Wealth Is Not Just A Number

The DC suburbs may be well-off, but no so much as you might think.

It is occasionally noticed by conservative pundits that the richest counties in the U.S. just happen to be the suburbs of D.C. - where your tax dollars go to die unproductively.  Once, our wealth was found in places that actually did things - like Detroit, said to be the world's richest city in its heyday.  Now, that title is held by paper-pushers and jobsworths.

And yet, sometimes success is its own punishment.  A local politician in the D.C. suburbs, emphasizing her loyalty to her district, also revealed a certain lack of situational awareness in a recent email blast to her constituents:

When I bought my brand new home in Kings Park West in 1971, the median age of a county resident was 25. The median family income was about $16,000 and that L shaped rambler on Orchardson Court cost about $30,000. 

According to Fairfax County's 2017 Demographics Report, our median household income is $115,717, one of the highest in the nation, and the estimated median market value of a single family detached home in Fairfax County is $623,532.

Let's face it: any way you cut it, $115,717 is a fair amount of money.

But then, so was $16,000 in 1971 dollars: the ever-useful CPI Inflation Calculator tells us that it's worth the same as $99,105.14 is today.  OK, the average income in Fairfax County, VA has gone up a bit, but not by that much over 50 years.

What has gone up enormously is the cost of living.  The 1971 rambler, in today's dollars, cost $185,822.11.  You would be hard put to find a box under a bridge in the D.C. suburbs for that trivial amount today - the average house now costs more than three times that amount.

In other words, your average well-paid Washington bureaucrat now makes maybe 15% more than his father (or grandfather?) did, but his home costs him triple.  Is that really such a great deal?  Is he really so much better off?

No: the two numbers roughly cancel out, leaving successive generations of cubicle warriors in pretty much the same place.

Yes, it does seem to us that not nearly so much of our national income ought to go into the endless maw of Washington, D.C.  But if we are imagining our bureaucrats as living high on the hog, maybe they are in some ways - but not particularly more than they ever have.  The growth of government may have allowed for more bureaucrats, but their living standards relative to everyone else haven't increased as much as you might imagine if at all.

In contrast, there are places in the Midwest where you can still buy a perfectly decent house for an affordable price.  Maybe more people should look into rural locales where life is far less costly?  But then they wouldn't be flyover country anymore.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Economics.
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