“I’m in that group, and I feel like I’m not in the top 20 percent,” said Eric Kim, a sales specialist in the watch boutique of Liljenquist & Beckstead, a Tysons Galleria jewelery store where some wristwatches sell for as much as a new sports car. “That makes you barely middle class in Fairfax County.”
Retailing consultants said more luxury stores have shown interest in opening outlets in the Washington area, particularly as the region flourished during the recession.
This map shows the concentration of high-income counties — where household incomes are $191,469 and up — throughout the United States.
Seven of the nation’s 10 wealthiest counties are in the D.C. region, according to census numbers.
Local areas were singled out as being among the most diverse places in the country.
Median household income dropped, while the top fifth of households had a 1.6 percent increase.
The Washington region’s relatively resilient economy and emerging hipness helped it gain young adults during the recession.
“It was more taken for granted before,” said Milton Pedraza, head of the Luxury Institute, which researches high-income consumers. “After 2009, they saw Washington was one of the few places that were robust and resilient.”
Aba Bonney Kwawu, a retail consultant in the Washington area, said the region’s affluence is measured not so much in the stores residents frequent but in the schools to which they send their children.
“It’s all about investing in the future of our children and sending them to the finest they can afford,” she said. “Or having a great travel experience abroad or culinary opportunity. All those things are more important to the Washington area consumer than adding stuff.”
Steven R. Goodman, an educational consultant in the District, often meets parents who are scrimping to educate their children. “If you compare people in Santa Monica to people in Takoma Park, a larger percentage the residents of Takoma Park are saving every dime they have and taking lunch to work so they can save $10 a day for the college fund,” he said. “The priorities are education, education and education. As opposed to nice car, nice car, nice car on the Santa Monica Freeway.”
The census report documenting Washington’s expanding presence in the top 5 percent of households comes at a time when the region is bracing for cutbacks in federal spending, particularly if sequestration takes effect. But observers say the region is likely to remain ensconced among the rankings of affluent jurisdictions.
Sequestration would “put a crimp in the buying power of contractors,” said Dinegar of the Board of Trade. “Certainly there will be more unemployment. More people will be furloughed one week during the year. But sequestration won’t knock us out of the rankings.”
Frey of Brookings said the report is a good reminder how well the region fared during the recession. “A lot of people here are doing a lot better than the rest of the country,” he said. “It may make a lot of residents perk up and give them a sense of how much better we’re doing.”