When the Census Bureau recently named the nation's richest county, it was not New York County, N.Y., home to Wall Street, or Santa Clara County, Calif., the heart of Silicon Valley.
No, it was loudoun County, Va. -- final resting place for many of your tax dollars.
No matter what else people may do for a living in loudoun -- a suburb of Washington, D.C. -- it is unmistakably one of those places where federal employees and federal contractors (and people who lobby federal employees for federal contractors) go to sleep for the night.
As rich as loudoun is compared to the rest of the country, its relative wealth is not conspicuous in suburban Washington. In fact, the suburbs around our nation's capital now boast an astounding concentration of highly paid people.
A study of "income, earnings and poverty" in the United States released last month by the Census Bureau's American Community Survey includes two lists of U.S. counties with the highest median household incomes for 2005. One cites the 10 richest counties with populations greater than 250,000; the other, the 10 richest counties with populations between 65,000 and 250,000. Of the 20 counties on the two lists, eight were within commuting distance of Washington. All boasted median household incomes far above the national median of $46,242. (Household income includes the money earned by all persons 15 or older living in the same household.)
loudoun topped the larger counties with a median household income of $98,483 -- more than twice the national median. Fairfax County, Va., placed second at $94,610. Howard County, Md., placed third at $91,184. Montgomery County, Md., placed sixth at $82,187. And Prince William County, Va., placed seventh at $81,904.
Suburban Washington jurisdictions listed among the richest smaller counties included: Calvert County, Md., which placed third at $84,388; Arlington County, Va., which placed sixth at $80,433; and Stafford County, Va., which placed ninth at $78,675.
Why are the Washington suburbs so wealthy? The Census Bureau study did not directly answer that question. But a report in The Washington Post cited local economists who said it "is a side effect of the enormous flow of federal money into the region through contracts for defense and homeland security work in the five years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, coming after the local technology boom of the 1990s."