You’ve probably heard the arguments for working in DC policy. Basically, the US government has lots of power and money, and it’s possible to get into influential roles surprisingly quickly. But many in the EA community have a negative view of the quality of life of a DC policymaker: the hours are long; the policy wins are big but rare; the pay is terrible; the bureaucracy is even worse; and you can’t wear jeans to work. Doing policy work in DC is sometimes framed as a noble sacrifice that EAs make in order to have a higher impact.
In the run-up to EAG DC, I want to offer some reasons that DC is not only a great place from an impact perspective, but also a really nice place to live (for a certain sort of person). I think these selfish factors matter quite a bit for whether a career in the federal government is going to be sustainable for you over the long term. Note: I’m deliberately including some items on this list that will sound terrible to some readers, as long as they’re perks from my perspective.
- The EA community in DC rocks. This honestly bears like 90% of the weight for me (and probably most EAs in DC). I’ve found the DC EA community to be by far the most warm and welcoming of any EA community I’ve encountered. One possible reason is that EAs who decide to come to DC are self-selected for being more extroverted than the median EA. There’s also a strong culture of networking and making introductions in DC, which makes it easier to get integrated quickly.
- DC is beautiful. DC has tons of parks (the most of any major US city?), lots of beautiful architecture and lots of interesting trails to explore. It’s a particularly great place for runners and bikers – you can feel like you’re out in nature pretty quickly on a regular basis without needing to actually leave the city.
- The dating market is good. I haven’t been on the market while living in DC, but friends tell me there’s an abundance of young, fit, single, highly-educated, socially skilled, do-gooding people in the area.
- Non-EAs living in DC tend to be pretty impact-oriented and ambitious. It’s not uncommon for my non-EA peers in DC to be really excited about the work they’re doing and enjoy talking about their ambitions for impacting the world.
- It’s not huge. Most places and people I want to visit in DC are at most 30 minutes away. In fact, much of the EA community in DC is very concentrated in just a couple neighborhoods. If you live in one of those places, you’ll live within walking distance of lots of cool people. And because DC is beautiful (see point 2), the walks are pleasant.
- The food scene is great, especially for veg*ns. I honestly don’t care much about food, but I hear that DC’s restaurants are actually a huge draw for my foodie friends, particularly vegans and vegetarians. I’ve definitely appreciated the abundance of really high-quality and relatively affordable “fast casual” vegan-friendly spots around DC.
- Free museums! The Smithsonian museums are awesome, and it’s pretty great to be able to walk in any day of the week without paying anything. Lots of free activities make it easier to live on the modest salaries of early policy jobs.
- DC is cool. Alright, maybe only according to me. But I think between the grand architecture, the security clearances, proximity to the “halls of power,” and wearing suits all the time, my life in DC is just a lot cooler than it was in other cities. Movies like “All the President’s Men” and “The Report” convey some of the coolness of DC.
- You don’t have to work in government. This isn’t exactly a benefit — more of a PSA: it’s not crazy to move to DC, even if you don’t see yourself having a long career in government. It could still make sense to come to DC and work on policy issues from the outside. Jobs in lobbying and think tanks (especially the former) also offer better compensation and better hours than government work does.
- The DC EA community rocks. Just thought I’d repeat this one because IMO it’s much more important than the others.
There are of course also some downsides to living in DC. Housing is really expensive in some neighborhoods, and during the summer the humidity and mosquitoes are quite annoying. I’m sure there are others I’m missing: hopefully folks will add upsides and downsides in the comments. But for me, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Is DC right for you? The best way to answer that question is to come see it in person. If I've piqued your interest, or if you're considering working in/around the U.S. federal government, I encourage you to reach out to the EA community here and start planning a visit. We look forward to meeting you :)