The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
May 9, 2017

What could Trump’s budget cuts mean for DC’s federal workers?

With 25 percent of all jobs in the District within the federal government, President Trump’s proposed cuts to the federal workforce will have a disproportionate impact on the city’s employment and residents.

Under Trump’s proposed budget, the Washington region will lose an estimated 20,000 to 24,600 federal jobs, and 60 to 70 percent of these estimated job losses (14,000 to 15,000) will occur within the District’s borders.

According to analyses of the 2015 American Community Survey, conducted in coordination with Urban Institute's Washington, DC, Research Initiative, approximately 67,500 federal workers reside in the District, accounting for 18 percent of the city’s workforce. But even though the whole city would feel the impact of federal job losses, we estimate certain communities would be harder hit. 

Who are DC’s federal workers?

Federal workers who live in DC are older, have higher income, and are more likely to be white than the average worker living in the District.

The impact of federal job losses would be substantially greater than suggested by the number of lost jobs alone. At $90,000, the median yearly income for DC’s federal workers is 58 percent more than the $57,000 median personal income for all DC workers. Nearly half (48 percent) have personal income exceeding $90,000 a year, compared with 27 percent of all workers in DC. Losing these high-income workers would have ripple effects on the economy in the greater Washington area.

At the other end of the spectrum, 30 percent of all workers in DC earn less than $30,000 a year, compared with only 8 percent of federal workers.

personal earned income for federal versus all workers in DC

How does it break down by race?

Fifty-five percent of white federal workers in DC earn over $90,000 a year, compared with only 33 percent of black and 43 percent of Hispanic federal workers.

For household income, this racial disparity grows wider—19 percent of white federal workers live in households with total income of less than $100,000 a year, compared with 50 percent of black and 35 percent of Hispanic households with a federal worker. Therefore, the impact of lost federal jobs on black families is likely to be greater despite their lower average salary.

Also, black federal workers tend to be older than white and Hispanic federal workers. Given these income disparities, age is probably not equated with seniority among black federal workers, which may work against them in finding a new job.

That said, white DC residents are disproportionately likely to be affected by federal job losses. Federal workers living in DC are more likely to be white—55 percent compared with 45 percent for all workers living in DC. Thirty-seven percent of all workers in DC are black, compared with 29 percent of federal workers who live in DC.

What about gender?

Although the overall gender composition of DC’s federal workforce mirrors the city as a whole, 61 percent of DC’s black federal workers are women while most white (54 percent) and Hispanic (56 percent) federal workers are men.

Male federal workers in DC also have dramatically higher personal earnings—77 percent of men earn more than $60,000, compared with 64 percent of women.

What’s next?

In the face of impending federal job losses in the District, policymakers, workforce development agencies, and employers need to examine current and projected employment growth in DC outside the federal government, with a focus on jobs most suitable for former federal workers, given their current income, educational attainment, and age.

Delving into the wages, educational requirements, work experience, and on-the-job training requirements for the jobs expected to grow may also help federal workers in DC determine whether they have skills deficits that need to be addressed or whether they are ready to move into new occupations and industries.

Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images.

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As an organization, the Urban Institute does not take positions on issues. Experts are independent and empowered to share their evidence-based views and recommendations shaped by research.