The ever-expanding federal government is bringing new economic power to the nation's capital, leading one pundit to suggest that Washington has in fact become America's new Second City.
"The Washington, D.C., region has long been considered recession-proof, thanks to the remorseless expansion of the federal government in good times and bad," writes Aaron M. Renn, publisher of the urban policy website The Urbanophile.
"Yet it's only now, as D.C. booms while most of the country remains in economic doldrums, that the scale of Washington's prosperity is becoming clear."
While America's current and former Second Cities, population-wise — Los Angeles and Chicago — are "battered and fading in significance," he adds, "we're witnessing the start of Washington's emergence as America's new Second City."
During the decade 2001-2010, the Washington metropolitan area ranked fourth in population growth, behind only Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston, and now ranks as the nation's seventh most populous metro area, Renn discloses in an article for City Journal.
The metro area has 5.1 million residents, while the Federal District itself has 632,300, up from 572,000 in 2000.
Washington has the lowest unemployment rate among America's largest cities, and ranked second in job growth during that decade, behind only Houston.
Its per-capita GDP is the country's second highest, after the San Francisco Bay area, and its median household income is the highest of any metro area with more than 1 million people.
Seven of the 10 U.S. counties with the highest median income are in metro Washington.
One metro county, Prince George in Maryland, is more than 65 percent black, and its median household income of $70,700 makes it the highest-income majority-black county in America.
Other signs of Washington's emergence abound, Renn discloses. Thanks to the booming economy, the District of Columbia ended the 2011 fiscal year with a budget surplus of $240 million, and ended 2012 with a $140 million surplus. Washington has the nation's lowest office-vacancy rate and has been ranked among the three top cities for foreign investments, along with New York and London.
Companies headquartered in the D.C. metro area that have more than $5 billion in annual revenue include General Dynamics, Geico, Marriott International, and Lockheed Martin.
Total spending on lobbying in Washington rose from $1.6 billion in 2000 to $3.3 billion in 2011.
What's fueling all this growth is "the increasingly intrusive control of the federal government over American life," Renn writes.
"These days, about a third of the Washington-area economy depends on the federal government."
The capital's "ever-expanding regulatory state" has taken regulation to "new levels of intrusiveness," he adds. "Its quintessence is Obamacare, an annexation by the federal government of one-sixth of the American economy via 2,000 pages of byzantine legislation, not counting the thousands of pages of implementing regulations still to come."
Noting that Washington has a "legitimate claim" to be America's Second City, Renn concludes: "The region is prospering because it's becoming something that would have horrified the Founders: an imperial capital on the Potomac."