard-working, they don’t think that they’re the masters of people. It’s not the most prosperous place in the world, in the United States. Sadly, Washington, D.C., is. I don’t know if you know this — Washington, D.C., has the highest per capita income in the United States. Washington, D.C., has average home values of $800,000. Washington, D.C., doesn’t have unemployment. Washington, D.C., has federal workers making significantly more than the private sector workers for lifetime jobs. Washington truly believes that it is the master of us, rather than its servant. And the next president of the United States needs to reverse that trend and put it back where it should be which is our servant focused on doing fewer things, but doing them much, much better.”

— Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R), speaking in Pella, Iowa, June 17, 2015

It is a time-honored tradition for politicians to attack Washington, D.C. But they need to get their facts straight when they do so. So how does Bush fare with four of the factoid he tossed out in a speech to voters in Iowa, as he tried to make the case that the District is the ‘most prosperous place’ in the United States?

The Facts

‘Washington, D.C. has the highest per capita income in the United States’

This claim struck us as a little odd, given that a number of metro areas generally are often ranked higher than the Washington, D.C., area. The Bureau of Economic Analysis, a unit of the Commerce Department, says the Washington D.C., metro area ranks 10th, with a per capita personal income of $73,461 in 2013.

By contrast, Midland, Tex. ranks the highest, with income of $129,193, followed by cities such as San Jose, ($100,115), Bridgeport ($93,404), San Francisco (78,844), Seattle ($74,701) and Boston ($74,701). So the D.C. area is certainly near the top — the per capita figure for all 381 metro areas is $52,093 — but not the “highest,” as Bush claimed.

The Bush campaign, however, pointed to other BEA data at the state level, which at first glance appears to show the “District of Columbia” with a 2014 per capita income of $76,532, higher than the state of Connecticut, with $62,467. But the District is not a state, and BEA officials note that this table includes the District but does not rank it. Connecticut is ranked as number 1. So it’s incorrect for the Bush campaign to claim that this table shows that Washington, D.C., has the highest per capita income in the United States.

The District’s per capita income simply should not be measured against other states; it’s a city.

‘Washington, D.C., has average home values of $800,000’

The key word here is “average.” The Bush campaign pointed to a 2014 article quoting the D.C. chief financial officer as saying the average price will hit $813,600 in 2015. But a more recent 2015 forecast shows that the average price was $736,400 in 2014 and is projected to be $771,200 in 2015.

The median price, according to the article, is around $600,000. Zillow pegs the median price at nearly $500,000.  (The median is the middle value, with an equal number of data values larger and smaller.)

So D.C. house prices are high, but not quite as high as Bush claimed.

‘Washington, D.C., doesn’t have unemployment’

This is a strange quote when talking about a city with a 7.5 percent unemployment rate (compared to Iowa’s 3.8 percent.) A Bush spokesman explained that “the point the Governor is trying to make is that D.C. is a boomtown where many more people are moving to find jobs off of Government largess.” He noted from December 2007 (when the Great Recession started) to today, the District has had a 9 percent increase in the number of nonfarm employees, compared to 2 percent for the entire United States, according to the Bureau of labor Statistics.

Okay, so Bush misspoke. We don’t try to play gotcha here at The Fact Checker. But if Bush is talking about people with jobs in the federal government, then he’s looking at the wrong set of data. The growth of federal jobs in this period was just about 8,000, or 4 percent, the BLS says. The real growth in jobs – about 63,000, or nearly 14 percent – came in private industry.

‘Washington, D.C., has federal workers making significantly more than the private sector workers for lifetime jobs’

This is where Bush is on the strongest ground. His campaign cites a 2012 Congressional Budget Office report that estimated that “on average for workers at all levels of education, the cost of hourly benefits was 48 percent higher for federal civilian employees than for private-sector employees with certain similar observable characteristics.”

If benefits are included, “overall, the federal government paid 16 percent more in total compensation than it would have if average compensation had been comparable with that in the private sector, after accounting for certain observable characteristics of workers.”

Workers with professional degrees tend to earn about 23 percent less than their private-sector counterparts, but they make up only 7 percent of federal workers, CBO said. Workers with bachelor’s degrees tended to earn about the same as private sector workers, but workers with no more than a high school degree tended to earn about 21 percent more, on average.

The Pinocchio Test

Bush would have done better if he had not gotten off-track with some of his specifics. The Washington area does have one of the highest per capita income levels, but not the highest. Meanwhile, the District has a relatively high unemployment rate, while the growth in jobs has been in the private sector, not in the federal government. He’s right that home prices are high, if not quite $800,000. And the CBO confirms that federal salaries are much higher, on average, compared to private-sector workers.

Overall, Bush earns Two Pinocchios.