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Recession? Not in Washington, D.C. - Tom Purcell

I feel guilty about it, if you want to know the truth.

Patrice Hill, chief economic correspondent for The Washington Times, reports that while the down economy has caused the rest of America to struggle, Washington, D.C., is flourishing.

While America has lost 8.3 million jobs since the beginning of the recession, the Washington metropolitan region has lost only 35,000.

And by August 2009, not only were all 35,000 of those jobs recovered, but, says The Washington Post, 20,000 new ones were added -- and thousands more have been added since.

Thus, while the jobless rate hovers near 10 percent nationally, it's around 6 percent in D.C., the lowest unemployment rate among America's 49 largest metro areas.

When times are good in America, they're better in Washington, where coffers are flush with tax revenue.

When times are bad in America, they're better yet in Washington, where policymakers borrow and pass out billions.

That's why, says the Brookings Institution, D.C. has grown nearly 7 percent since the recession began in December 2007.

It's also why people and organizations are flocking to the region. Its population has been growing by about 100,000 a year.

Most Fortune 500 companies have a presence here, happily snapping up large government contracts of every kind.

Federal contracts, says Hill, pump $84 billion into the D.C. economy every year -- revenue that produces lots of good-paying, private-sector jobs, too.

Which is why I accepted a temporary assignment in the region.

In addition to writing this column, I contract out my writing and communication services. Unlike much of the rest of America, where work has slowed, business is brisk in D.C.

Shortly after I arrived, I was contacted by a headhunter to see if I was interested in another assignment with a large quasi-government agency that is receiving billions every month in taxpayer-funded bailout dough.

I told the headhunter I could never work for such an organization, but was curious about the salary. When he told me, I nearly fell off my wallet. It was an absurd amount of money. But then, a lot of things are absurd in the "land of milk and honey."

There are lots of people in D.C. who work in government jobs, who never have to worry about layoffs. The salaries are high -- not the low salaries that government workers used to be paid -- and the benefits are fabulous.

I have friends holding such government jobs. They are good, intelligent people and many of their jobs -- military, legal and so on -- are important jobs.

Still, I can understand many Americans' frustration with Washington. It is sheltered from the hard realities that most Americans face every day.

If a private-sector employee in middle America isn't producing tangible value, particularly in a down economy, he or she will be let go.

In the end, our nation's capital is ultimately a reflection of our nation's health. If America doesn't resume healthy growth, even Washington, D.C. will eventually suffer.

But for the moment, things are dandy in D.C. Employment is high. The restaurants are full. Few have a worry in the world.

For the moment, I'm riding out the down economy while enjoying a nice income -- income made possible, in part, by taxpayer funding and excessive government spending.

But, as I said, at least I feel guilty about it.

Tom Purcell, a freelance writer, is also a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. E-mail Tom at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.