Tuesday, November 20, 2001

Washington-area residents make good money at work it just takes them a long time to get there.
Fairfax County residents have the second-highest median household income in the nation, according to Census Bureau figures released today.
Residents of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland, as well as of Prince William County in Virginia, are also well above the $41,349 U.S. median the statistical breaking point when half of the nation’s households make more and half make less.
But the average resident in those affluent counties takes as much as 14 minutes longer to reach work than it does most Americans, who arrive in an average of 24.3 minutes.
When ranked by state, only New Yorkers have a longer commute than Marylanders, who average 29.1 minutes traveling to the job. D.C. residents rank fourth, and Virginians rank 10th.
The dubious distinction remains when the nation’s largest counties are also ranked by commuting time. Four of the five New York City boroughs top the list, but Prince William comes in fifth with a 38.4 minute home-to-work trip. Prince George’s county is next with a 34.7 minute trip. Montgomery County residents average a 30.8 minute commute, and Fairfax residents get to work in 29 minutes.
Those figures come from the Census 2000 Supplementary Survey, an experimental survey of 700,000 householders.
The data release is the second in a projected series of four. This one yields data for the nation as a whole, with breakdowns for the states and for cities, counties and metropolitan areas with at least 250,000 people.
This survey was done to test the feasibility of the American Community Survey, which the Census Bureau plans to introduce in 2003 as a rotating sample of some 58,000 households done monthly in 1,239 counties. The annual ACS would not replace the decennial head count, which the Constitution requires for apportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The information collected is similar to that collected on the long form, which typically goes to one in six of the country’s households in the national census. The long-form data gathers information for federal officials to use when awarding grants to states and localities, but U.S. businesses also regard it as priceless since none have the means to do such a large or reliable survey.
Results from the long form are not processed quickly. The long-form data from Census 2000, for example, won’t be available until next spring. If Congress approves, the Census Bureau will replace that form with the American Community Survey.
The ACS, which questions fewer people on a more regular basis, has reportedly been better received than the census long form. Bureau officials say it will yield timely, reliable and detailed data about housing, language, income, transportation, household amenities and more.
The new survey shows that among the nation’s big counties, Fairfax and Montgomery counties again are near the top in terms of median income.
With $82,280, Fairfax is about $140 behind the top-ranked Morris County, N.J. With a median household income of $70,794, Montgomery County ranks seventh. Prince William is ninth at $68,667. In Prince George’s, the median is $55,371. At $41,047, the District of Columbia median is a bit below the national average.
The median value of houses in the United States is $120,496. In Fairfax County, though, the median value is $239,018 nearly twice the national figure. In Montgomery County, the comparable figure is $226,520; in Prince William County, it’s $148,830; in Prince George’s County, it’s $147,949; and in the District, it’s $164,787.
At 17.7 percent the District has more households below the poverty line than the national average of 12.5 percent. The poverty level for the average family of four persons is $17,603.
Statewide, with rates between 9 percent and 10 percent, Maryland and Virginia do better on poverty figures than the nation as a whole. In the Washington suburbs, the news is even better: Prince George’s rate is 8.6 percent, Fairfax’s is 5.7 percent, Montgomery’s is 4.8 and Prince William’s is 4.4.
That pattern held for other measurements of wealth, too.
Maryland and Virginia had fewer households on food stamps than the national average of 6.1 percent of households. In Maryland, the number was 4.5 percent, and in Virginia it was 5.4 percent. Again, the large suburban counties around Washington were better still, with about 2 percent of households receiving food stamps. The District, though, was far above the regional and national average, with 8.8 percent of households receiving stamps.
The District also far outpaced the national average with 43.8 percent of households where students receive free or reduced-price lunches at school. The national average is 22.8 percent, with Maryland and Virginia again having fewer such households at 19 percent and 15.6 percent, respectively. As for the suburban counties, Prince George’s had the highest percentage of households needing lunch assistance at 26.3 percent.
In some of the nontraditional measurements of social progress, the region ranked about normal.
About one in every 200 homes still lacks a complete kitchen meaning a sink, stove and refrigerator and about the same amount lacks plumbing, defined as a toilet and running hot and cold water in a shower or bathtub.
Phone service is a bit more erratic, with 2 percent of D.C. households doing without. In the suburban counties, less than 1 percent of homes have no phone.

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