Washington’s second lesson is arguably even more important. If you wanted to imagine what the economy might look like if the country were much better educated, you can look at Washington.

Thanks to strong public-school and higher-education systems in Maryland and Virginia, the area’s teenagers are much more likely to enter and graduate from college than teenagers elsewhere. Even the city’s troubled school system has improved somewhat. The region also tends to attract skilled immigrants from around the world (which has the delicious side benefit of a thriving suburban restaurant scene).

About 47 percent of the region’s adults have a bachelor’s degree, more than any other major metropolitan area in the country, according to the Census Bureau. In an economy ever more organized around knowledge, Washington’s employers — from biotechnology and Internet companies to retail and health care — have an easier time finding workers who fit their needs. Especially in bad times, employers can have more confidence they are hiring someone they will want to keep.

How do we know that education matters more than stimulus or rent-seeking? Other highly educated regions, like Boston and Minneapolis, join Washington near the bottom of the unemployment ranking and the top of the household-income ranking.