On the coattails of Loudoun’s newly reaffirmed title of highest median income in the nation have come many questions. The biggest: How can this be?
Earlier this month, Forbes Magazine named Loudoun the richest county in the nation with an annual median income of $110,643.
Contributors to this ranking include Loudoun’s high labor force participation rate – or ratio of residents who choose to work – plus a low unemployment rate and the high wages county residents bring in, said Loudoun County demographer Jill Allmon. Therefore, the county is home to many families where two or more people in the home are working.
In Loudoun, 66.4 percent of families have both the husband and wife in the workforce, compared to 61.8 percent in Fairfax County, Allmon said. The national percentage is unknown, she said.
Additionally, the prominent industries in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area – federal government, technology and health care – are high-wage jobs that are accessible to Loudoun residents, she said.
But those jobs aren’t accessible to everyone.
On one hand, Loudoun has a lot of residents who get paid a lot of money. But the county is also home to a lot of people who live below the median income. Those same citizens are also the average taxpayer, said Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling).
“There are the haves and the have-nots,” he said. “There is a fight for the middle class in Sterling.”
Bonnie Inman, executive director at Loudoun Interfaith Relief, said many families are living on the edge. “With the high cost of living,” she said, “they just weren’t able to make ends meet at all.”
Loudoun’s high cost of living has landed the county on another Forbes list – the highest property taxes in the South. On average, Loudoun residents pay $4,844 per household annually, compared to the national property tax average of $1,180. Additionally, the average purchase price on homes in Loudoun was $382,729 in January 2010. This makes for a mortgage or rent payment far above 35 percent of the county’s median salary, the percentage considered normal to spend on housing, Allmon said.
Loudoun has a housing mix that is fairly heavy on single-family detached homes, with many more such houses than in neighboring jurisdictions, Allmon said. Homeowner incomes must be higher for that type of housing, she said.
Before the recession hit, visitors to Loudoun Interfaith Relief’s pantry were those who just didn’t make enough money to live in such a high cost of living area, Inman said. But a higher unemployment rate caused a 43 percent increase for the pantry in fiscal year 2009.
In calendar year 2008, the pantry served 44,066 people. In 2009, that number soared to 66,072. In 2010, Inman expects to see that number jump another 60 percent to 70 percent.
“It’s a dichotomy of people who can afford to give to us and then there are people who have absolutely nothing,” Inman said.
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