The word “capital” has several meanings, but these are the first two in the dictionary:
1. A city that is the official seat of government.
2. Wealth in the form of money or property.
Both definitions are relevant to Washington, D.C., which is not only the nation’s capital city, but is also the hub of America’s wealthiest metropolitan area.
A new study by The Business Journals has identified the Washington region as the country’s most affluent area, based on its strong performances in several indicators of wealth and earning power. D.C.’s prowess probably surprises no one, but what is surprising is the high-ranking affluence of numerous metros that are much smaller and rarely make it on the national radar.
Los Alamos, N.M., is a close second to Washington in the affluence rankings.
Other small metros that rank in the Top 20 nationally include Juneau, Alaska, Jackson, Wyo., and Heber, Utah, among others.
Rounding out the top five are Bridgeport-Stamford, Conn., Boulder, Colo., and San Jose.
The Business Journals developed a 12-part formula to generate the affluence rankings. It gave the highest scores to areas that have strong concentrations of upscale incomes, expensive houses, high-end jobs and residents with advanced degrees.
All raw data came from the five-year version of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey, the latest source of official statistics at the local level.
The study encompassed all 942 metropolitan and micropolitan areas across the nation. Metros and micros are similar in composition — both contain central cities and suburbs — but they differ in size. A metro must include a central city with at least 50,000 residents, compared to the micropolitan range of 10,000 to 49,999.
The hallmarks of affluence are clearly evident in the nation’s capital region, which is officially known as the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-Va.-Md.-W.Va., Metropolitan Statistical Area.
The Washington metro is blessed with a stable base of government employment, coupled with a booming private sector. Its economy features a wide array of high-paying jobs in the fields of accounting, architecture, engineering, legal services, medicine and high technology.
These factors helped Washington rank among the 10 best areas in seven of the study’s 12 categories:
Third highest in median household income ($89,826) and per capita income ($43,411).
Fourth highest in the percentage of households with incomes of $150,000 or more (24.69 percent) and the share of workers in management, business, science and arts occupations (50.86 percent).
Fifth highest in the percentage of adults with advanced degrees (22.72 percent).
Seventh highest in the share of houses with nine or more rooms (22.55 percent).
Ninth lowest in metropolitan poverty rate (7.85 percent).
The runner-up, Los Alamos, is a micropolitan area in northern New Mexico. It is best known as the site where the atomic bomb was created during World War II, leading to the subsequent creation of the massive Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The demand for scientists and engineers is the reason why 37.07 percent of the adults in Los Alamos hold advanced degrees, the highest share in the nation. Los Alamos also leads the country with a median household income of $106,426.
The Business Journals not only produced overall affluence rankings for all 942 metros and micros, but also divided them into five population groups. Here are the most affluent areas within those subdivisions:
Large (population of 1 million or more): Washington.
Medium-large (500,000 to 999,999): Bridgeport-Stamford, Conn.
Medium (250,000 to 499,999): Boulder, Colo.
Medium-small (100,000 to 249,999): Lexington Park, Md.
Small (99,999 or less): Los Alamos, N.M.
Below are the 12 categories that were included in The Business Journals’ analysis. Each is followed by its three leading metropolitan or micropolitan areas, all listed with their full formal names (as designated by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget).