2010 March 06 Saturday
Wealth Around Washington DC

Our political rulers are well paid.

The country may have started its long haul back to economic recovery--if recent news that consumer spending increased slightly in January is any indication. But even so, most Americans still aren't ready to brag about their paychecks.

Except, perhaps, in Loudoun County, Va., where median household incomes are higher than anywhere else in the country. This affluent suburb of Washington, D.C., where families take home a median $110,643 annually, tops our list of America's 25 richest counties.

Many of America's wealthiest counties are centered around Washington DC.

Like Loudoun, a number of the country's wealthiest households are tightly concentrated in counties around the nation's capital. Six of the richest counties lie on the outskirts of Washington: Fairfax County, Va., Arlington County, Va., Stafford County, Va., Prince William County, Va., Charles County, Md., and Alexandria City, Va.

I would prefer that our wealth was concentrated around more wealth-producing areas of the country. But I'm old fashioned.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2010 March 06 06:37 PM  Politics Redistribution

Loudoun resident said at March 8, 2010 10:52 AM:

I resemble that remark.

I live in Loudoun county, having recently moved from similarly weathy Arlington county. And I make around $115,000. I feel so median.

But before you rip on DC for sucking the wealth from the producing part of the country to a bunch of bureacrats (which is definitely partially true), you need to remember that the DC area likely is pound-for-pound the most educated place in the country, if not the world. Yes, you probably have more smart peope in Boston or NYC, but not per capita.

This town is simply swimming in Ivy Leaguers, PhDs, MBAs, top lawyers, scientists, etc. Along with the federal government and the lobbyists, you have six good to great universities (Univ. of Maryland, Catholic U., American U, Georgetown, George Washington and George Mason). You have international organizations. You have a surprising number of corporate HQs (Marriott, VW-America come to mind). You have a lot of high-tech and bio-tech firms. You have a lot of consulting firms that do most of their business not with the government but with private companies.

People who work at these places are extremely educated and demand a very high salary. Even without the federal government, this would be a rich city. (Admittedly, many of those businesses - bio-tech, consulting - owe their start to the federal government, even if they have branched out since then.) It would also be a city that would do reasonably well in a recession.

I have around seventy people who I work with as a consultant. Only a handful work directly for the federal government. (And, yes, some of them make around $100k for producing nothing, though not all.) But the remainder work hard and produce, even if producing is getting contracts from the gov't.

I'd say that the problem with DC's money isn't so much stupid people working government jobs. It's smart, hard-working people whose talents could be used organizing or managing a factory or a service that makes/creates things that people want, rather than spending their time trying to manipulate the government.

But I will admit, the DC area hasn't felt a hint of the recession. Housing prices inside the beltway have remained steady - though outside the beltway, especially here in Loudoun - have been crushed. (By the way, that's why I recently moved from Arlington - inside the beltway - to Loudoun - outside the beltway. It was a nice arbitrage.) Unemployment has remained extremely low, especially for college-educated. Mostly, the recession is just something that you read about.

So, all in all, yes, the DC area lives in a bubble. Partially because the federal government props things up. But partially because the types of people who live here - smart, highly educated, motivated - generally never have that many problems whether they live in DC or Chicago or wherever. Their main problem in life is that they're really annoying, which is another reason I moved as far away from the city as possible.

Howard Hirsch said at March 8, 2010 12:54 PM:

This is not new. Tom Bethell wrote a Harper's cover story called "The Wealth of Washington" way back in 1977.

Who are you kidding? said at March 8, 2010 2:55 PM:

Move the center of the federal government to Casper Wyoming and see how long the DC area prospers. The reason that so many educated people gather round there is the federal government and the services and industries that prop it up.

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