2010 December 26 Sunday
US Government Counties Highest Paid

A new US Census Bureau report provides more evidence for how well our rulers get paid. 5 of the top 10 counties for household median income are situated around Washington DC and the top 3 are DC suburbs.

Falls Church city, Va. — $113,313
Loudoun County, Va. — $112,021
Fairfax County, Va. — $104,259

No Silicon Valley county (or any California county) makes this top 10 list. New Jersey occupies a few spots. I wonder if this is in part due to smaller counties. Another federal county: Los Alamos County New Mexico (where the US government runs a big weapons lab) makes the top 10 list. You can understand why the Democrats want to swell the ranks of government workers: It will raise the incomes of those who get government jobs. There's an obvious scaling problem with trying to apply this strategy to the whole country though.

This is probably a sign that the cognitive elite are increasingly co-locating.

“The dispersion of income is larger than it’s ever been,” said Douglas Besharov, a professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. “There used to be a much wider spread of incomes within geographic areas than there is now. There’s much more of a clumping together.”

One of the selling points for super dense New York City is supposed to be shorter distances to work,right? Some NYC boroughs have the highest commuting times in the nation.

Four counties, all in New York, had mean travel times to work in excess of 40 minutes: Richmond, Queens, Kings and Bronx.

So pay really high taxes and spend 400 minutes per week commuting.

Update: When the US and state governments reach crisis stage with their debts the knowledge that government workers have it better than most private sector workers is going to bring out extremely unsympathetic reactions from the body public. People aren't going to support the very large tax increases needed to keep public sector pension funds solvent. We are witnessing the early stages of a slow moving fiscal train wreck. It is going to get quite dramatic as it unfolds.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2010 December 26 06:47 PM  Economics Demographic


Comments
Serrated said at December 27, 2010 6:47 AM:

-When the US and state governments reach crisis stage with their debts the knowledge that government workers have it better than most private sector workers is going to bring out extremely unsympathetic reactions from the body public. People aren't going to support the very large tax increases needed to keep public sector pension funds solvent. We are witnessing the early stages of a slow moving fiscal train wreck. It is going to get quite dramatic as it unfolds.-

The anger is out there. It is palatable and open. I've heard it and felt it. And I like it. Throats are gonna get cut.

bbartlog said at December 27, 2010 8:26 AM:

'This is probably a sign that the cognitive elite are increasingly co-locating.'

So far as the DC counties are concerned, I'd say it's a sign that the federal budget has become decoupled from the constraints of reality. I don't know if you recall a comment I made a while back when you asked why BoA had borrowed $2 trillion from the Fed, but I argued that it was a laundering operation to allow the bank to act as intermediary in buying US bonds (financing the national debt). In this way the federal debt is being monetized, and federal salaries are inflating without check. In short, you're seeing the effect of successful localized rent-seeking; to the extent that I question the cognitive skills of federal employees I would say it has nothing to do with the co-location of a cognitive elite.

jerry said at December 27, 2010 9:59 AM:

"This is probably a sign that the cognitive elite are increasingly co-locating."

It's a sign of the destruction of our manufacturing. No more wealthy factory owners/managers, or workers for that matter, just those who make their money manipulating words or paper or regulations.

Black Death said at December 27, 2010 11:43 AM:

Surprisingly, eight of the ten areas with the shortest commuting times are in Alaska. Guess they travel by dog sled. Must have fast dogs.

Randall Parker said at December 27, 2010 8:25 PM:

Black Death,

I suspect these are places which have so little around them that there's no place to commute to.

bbartlog said at December 28, 2010 6:37 AM:

In Alaska I would expect people to live very near their place of work just so they could get there at all in the winter. For that matter I'm sure a lot of the people in the resource extraction industries just live on-site at the rig / mine / what-have-you.

Loving Loudoun said at December 28, 2010 9:19 AM:

Hey, I live in Loudoun County. Lucky me. Actually, it's a pretty nice place if you don't include heavily Hispanic Sterling. In Loudoun's defense, it was rich long before it became a exurb of DC. It's horse country - and wine country, more recently.

As to my neighbors, none of them work directly for the government, but almost all of them work for defense/IT companies that get almost all of their business from the government, though many have been branching out to other businesses. That's one thing to remember about the DC area. Yes, it has a bunch of high-income counties, and, yes, some of that has to do directly with government workers. But the vast majority of high-income workers in the area don't work directly for the government. They work for tangental companies - defense contractors, IT companies, consulting, bio-tech, think tanks, lobbying and law firms. At first, these companies worked 100% for the government - often because they were started by ex-government workers. But over time, they've branched out doing a lot of work for private companies.

So when everyone bitches that the DC area is rich because of government workers, they're not entirely correct. There are a lot of high-skill private/semi-private jobs in the area that demand extremely well-educated - and thus well-paid - workers. And remember, the DC isn't that big and half to 1/3 of the area - even the suburbs - are black, so these high-paid people, particularly with kids, congregate in a couple of suburbs - Arlington, Bethesda, Rockville, Fairfax, Silver Spring, Alexandria and Loudoun, all of which are locate in only a couple of counties - Montgomery in MD, Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria and Arlington in VA.

So the idea that these counties are rich entirely because of the government isn't true, though it's somewhat true. The wealth from businesses working both with the government and private business is more of a chicken or the egg thing. Yes, these businesses do a lot of work with private firms, but if it wasn't for the government, many of them wouldn't have been started and nurtured.

Just remember, the main reason for so many high-income counties in the DC area is mainly due to an extremely educated and highly trained workforce. The real question is whether these extremely educated and highly trained worker could be adding more value to world if they worked for manufacturers and companies that served people directly rather working for the government directly or indirectly.

bbartlog said at December 28, 2010 3:16 PM:

'none of them work directly for the government, but almost all of them work for defense/IT companies'

To the extent that they're fed by federal contracts, this is distinction without much of a difference.

'There are a lot of high-skill private/semi-private jobs in the area that demand extremely well-educated - and thus well-paid - workers.'

Ah, but does the work actually require the education, or is this just a convenient filter mechanism to ensure that most of the spoils go to the right class of people? I question whether (for example) the thousand IT security professionals/experts recruited by the DHS actually do much of anything with whatever real skills they may possess. Likewise many defense contractors are massive rent-seeking operations wrapped around a core of actual product, so that most of the employees do nothing all that spectacular, though the illusion of actual work is usually maintained pretty well. I used to work for General Dynamics; I'm not entirely ignorant of what goes on.

Loving Loudoun said at December 29, 2010 10:09 AM:

bbartlog,

I generally agree with you. I'm just giving a glimpse of my world. My neighbors are pretty smart guys with a lot of skills. Now, whether those skills/smarts are being used for any productive purpose is questionable at best. But the point is that these guys would be earning a good wage no matter what. Indeed, that makes this situation even worse. If it was just worthless govt bureaucrats earning the money, that would be very bad, but at least we wouldn't be preventing productive individuals from contributing to our world. But my neighbors skills are being wasted.


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