How The Growth Of 'super Zips' Is Transforming Washington (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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How the Growth of 'Super Zips' is Transforming Washington

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. This week, we're talking about wealth in the Washington region. And as we've been discovering throughout today's show, the nation's capital is a fascinating place when it comes to wealth. Because money wise, there isn't just one Washington. Statistics show the region has an extremely high rate of the poorest of the poor. But they also show...

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:30
All right, we're standing at the corner of 9th and F Northwest.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:33
Washington has an extremely high rate...

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:36
There's a little bit of street work being done. You might here that sound in the background.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:40
Of the richest of the rich.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:41
So, apparently, here on F Street Northwest, between 9th and 10th, we are in what's known as a super zip.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:48
Super Zip. You've no doubt heard that term bandied about. Not too long ago, The Washington Post featured this colorful map of all the nation's Super Zips. And you don't have to look too closely to see that a massive cluster of these zips are right here in the D.C. region, including the Penn Quarter neighborhood, or zip code 20004. There's this newish condo building on F Street, where units can go for nearly a million and a half dollars. And that's where I recently met up with the man who coined the term, "Super Zips." Charles Murray.

MR. CHARLES MURRAY

00:01:15
I'm Charles Murray. I'm a scholar of the American Enterprise Institute.

SHEIR

00:01:19
That's a non-partisan think tank here in D.C.

MURRAY

00:01:21
And I recently wrote a book about Super Zips.

SHEIR

00:01:23
That's "Coming Apart." Murray's other books include "Human Accomplishment," "Real Education," and the 1994 New York Times bestseller, "The Bell Curve." But, back to this whole Super Zip thing, what exactly is a Super Zip? Well, let's say you take all the zip codes in America, as Charles Murray did.

MURRAY

00:01:40
And I had an index of the percentage of people without college degrees and the average income.

SHEIR

00:01:45
And then you rank all these zip codes, as Charles Murray did.

MURRAY

00:01:48
The top five percent, I call Super Zips.

SHEIR

00:01:51
So, we're talking zip codes where people are...

MURRAY

00:01:54
Very affluent, very well educated.

SHEIR

00:01:56
Do the math and that means they have a median household income of 120,000 dollars, and seven out of every 10 adults have a college degree. Here in the D.C. metropolitan area, more than a third of zips would be considered super. And as Charles Murray points out, many of them are contiguous.

MURRAY

00:02:13
You got northwest Washington, McLean, Virginia, Bethesda, Chevy Chase. You take those areas alone, and look up the home addresses of the people who run this city. They are within about 13 zip codes. And Rebecca, of those 13 zip codes, 11 of them are not only in the 99th percentile of this index, 11 of them are in the top half of the top percentile.

SHEIR

00:02:39
So, why is it that the Washington region has such a high concentration of these Super Zips?

MURRAY

00:02:44
Washington has accumulated this huge, and by huge I mean more than a million people in contiguous Super Zips. This huge cluster of Super Zips because Washington is where the action is. Not just for politics, but for corporate America. 40, 50 years ago, there were hardly any corporations that even had an office in Washington, D.C. Since then, there are lots of ways that the bottom line of corporations are affected by what happens in Washington, and as a result, you have a whole lot of people brought in here, very well educated, very smart, very capable, to deal with the federal government on behalf of a whole lot of different kinds of organizations in the rest of America.

SHEIR

00:03:25
You mentioned earlier, people in Super Zips perhaps being isolated on the western side of Washington, both within the city proper and in the suburbs. What are the practical implications of that extreme concentration of wealth?

MURRAY

00:03:35
The practical implications, for one, are the children who grow up in that concentrated area of wealth, go to school with kids who are pretty much exactly like them. I don't mean ethnically. On the west side of Washington, you have all kinds of ethnicities from all around the world. Lots of diversity there. Not much diversity in their socio-economic status. They go from K-12 in that kind of environment, and those same kids from western Washington then go to good schools, also filled with people like them.

MURRAY

00:04:06
They get internships at places like the American Enterprise Institute or the Brookings Institution. They could go all the way from childhood to career without ever moving outside the bubble.

SHEIR

00:04:17
What you're talking about now actually reminds me of something you wrote in the Wall Street Journal last year, about how America is coming apart. And I think about our region and sort of the inequality that's talked about. Are you talking about income inequality?

MURRAY

00:04:28
Actually, I don't think income inequality is the problem. I think cultural inequality is the problem, and I don't think reducing income inequality is going to do a thing to bring us back together again culturally. Of all the bubbles in the country, I think the one in Washington is, in many ways, the most removed. Because, at least, if you're in the bubble in New York City, you're in the midst of a city which is engaged with the ordinary American economy.

MURRAY

00:04:56
In Washington, D.C., it's this public policy, government centered thing, which, you know what, is really weirdly different from cities anywhere else in the country.

SHEIR

00:05:08
So where do you think we'll be in 20 years, in Washington, in terms of our concentration of Super Zips and this inequality you talk about?

MURRAY

00:05:15
Well, when I'm being pessimistic about it, I say it'll be much, much worse. Look, where we are standing right now was virtually a slum 30, 40 years ago. Now, it is the belly of the beast, in terms of this new elite I'm talking about. Well, suppose that continues, it's worse than a European kind of class structure. I think it's more like an aristocratic one, where there will be a set of people who are second and third and fourth generation elite, who will take on some of the characteristics of a cast.

MURRAY

00:05:52
When I'm being optimistic, I think about when I give speeches on this, I get reactions from, especially parents in the room, when I say, to what extent are your children being systematically deprived of the kinds of experiences that make you who you are? Cause a lot of times, I'm talking to very successful people who did grow up in small towns, working class. And I get nods. I get people saying, this is correct. We are raising our children as hothouse flowers. We ought to do something about it.

MURRAY

00:06:22
And so, in my optimistic moods, I think the idea of getting out of the bubble is one whose time may have come.

SHEIR

00:06:32
Charles Murray is a scholar with The American Enterprise Institute. His most recent book is "Coming Apart." To see the Washington area's Super Zip cluster for yourself, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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