While one out of every 10 American workers spends Labor Day worrying about where to find the next job and the nation wallows in the worst economic slump since the Great Depression, the Washington area remains a symbol of affluence.

The average metropolitan Washington household earns an income of $33,191 a year, the highest in the country and 38 percent more than the average U.S. family.

With a per capita income of $12,336 -- almost 42 percent more than the average American -- Washington residents are the richest Americans.

We not only earn more than the rest of our fellow citizens, we spend more, according to the annual survey of buying power produced by Sales and Marketing Management magazine.

Though Washington is only the eighth most populous metropolitan area in the nation, it is the No. 3 market for general merchandise, food and drug stores and auto dealers.

The average local family spends almost $3,100 a year at the supermarket, $655 in drug stores, $669 on furniture and appliances and $1,430 in restaurants, bars and fast food franchises.

Only Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth have higher retail sales per household and they lag significantly behind the Washington area in per capita retail spending.

The Sales and Marketing study is the definitive word on earning and spending patterns, the Rand McNally Atlas of consumerism. It is the place marketing people look to find out who's got money and what they're doing with it.

The Washington area has for years ranked at or just below the top of the list, a fact local promoters love to brag about.

Maybe a little modesty might be more appropriate, at least this year.

What the market study shows with embarrassing clarity is something lots of people in other parts of the country have been complaining about for a long time: Washington is out of sync with the rest of the United States.

The Iowa farm family harvesting a corn crop that will bring in the most paltry income since 1933 doesn't spend $1,430 a year on Roy Rogers roast beef, Moose Head beer at M Street bars and dinners at their favorite little restaurant.

The new sofa, stove or stereo represented by Washington families' $669-a-year-spending in furniture and appliance stores would break the budget of lots of auto, steel and home building workers who know they could be the next to lose their jobs. (While its 6.3 percent unemployment rate is a record for the Washington area, the national rate, a postwar high, is 9.8 percent.)

Prince George's County gets treated like a poor cousin by other local communities, but with an average household income of $29,167 a year, "poor PG" is more affluent than Dallas-Fort Worth, Boston, Philadelphia or Los Angeles.

How does the rest of the country view household income statistics like these: D.C., $27,568; Montgomery County, $37,394; Arlington County, $33,890;, Fairfax County, $40,284; Fairfax City, $38,850; Prince William County, $34,191; and Alexandria $30,848?

Envy is inevitable and resentment easy to understand, even knowing that it takes two incomes for many families to meet those marks and that the really big incomes in the Washington area are earned by people who aren't on government payrolls.

The depth of the current economic downturn has destroyed the notion that the Washington area is "recession proof," but the anti-Washington sentiment in "the real America" isn't assuaged by that fact.

While the area's affluence feeds anti-Washington attitudes, that isn't the worst result of this being the richest city in the nation.

Surrounded by such wealth, lawmakers, presidential appointees and civil servants lose touch with what life is like beyond the Beltway. Their neighbors in Fairfax aren't losing their jobs because of the slumps in housing, manufacturing, mining and farming. Going-out-of-business sales, bankruptcy auctions and boarded up factories don't dot Montgomery County.

Washington's wealth belies the decay in which the U.S. economy is mired. The most affluent metropolitan area in America may be the poorest place from which to govern.