New census data: Northern Va. still tops for income, but Silicon Valley creeping up

Northern Virginia remains home to some of the highest median incomes in the U.S. but is facing stiff competition from Silicon Valley, according to new Census Bureau data.

The median household income in Loudoun County ticked up to just under $140,000 last year. That’s the highest median income in the country, according to the 1-year estimates from the bureau’s American Community Survey, released Thursday.

But Santa Clara County, Marin County and San Mateo County — all part of California’s famous tech hub — were hot on Loudoun County’s heels, with median household incomes ranging from $124,000 to $126,000.

While Loudoun remained tops, the D.C. region’s share of areas with the highest median incomes has actually fallen over the past several years.

It’s not that incomes in Northern Virginia are declining. In fact, following a national trend, all of the counties in the D.C. area notched increases last year.

“It’s just that other jurisdictions, particularly those in California, have been growing faster,” said Jeannette Chapman, deputy director of the Fuller Institute at George Mason University.

In 2010, the last year the full census was completed, the D.C. region claimed five of the Top 10 counties for highest median household income. That fell to three last year.

“Part of this reflects (the D.C. region’s) recovery from sequestration, and our lagging growth rate because of the federal cutbacks,” said Chapman, referring to the automatic budget cuts which went into effect several years ago, and wreaked havoc on the region’s bottom line.

Top places for median household income in the U.S. in 2018:

  1. Loudoun County ($139,915)
  2. Santa Clara County, California ($126,606)
  3. Marin County, California ($126,373)
  4. San Mateo County, California ($124,425)
  5. Arlington County, Virginia ($122,394)
  6. Fairfax County, Virginia ($122,227)
  7. Somerset County, New Jersey ($121,378)
  8. Douglas County, Colorado ($119,615)
  9. Howard County, Maryland ($116,984)
  10. Nassau County, New York ($116,304)

(Note: The census considers Howard County part of the Baltimore area)

Still, the D.C. area remains home to some pretty cushy incomes.

The median income in Fairfax and Arlington counties hit more than $122,000 last year, both increases from the previous year.

Incomes are rising fastest in the District, according to Chapman’s analysis of the census data. In D.C., median incomes increased to $85,203 last year — up from $76,038 in 2014.

Incomes are also rising swiftly in Prince William County: $107,925 in 2018, compared with $97,667 in 2014.

Overall, incomes across the entire region are well above the national median of about $62,000.

Median incomes in D.C. area in 2018 (2014 data in parentheses)

  • Loudoun County: $139,915 ($129,787)
  • Arlington County: $122,394 ($115,788)
  • Fairfax County: $122,227 ($117,302)
  • Montgomery County: $108,188 ($104,073)
  • Prince William County: $107,925 ($97,667)
  • D.C.: $85,203 ($76,038)
  • Prince George’s County: $83,034 ($76,902)

Income inequality also rising

In addition to the nationwide rise in incomes, however, came a more troubling rise in income equality — both across the country and in the D.C. area, according to the census data.

The census measures income inequality using the Gini Index, a scale from 0 to 1. A score of 0 indicates complete equality, while a score of 1 indicates complete inequality, meaning one household has all the income. The higher the number, the greater the income inequality.

Nationally, the Gini Index rose from 0.482 in 2017 to 0.485 last year.

Income inequality for the broader D.C. metro area actually clocked in just under the national level. However, income inequality specifically in the District remained among the highest in the country — 0.524 in 2018.

In Virginia, although income inequality is still below the nationwide measure, it’s on the rise. In large, wealthy counties, for example, such as Fairfax and Loudoun counties, income inequality rose last year. It declined slightly in Arlington.

In Maryland, the measure of income equality stayed basically flat last year.

Poverty is generally declining across the broader D.C. area. In 2018, about 5% of households in the D.C. metro area reported incomes below the poverty line. It was 7.6% for families with children under 18.

In 2018, about 9.3% of U.S. households reported incomes below the poverty level.

Longest commute time goes to …

The new figures from the American Community Survey’s 1-year estimates are a treasure trove of other kinds of demographic data as well.

For example, the new data shows the time D.C.-area residents spend commuting each day continued to tick up.

The mean travel time for the entire D.C. metro area was just under 35 minutes in 2018.

WTOP selected a handful of counties in Maryland and Virginia that are in WTOP’s immediate listening area for further review.

Among those, Prince George’s County, long home to the most time-consuming commutes, maintained the No. 1 spot. The average commute time for a Prince George’s County resident was 37.5 minutes in 2018.

Arlington County residents reported the shortest average commute — just about 30 minutes.

Here’s a look at average travel times across the D.C. area in 2018:

  • Prince George’s County: 37.5 minutes
  • Montgomery County: 34.4 minutes
  • Loudoun County: 34.2 minutes
  • Fairfax County: 32.5 minutes
  • DC: 30.9 minutes
  • Arlington County: 30.1 minutes

Who’s driving solo? Who’s working from home?

Of the counties WTOP selected, Loudoun County reported the highest percentage of solo drivers commuting to work — about 76%. Next came Fairfax County at 70%, Prince George’s County at 67%, Montgomery County at just under 66%, Arlington County at just under 48% and D.C. at 34%.

Not surprisingly, D.C. residents were the most likely to take public transportation to work. In the District, 34.4% of workers take Metro or the bus to work. That’s followed by Arlington County at just under 29%, Prince George’s County at about 14%, Montgomery County at about 13%, Fairfax County at just under 10% and Loudoun County at about 3%.

Arlington County had the highest percentage of workers clocking in from home. Just under 9% of workers reported working from home. That was followed by Loudoun County at about 8%, Fairfax County at 7%, Montgomery County at slightly under 7% and D.C. with 6%.

In Prince George’s County, just about 3% of residents telework.

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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