- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2006

The Washington area has the highest median household income among major metropolitan regions in the United States, according to a report being released today.

The region, which includes the District of Columbia and 15 surrounding countries, had a median household income of $72,799 last year, the annual regional report by the Greater Washington Initiative says.

The median household income of the region has increased by more than $8,000 since 2000, spurred by the growing job market. The region added nearly 72,000 jobs in 2005, more than any other large metropolitan area except Miami.

The area moves above San Francisco, which was No. 1 in 2004, according to the report. But the group redefined that area as San Francisco and Oakland, eliminating the Silicon Valley and San Jose and dropping the San Francisco Bay area to a median income of $71,200 in 2005.

“The gap would have started to close even if the measure hadn’t changed,” said Steven Pedigo, the research manager for the Greater Washington Initiative. “Our median income is consistently increasing, without a doubt.”

Several local jurisdictions have the highest median household incomes in the country, including Loudoun County, Falls Church and Fairfax County in Virginia and Montgomery and Howard counties in Maryland.

Median household income is the middle point in an area’s range of income. The number of homes making more than that number is equal to those making less.

Although the region has the highest median income in the nation, its per capita income ranks fourth in the nation.

Per capita income, or the average of each person’s income, reached $46,782 in 2004, according to Commerce Department statistics released in April. Regions near Bridgeport, Conn., San Francisco and San Jose, Calif., ranked in the top three, with the Bridgeport area at $62,979.

The disparity in the Greater Washington Initiative’s regional report and the government figures reflects different income measures — household median income vs. per capita income. According to the initiative, the marketing arm of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the metro area has a high number of two-income families, thus increasing a household’s income.

However, almost 19 percent of D.C. residents live below the poverty line — $19,157 a year for a family of four with two children, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures for 2004. That earns the city 27th place among cities. Almost 34 percent of children live below the poverty line, placing the District No. 12 nationally.

Since 2000, the Washington area has added almost 271,000 jobs, in contrast with other metropolitan areas such as New York, Chicago and Boston, which have lost jobs in the past five years. Of the 10 largest metropolitan areas, San Francisco lost the most jobs since 2000 with almost 149,000 jobs.

The number of people employed by the federal government in the region has dropped in recent years, from close to 14.2 percent in 1990 to 10.6 percent in 2005.

However, government contracting has quadrupled, from $12.6 billion in 1990 to $52.6 billion in 2005, adding tens of thousands of jobs to the Washington area.

Private-sector workers are benefiting from the shift, Mr. Pedigo said, which brings information technology and other highly skilled jobs, such as science and engineering, to the area. The largest sector in the region — business and professional services — added 30,000 jobs in 2005, according to the report.

The Washington area in the past several years has had the most educated work force in the country, with four counties among the top five in the nation.

“If you are looking for a true knowledge economy, the greater Washington is the paradigm of the knowledge economy,” Mr. Pedigo said.

• Jeffrey Sparshott contributed to this report.

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