N.Va. counties top new census rankings

The Washington region ranks as the wealthiest metropolitan area in the country, with half of the top 10 -- and four of the top five -- richest counties located in Maryland and Virginia.

Census data released Thursday show that it still pays to live in the nation's hub of lobbyists and government contractors, with its cocoon of federal government jobs holding steady in a slowly rebounding economy.

Loudoun County's median household income reached $119,540 last year, towering above the next closest, Fairfax County at $103,010 and followed by Maryland's Howard County at $101,771. Arlington County rounded out the top five with a median household income of $94,986 and Prince William County's was $92,655, ranking ninth.

America's richest counties
RankCounty2010 median household income2009 median household income
1Loudoun County$119,540$112,021
2Fairfax County$103,010$104,259
3Howard County$101,771$101,003
4Hunterdon County, N.J.$97,874$102,500
5Arlington County$94,986$93,806
6Douglas County, Colo.$94,909$99,522
7Stafford County$94,317
8Somerset County, N.J.$94,270$96,233
9Prince William County$92,655$88,850
10Morris County, N.J.$91,469$96,316
12Montgomery County$89,155$93,199
76Prince George's County$70,019$69,947
Source: 2010 American Community Survey
Wealthiest metropolitan areas
RankArea2010 median household income2009 median household income
2San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.$83,944$85,020
3Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn.$74,831$81,114
4San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif.$73,027$74,876
5 Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, Calif.$71,864$74,828
6Anchorage, Alaska$71,490$69,317
7Trenton-Ewing, N.J.$70,956$71,767
8Honolulu, Hawaii$68,537$67,066
9Manchester-Nashua, N.H.$68,312$68,513
10Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Mass.$68,020$69,854
The Top 10 wealthiest states
1. Maryland: $68,854
2. New Jersey: $67,681
3. Alaska: $64,576
4. Connecticut: $64,032
5. Hawaii: $63,030
6. Massachusetts: $62,072
7. New Hampshire: $61,042
8. Virginia: $60,674
9. District: $60,000
10. California: $57,708
Source: 2010 American Community Survey, median household income

In comparison, the national median household income fell by 2.2 percent to $50,046 during the same period.

As a region, Washington enjoyed a median household income of $84,523, slightly besting Silicon Valley to take the top slot, according to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey figures. Connecticut's New York bedroom communities of Bridgeport, Stamford and Norwalk ranked third, with a median income nearly $10,000 lower than the Washington region.

Economists say that while New York and other major urban areas were hit hard by the recession, Washington largely absorbed the economic collapse thanks to its massive federal work force and high level of education and two-income households.

"This area is blessed by geography," said Daraius Irani, an economist at Towson University, explaining that the region's prosperity is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. "Being home to many information systems, as the shift moves to more cybersecurity, I expect the pace of salaries to reflect the fact that this area is well compensated."

Montgomery County, which for years ranked at the top of the list, has been somewhat eclipsed by growth in Northern Virginia. The county's median household income was $89,155 last year, ranking 12th nationwide but also dropping 4.5 percent from the prior year.

"I'd rather be in the top 10," said Montgomery County Councilman Marc Elrich, D-at large. "But we require more affordable housing [than jurisdictions in Northern Virginia]. It stands to reason that your median income is going to be lower. That figure doesn't paint a complete picture."

However, a report commissioned last year by Montgomery officials found that its rival across the Potomac is home to at least 200,000 more jobs than the wealthy Maryland suburb. And Northern Virginia has won several major

corporate relocations recently, causing some in Montgomery to question their economic-development blueprint.

Though Washington's median income is unparalleled, Irani warned, "It should not suggest that all is well in paradise."

"People who are in higher-income households do suffer a little bit, but nowhere near the extent of the middle- and lower-class families right now," he said.

Such discrepancies are reflected in the District, where the median household income was just half that of top-ranking Loudoun -- $60,903. And in Prince George's County, the nation's wealthiest county where a minority group makes up the majority of residents, the median household income was slightly more than $70,000 last year.

Loudoun County's median household income jumped by more than $7,000 last year, while it slipped in

Fairfax and Montgomery counties. However, census officials warned against making a definitive comparison between the two years, saying that the earlier figures were based on the 2000 population count and the latter, the 2010 count -- making the comparison susceptible to spikes.

On the state level, Maryland's household median income dropped by 2.3 percent to $68,854 and Virginia's increased by 0.3 percent to $60,6764 last year.