Washington D.C. Is Now Richer Than Silicon Valley

The Nation’s Capital Tops List As The Country’s Wealthiest Metropolitan Areas Reports Bloomberg.

San Jose isn’t the only place to receive a good paycheck. According to recent US Census Bureau numbers, Washington D.C. is the wealthiest U.S. region thanks to federal compensation. As recently as the 1990s, DC distinguished itself as the “murder capital” of the United States. Now it’s the “money capital.”

The District of Columbia eclipsing Silicon Valley is a substantive and symbolic reminder of the historic transformation underway. The former is a magnet for political entrepreneurs; the latter, for market entrepreneurs. Silicon Valley gave America Apple, eBay, and Atari, PayPal, NetFlix, and TiVo.

In recent years Washington has attracted more lobbyists and firms with an interest in the health-care overhaul and financial regulations signed into law by President Barack Obama, according to local business leaders.

Wall Street has moved to K Street,” said Barbara Lang, president and chief executive officer of the DC Chamber of Commerce, referring to the Washington street that’s home to prominent lobbying firms. “Those two industries clearly have grown in our city.”

Still, household income fell even in DC by 0.8 percent last year from $85,168. In the San Jose area, home to Cupertino-based Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) in San Jose, income dropped to $83,944 from $84,483 in 2009. Median income in both metro areas has been falling since 2008, when it reached a record in each place. The 4.7 percent drop in Silicon Valley during that period was three times larger than the Washington region’s 1.5 percent fall.

The flow of federal dollars in and around the nation’s capital helped the region weather the economic slump better than most areas and is contributing to its recovery. The unemployment rate in the Washington metro area in August was 6.1 percent, compared with 10 percent in San Jose, according to Labor Department figures.

Last year Washington also had the most lawyers per capita in the U.S. compared with the 50 states, with one for every 12 city residents, according to figures from the American Bar Association and the Census Bureau. In New York State the figure was one out of every 123 residents, while in California the ratio was one in 243.
Associate attorneys in the Washington area who have worked between one and eight years had a median salary of $186,250, compared with the national median for their peers of $123,521, according to a survey by the Washington-based National Association for Law Placement.

Lobbyists play a prominent role in the Washington economy. In 2010 there were 12,964 registered lobbyists, with most working in or around the nation’s capital, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington– based research group that tracks political spending. Spending on lobbying efforts reached a record $3.51 billion last year, up from $3.49 billion in 2009.

The Washington suburbs are also home to government contractors such as Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT), the world’s largest defense company, and General Dynamics Corp. (GD), the Falls Church, Virginia-based maker of Abrams tanks and Gulfstream business jets.

With about 5.6 million residents, the Washington region has an aggregate household income of about $221.4 billion. The San Jose area has about 1.8 million people and income of $67 billion, according to census figures gathered from the American Community Survey. The annual survey polls about 3 million American households to provide annual economic, demographic, social and housing characteristics for the nation.

The Brownsville-Harlingen metro area in southeast Texas along the border with Mexico had the lowest median household income last year at $31,736.

While the median income in Georgetown, one of the wealthier neighborhoods of DC-proper is around $140,000 annually, those living in the southeast portion of the District bring in an average of around $29,000, RT reported earlier this year.

Such income inequality is on display in Washington as well. In the District of Columbia, almost 11 percent of the city’s population qualifies as “very poor,” meaning they make less than half the poverty rate, or about $11,025 a year for a family of four and $5,415 for a single person. The same figure for San Jose is about 6 percent, according to census figures.

A survey in March of federal government job openings in the area found hundreds of well-paying jobs. Highlights from those listing include an offer for up to $115,000 a year to update the Facebook page and manage new media projects for the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs and a deputy speechwriter for Office Of Personnel Management Director John Berry that paid up to $81,204 annually.

Of course, federal pay isn’t the only factor contributing to Washington‘s new status. The proliferation of high-priced lobbyists, contractors and consultants, combined with one of the most stable (and pricey) real estate markets in the country, means that the D.C. region is one expensive place.

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