City Desk

Washington Isn’t So Rich After All

No longer a wise decision.

Turn in your Tesla and cancel your reservation at Minibar: The Washington area might not be as wealthy as our high-flying lifestyles would suggest. According to the New Republic's Nate Cohn, the media has been measuring Washington's relative affluence all wrong.

According to Cohn, press reports about Washington extravagance rely too much on the median income of Washington's surrounding counties, which is among the highest in the nation:

But median income doesn't tell the whole story, since it only looks at the average person—the fiftieth percentile. That's useful for measuring broad-based prosperity, but the wealth of a superrich one percent or desperate poverty doesn't move median income by one dollar.

Washington does so well in median income because the wealth is spread around more equally here. According to Cohn,  a better measure of the kind of lavish wealth suggested in Fox News' b-roll of steakhouses and wineries would be per capita income. By that measure, the D.C. region lags behind the San Jose and San Francisco metro areas, and just barely edges out Boston's.

While Cohn hasn't fallen for D.C.'s Boomtown rap, he still thinks Washington doesn't make anything:

But one could argue, if so inclined, that the region is still too rich. Why should a metro area largely supported by federal tax dollars possess wealth comparable to more productive cities like New York and San Francisco?

Cohn's claim aside, Washington residents don't get money just for living where they do. Unlike other Americans we could name.

Burning money photo by Shutterstock

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  • Chris

    The bottom line is that in the important ratio of "productive earnings / total earnings", DC would be last by a landslide. Government workers and contractors offer little of value for the services they provide the taxpayers of this country.

  • Wrack

    Yes, the people who work in, say, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the FAA, or DoD are pretty much valueless. That's 100% accurate and represents the real state of reality. Great point.

  • name

    The effect of federal government unions at work. "The local top 0.5% is getting richer, so all government employees should get richer". Thus raising the median income in an irrational manner vs. the supporting income of the average worker. Then, the 0.5% charge more to stay ahead.

    Who gets screwed? Every other local non-fed.