The country may have started its long haul back to economic recovery — if recent news that consumer spending increased slightly in January is any indication. But even so, most Americans still aren’t ready to brag about their paychecks.
Except, perhaps, in Loudoun County, Va., where median household incomes are higher than anywhere else in the country. This affluent suburb of Washington, D.C., where families take home a median $110,643 annually, tops our list of America’s 25 richest counties.
Loudoun is emblematic of the counties where the highest incomes are found. The country’s riches tend to trickle away from big cities. It’s not major metro areas raking in the biggest salaries; rather, it’s the tony suburbs just outside big-industry centers that soak up big-city money.
Glitzy Southern California and big oil states are largely absent from the list: 19 of the 25 richest counties in the country are on the East Coast. In part, that’s because our list looks at the middle incomes, and counties in the East tend to be smaller, thereby allowing for less of a spread between the richest and poorest workers.
Data for our list come from the U.S. Census Bureau, which conducts the annual American Community Survey, a smaller-scale version of the decennial census. The most recent data are from the calendar year 2008 and include 1,889 counties.
Wealth Radiates From the Capital
It’s not surprising that workers in Loudoun do well. The federal government generates a wealth of jobs, keeping unemployment in the D.C. metro area at a low 6.2% (the national average is still near 10%). The best-paid workers from D.C. take their money home to Loudoun, where jobs have grown 4% between the second quarter of 2007 and the second quarter of 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But a big chunk of that healthy income goes toward maintaining the good life. Loudoun homeowners pay a median $4,844 per year in property taxes. Tax burdens are similarly high in a lot of well-off counties.
Like Loudoun, a number of the country’s wealthiest households are tightly concentrated in counties around the nation’s capital. Six of the richest counties lie on the outskirts of Washington: Fairfax County, Va., Arlington County, Va., Stafford County, Va., Prince William County, Va., Charles County, Md., and Alexandria City, Va.
Not far from D.C. lies another cluster of wealthy counties. Howard County, Md., a suburb of Baltimore, has a standout school system with standardized test scores that consistently beat out the national average, and median household incomes of $101,710. In nearby Montgomery County, where 59% of residents over 25 have an advanced degree, households bring in a median $93,999. Historic Calvert County, Md., has profited from its roots as a tobacco-rich farmland as well as its proximity to Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, and claims a median income of $89,049.