Take a look at the picture to the left and guess what city that is before you continue reading; you can also click on the image to enlarge it.
One of the clichés that Germans have about the US was recently included in a collection of typical German clichés at Die Zeit: "Man muss nur einen Tag durch Washington laufen, um zu wissen, wie wichtig der Sozialstaat ist" (you only have to walk through Washington for a day to know how important the welfare state is.)
Last week, I had the privilege of walking through Washington DC for four days, and I was very impressed with the city, perhaps because Germans had prepped me to expect so much poverty. In fact, the city was quite beautiful in the fall, and the area around the Mall -- where you can walk for some 45 minutes from the Capitol building to the Lincoln Memorial past the Washington Monument and the World War II monument -- is a wonderful place to visit. It is also a wonderful place for locals, many of whom use the area to go jogging in. I cannot imagine a nicer place to go jogging regularly.
Further to the north, the actual city begins, and every street all the way up to P Street looks very much like it is part of a clean, modern city: tall (5 to 10 story) office buildings made of glass and stone, with shops on the ground floor. Around P Street, the city becomes more residential, and the picture I took above, which could easily have been somewhere in Britain, was actually right off of DuPont Circle.
Granted, it wasn't hard to find places of greater poverty, such as towards the eastern side of town, where my hotel was. And even though I saw a good half of the city, I still may not have discovered the worst areas -- which also means you cannot stumble upon them in a single day. In the other picture to the left, which was taken in a neighborhood that was beginning to show some blight, the street doesn't look that bad at all -- I'm sure any number of New Orleanians would love to have that kind of housing.
In short, I have no idea what the Germans are talking about when they say that Washington DC is the best example of why we need the welfare state. I found it to be a truly enticing city -- one of the few cities in the US I would like to live in, especially if the city gave its citizens proper welfare, health care, schools, and energy policies.