Northern Virginia remains the economic engine of the state but it faces major challenges. Job creation isn’t keeping up with population growth and income inequality is growing, concludes the Commonwealth Institute in a new report, “Under Pressure: The State of Working Northern Virginia.”
Employment grew at a strong pace in 2011: The region added 25,000 jobs, a job-creation rate of 1.9%. But the “jobs gap” — the number of jobs needed to return to a pre-recession unemployment rate — stood at almost 100,000 in 2011.
More highly educated Northern Virginians have weathered the recession in better shape. Those with a graduate or professional degree experienced a 3.67% decline in real earnings between 2007 and 2010, compared to a 17.5% decline for workers with less than a high school degree.
In 2010, the median household income in Northern Virginia was $98,700, about 60% above the statewide median, but it was still below the pre-recession peak of $102,600. Moreover, high incomes don’t necessarily translate into high living standards. It took an income of $63,000 in 2010, says CI, for a family of four to maintain a minimal standard of living without public assistance. Meanwhile, income disparity has increased. In 2007, top income-quintile households earned 7.6 times the income of bottom-quintile households. By 2010, the ratio had increased to 8.3%.
The most interesting finding for those interested in metropolitan dynamics can be seen in this chart showing how wage increases varied by political jurisdiction. Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax — closest to the metropolitan core — saw the greatest wage increases, while localities on the periphery — Spotsylvania and Loudoun — actually saw declines in inflation-adjusted average weekly wages between 2007 and 2010. This is more anecdotal evidence that growth and development (perhaps we should say “growth and re-development”) is shifting back to the urban core, leaving weakened jurisdictions on the metropolitan periphery.