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Do New Parents Tend To Flee D.C.? The Numbers Point To 'Yes'

Do baby feet send new parents running for the suburbs around D.C.? A new study says yes.
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Do baby feet send new parents running for the suburbs around D.C.? A new study says yes.

The claims have always been anecdotal, whispered among like-minded residents, but now the D.C. Chief Financial Officer has the numbers to prove that yes, once those residents become parents, they're more likely to leave the city than their counterparts who don't have kids.

In a study titled "D.C. Parenthood: Who Stay And Who Leaves?", two analysts in the CFO's office conclude that tax filings do show that the post-child migration from the city does indeed happen, most often among middle-income families who have children under the age of 4.

Looking at tax data from 2001 to 2012, analysts Ginger Moored and Lori Metcalf found that 80 percent of parents who had their first child between 2007 and 2011 stayed in the city for a year after their child was born, compared to 85 percent for other filers. But by the time their child turned 5, only 52 percent remained on tax records, compared to 60 percent for all other filers.

The percentage of residents who have kids and remain in D.C. three years after their child's births, broken down by income. Click to enlarge

Based on that data, they conclude that the toughest years for new parents to navigate were the first four of their child's life. After that, though, the chance of fleeing for the suburbs dropped.

"During the first year of their child's life, they exited at similar rates as other D.C. residents, but then they exited at greater rates until their child turned 4," they write. "After that, the exit rate dropped to near or below that of all residents."

Moored and Metcalf say that the out-migration is most pronounced among middle-income residents. According to city data, the departures in the period they studied were highest among residents making between $43,000 and $99,000 a year, and lower among residents above and below that scale.

So if you had your first child in 2009 and had a household salary of $71,000, for example, there would be close to a 50-50 chance that you'd be gone from D.C. within three years. But if you made less than $12,000 or upwards of $200,000, the odds of leaving decreased: Over 60 percent of parents in those groups remained in the city after three years.

And in what could be seen as a more damning conclusion, Moored and Metcalf say that exit rates have remained consistent from 2001 to 2012, the very period that D.C. started adding residents and kicked off an ambitious process of reforming and improving the city's troubled public schools.

Could that be seen as a critical judgement of the school reform process and its results — or lack thereof? Not necessarily, says one city official.

"When I was a kid here, parents did not send their kids to the school if they had any other option at all, and now we are seeing parents choose pre-K programs and beyond, and I think that’s very important," says D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large), the new chair of the Council's education committee.

Moored and Metcalf concede that while the exit rate for new parents has held steady over the last decade, it is also true that more residents are having kids — and, considering increasing enrollment in local public and public charter schools, keeping them here. Still, they say that the number of kids aged 5-14 is lower now than in the mid-2000s, while the number of kids from 0-5 is higher.

Grosso says that while it's important to continue improving the city's schools to convince those on-the-fence parents to stay, he also wants those new parents to give the city a chance.

"It’s a huge priority to try to get the quality of our schools up, so parents feel more comfortable, and to ask the parents that have children aged 0 to 4 and older to just give the principals a chance," he says.

"Go visit the schools, go meet the principals and the teachers, and see what it’s like. I think what you’ll find is that the past reputations of the schools have changed and that our schools are getting better by leaps and bounds, but it’s going to take an investment from the parents and from the government and from everyone to keep moving forward," he adds.

And in one final conclusion, Moored and Metcalf tracked where in the city residents who have kids and stayed in D.C. were likely to be before and after having kids. While they'd likely be in central neighborhoods like Adams Morgan and U Street before having kids, after they had their kids many were likely to move to Petworth, Brightwood Park, Capitol Hill, Kingman Park, and Trinidad.

Full disclosure: This reporter lives in D.C. and has a 15-month-old daughter.

D.C. Parenthood - Who Stays and Who Leaves by Martin Austermuhle

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