Ten of the 15 richest counties in the United States are located in Washington, D.C.’s Virginia and Maryland suburbs. According to 2010 Census Bureau data, with three counties exceeding the $100,000 mark, life seems pretty good in these areas, even as the U.S. median household income declined 2.3 percent between 2009 to 2010. Even so, the richest counties boast a median income that is about double the national average of $49,445. Only one county west of the Mississippi River – Douglas County in Colorado – made the list. The other counties are in the New York and New Jersey suburbs.
Loudoun County, VA, with a median household income of $119,540, takes first place. With a median household income that is $16,000 higher than second-place Fairfax County, VA, Loudoun has trounced the competition on its way to becoming the richest county in America. Loudoun borders both West Virginia and Maryland and is the site of Washington Dulles International Airport. The Appalachian Trail runs along its western border, and the area was principally agricultural until the airport was built in the 1960s. The population has continued to increase since then, with the area nearly doubling between 2000 to 2010. The poverty level is just 3.2 percent.
As of the 2010 Census, Loudoun County is estimated to be home to 312,311 people, an 84 percent increase over the 2000 figure of 169,599. That increase makes Loudoun the fourth fastest-growing county in the United States. Loudoun County is home to world headquarters for several high tech companies, including Verizon Business, Telos Corporation, Orbital Sciences Corporation, and Paxfire. Like Fairfax County’s Dulles Corridor, Loudoun has economically benefited from the existence of the airport, which is mostly located in the county. Western Loudoun County retains a strong rural economy and the equine industry has an estimated revenues of $78 million.
Second place Fairfax County, VA, is one of the largest counties in terms of population (1,081,726 residents in 2010), but it is also notable for its high-priced real estate. Fairfax is one of only two counties to break the half-million mark in home values, with the median value of $507,800 for an owner-occupied home.
In descending order, the next richest counties in the Washington, D.C., area are Howard County, MD, with $101,771; Arlington County, VA, with $94,986; Stafford County, VA, with $94,317; Prince William County, VA, with $92,655; Montgomery County, MD, with $89,155; Calvert County, MD, with $88,862; St. Mary’s County, MD, with $88,444; and Charles County, MD, with $87,007.
Eugene Lauer, Charles County’s Economic Development Director, said he is not surprised that southern Maryland counties made the list. “I think it’s great. A lot of people may not know this, but we have ranked fairly high for a number of years,” he said. “We know we have an affluent, highly-educated, qualified workforce in Charles County, and we have excellent students who will be in the workforce of tomorrow,” according to Charles County Commissioner Candace Quinn Kelly. Lauer said Charles County’s low unemployment rate also helps drive up its ranking. “Our unemployment rate is 5.4 percent. That’s fourth or fifth best in the state, better than Maryland as a whole, which is 6.7 percent, and the U.S., which is 8.5 percent,” he said.
Dean Frutiger of the Council for Community and Economic Research though has a serious caveat. “To rank something based on simply income does not take into account real cost of living issues,” said Frutiger, who calculates the nationwide Cost of Living Index. After you factor in the local costs for items like housing, utilities, groceries, and transportation – D.C. metro area incomes go down by about 43 percent. According to Frutiger “That $119,000 a year median income in Loudoun County, reduced by the cost of living index, means you’re down to $83,000.”