Stephen Fuller on regional incomes: ‘The area is not getting wealthier’

That big Washington region paycheck helps keep up with the cost of living here. Or does it?

Per capita personal income reached $61,743 in 2012, a 5.4 percent increase from 2008, according to an analysis by George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis. But the cost of goods and services climbed faster over the period, resulting in a 4.1 percent decline of “real” per capita earnings of $48,645.

“The area is not getting wealthier, and that’s a reversal on what almost anyone would tell you,” said CRA chief economist Stephen Fuller.

Lower-wage, entry level professional positions and short-pay service sector jobs are growing faster than middle or high-end salary positions, putting a drag on per capita income growth in the area, Fuller said. Eventually, “it could go negative,” he said.

The drop here in real per capita income was third highest, behind Miami (-5.1 percent) and Los Angeles (-5.7 percent). Real per capita income grew in destination metros such as Atlanta (0.2 percent), San Francisco/Oakland (0.8 percent) and Boston (1.4 percent.).

Sky-high rents for high-rise apartments inflated the cost of living here — they increased from 48.1 percent above than the national average in 2008 to nearly 70 percent higher than the U.S. average in 2012.

But there may be a ray of hope behind the data, compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

“I don’t think the cost of living figures are as accurate as they might have been,” Fuller said. “I think people are getting cheaper good on the Web, and the feds haven’t caught up to that workaround.”

Just as savvy drivers know which gas stations have the lowest pump prices, Fuller said that conscientious consumers are surfing the Internet to save money on many of their daily goods and services.

“The cost is living is being distorted by all the new multifamily,” Fuller said. “But we are less well off.”


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