The median income for Virginia households fell in a single year by $1,400, to less than $62,000, the Census Bureau said. Adjusting for inflation, that is almost $1,000 less than it was in 2000.
Median household income is considered a broad measure of economic well-being, and Virginia’s loss stood out in a year in which, according to the Census Bureau, incomes and poverty rates finally leveled off after four straight years of decline during the recession and an uneven recovery.
A Washington Post analysis of census data by county shows that almost every region in Virginia experienced a decline in that critical yardstick. In every county in Northern Virginia, the median income slipped, just as it did in most counties and cities around Hampton Roads and the areas around Richmond and Roanoke.
In contrast, the median household income plateaued in Maryland, which has the highest median figure in the country. It rose in the District and in Montgomery County, and it fell in Prince George’s County. Among big cities, the Washington area has the nation’s highest median income, $88,000.
The federal government spends about $17,000 in Virginia for every resident in the state, one of the highest per capita levels in the country and almost double the national average. About one in 10 state workers is employed by the federal government.
“Virginia is very vulnerable to cuts in federal spending because roughly a third of its economy is tied to the federal government,” said Stephen Fuller, who is director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. “Whether it’s the Budget Control Act of 2011 or the pullback from Iraq and Afghanistan or the reduction in federal contracting, we’re going to feel it.”
Still, other bits of economic evidence suggest that incomes in Virginia were flat or were rising last year, before deeper federal budget cuts and furloughs hit this spring.
Average weekly wages in the state were unchanged from 2011 to 2012 after adjusting for inflation, according to Labor Department data. Real per capita income rose from 2011 to 2012, the Commerce Department reported.
Virginia’s finance secretary said last month that state income-tax collections grew by 2.2 percent in fiscal 2013, which includes the second half of 2012 and the first half of 2013.
Some economists who study the state said it is important to keep these conflicting income indicators in mind when weighing the new census data from the American Community Survey, which is an estimate based on a random sampling of households across the country and has a margin of error.
“When you look at the underlying growth in employment, and the growth in wages and salaries, there’s been growth in both from 2011 to 2012,” said Ann Battle Macheras, vice president of regional research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. “So it would be a little surprising that median household income fell.”