Virginia, West Virginia, Trailer Trash — What’s the Difference?

Now that Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, is top dog in the state Senate, the General Assembly is getting a lot more entertaining. Last month, the Senate majority leader characterized Southwest Virginia gun rights zealots as Deliverance creatures (see “Quote of the Day: But First Cue the Banjos“). Once again, to paraphrase Britney Spears, oops, I think he’s done it again.

Here’s the latest from the Senate majority leader, as reported by the Washington Post:

“We are West Virginia, if we pull Northern Virginia out of the equation,” Saslaw said, referring to the difference in the tax base between Northern and southern Virginia.

It’s easy to get mad at Saslaw, but he’s simply reflecting the views that many Northern Virginians feel but are too circumspect to say out loud. I remember hearing something similar 20 years ago from George Johnson, the former president of George Mason University: “Take away Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax County, and what you’re left with is…. Arkansas.” Badda boom! (Johnson had better delivery.)

Northern Virginians are an interesting bunch. As well as disowning downstate Virginia, they wash their hands of Washington, D.C. A good number of them would love to secede from the Commonwealth, perfectly happy to leave the inner city (Washington) and outlying countryside counties to fend for themselves. I can’t think of any other place in the country that’s quite so ruthless in wanting to slough off underperforming jurisdictions — or so contemptuous of their neighbors.

For the record, here’s how metropolitan statistical areas in RoVa (the rest of Virginia) stacks up to West Virginia in 2005 per capita income (a good proxy for a region’s tax base):

Richmond – $36,537
Charlottesville – $35,570
Hampton Roads – $33,163
Roanoke – $32,587
Lynchburg – $28,846
Harrisonburg – $26,419
Danville – $25,647
Blacksburg – $24,647
Please note that the MSAs with higher incomes than West Virginia are considerably more populous than the MSAs that are lower.
(Hat tip: The VA GOP Caucus blog.)

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  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Are we to presume that the reason is that the leaders in NoVa are just that much better than the leaders in RoVa?

    or is the truth that NoVa .. is NoVa because of geographic happenstance?

    This is sorta like saying that HR/TW leaders worked their butt off to make sure the Navy located there whereas the folks in Charleston, WVa were just slugs.. and deserved to get coal mines rather than warships.


    that’s RoVa for the white horse that Saslaw is parading around on but he really resembles the back end of that stallion.. methinks.

  2. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    Hey not fair! You want to equate a bunch of cities to an entire state. No, No, No com padres.

    In 2005, Charleston, WV had a per capita personal income (PCPI) of $30,703.

    Note that that number isn’t much lower than good ole Tidewater, and my fellow Hillbillies didn’t have a military to help buff up the numbers.

    I’ve been telling you guys for some time now that Hampton Roads (the distinguished name) is nothing but backriver USA with high taxes.

  3. Groveton Avatar

    Q: What’s the difference between Virginia and Mississippi?

    A: Fairfax County.

    Q; Why have labs started using Fairfax County residents instead of rats in their experiments?

    1. There are more Fairfax County residents than there are rats.
    2. Sometimes the lab workers get attached to the rats.
    3. There are some things a rat just won’t do.

    Geographical happenstance?

    Please. Almost every city is the beneficiary of geographic happenstance. For example, New York is built on a world class harbor. Chicago is on the shore of Lake Michigan in the middle of the Great Lakes trading and transportation zone.

    Geographical happenstance is why cities are located where they are.

    “I can’t think of any other place in the country that’s quite so ruthless in wanting to slough off underperforming jurisdictions — or so contemptuous of their neighbors.”.

    Please. Chicago and “downstate Illinois”, upstate New York and New York City, Austin and the rest of Texas. Southern and Nothern California.

    You ought to get out of Richmond more often.

    There’s plenty of regional rivalry in the United States. At one point the Republican governor of Illinois would only refer to the Democratic mayor of Chicago as “what’s her name”. In public! On the record! Over and over again!

    And, speaking of Richmond …

    When I was at Dear Ole UVA the boys from NoVA agreed with the boys from RoVA on at least one thing – we all laughed at the snobs from Richmond. If anyone in Virginia is contenptous of their neighbors its the insular, inbred upper crust of Richmond.

  4. Groveton Avatar

    Sorry, I misspoke. Richmonders are not contemptuous of their neighbors, they are contemptuous of everybody.

    Remember this?

    Was that 1996 or 1956?

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    The whole issue becomes rather pointless when you consider that West Virginia was the only state in the nation ever to voluntarily secede from another one. And guess what state it seceded from? Hmmmm.

    Peter Galuszka, a former West Virginia resident

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I think that the idea that Martinsville or Roanoke lacking a similar economic powerhouse status to NoVa is somehow related to a failure on their part to do as “good” as job as NoVa is doing.. is patently absurd.

    Do you think any place in Va outside of NoVa would tell Homeland Security or the CIA to go away if those agencies wanted to locate there?

    Take the current leadership in NoVA and transplant them to Central Va and what do you get?

    Well.. here’s a hint.. you don’t get Fort Belvoir or Quantico or the Naval Sea Systems Command or dozens of other Federal Agencies and their Contractors and the 2nd and 3rd tier business with relationships with the contractors.

    Put the leaders of NoVa down in Bristol, Va and what do you get?

    Well you get the Bristol Va/Tenn MSA .. not the Wash Metro MSA.

    Being NoVa is more like winning the lottery than it is being Henry Ford.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    Where are the stats for the Bristol/Tri-Cities MSA?

  8. Jim Bacon Avatar

    I didn’t include them because Bristol/Tri-Cities is 80-90 percent in Tennessee.

  9. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Here’s another swipe at comparative numbers from a reader who prefers to remain anonymous:

    I saw your post about the Saslaw comments, and it motivated me to quickly dig into the BEA PCPI data for NOVA v. ROVA. I took the stats from the Northern VA localities that are in the Washington MSA (which includes outlying bedroom communities like Faquier and Winchester). For ROVA, I used the entire balance of the rest of Virginia, rural and metro alike, because many rural areas are linked to one of the metro areas (i.e. folks in Blackstone are in the Richmond media market, Emporia is a ‘tweener for Richmond and Hampton Roads, etc).

    If you look at ROVA and NOVA as their own separate “states,” the difference is pretty striking. Basically, NOVA is the richest state in the US (not counting DC), and ROVA is in the bottom half of the country. But, we’re still not West Virginia, and ROVA would be the second richest state in the South (the Confederacy and Border states) behind Florida. Now, if I split ROVA metro areas from ROVA rural areas, the rural areas would likely be near the bottom. But, Virginia’s increasing losing its overall rural population, with less than 20% of state residents living in non-metro areas. …

    United States $34,471
    District of Columbia $52,811
    NOVA $49,340
    Connecticut $47,388
    New Jersey $43,831
    Massachusetts $43,501
    Maryland $41,972
    New York $39,967
    New Hampshire $37,768
    Colorado $37,510
    Virginia $37,503
    Wyoming $37,305
    Minnesota $37,290
    Delaware $37,088
    California $36,936
    Illinois $36,264
    Nevada $35,744
    Alaska $35,564
    Washington $35,479
    Rhode Island $35,324
    Pennsylvania $34,937
    Hawaii $34,489
    Florida $34,001
    Wisconsin $33,278
    Nebraska $32,923
    Kansas $32,866
    Michigan $32,804
    Vermont $32,717
    South Dakota $32,523
    Texas $32,460
    Oregon $32,289
    Ohio $31,860
    Iowa $31,670
    ROVA $31,443
    North Dakota $31,357
    Missouri $31,231
    Indiana $31,173
    North Carolina $31,041
    Tennessee $30,969
    Georgia $30,914
    Maine $30,808
    Arizona $30,019
    Oklahoma $29,948
    Alabama $29,623
    Montana $29,015
    Idaho $28,478
    South Carolina $28,285
    Kentucky $28,272
    New Mexico $27,889
    Utah $27,321
    Arkansas $26,681
    West Virginia $26,419
    Mississippi $25,051
    Louisiana $24,664

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross


    Now what would be REALLY COOL .. would be to do a similar list with a column that shows the total local+state tax bite….


  11. Anonymous Avatar

    I have to wonder: Do the Blacksburg, Harrisonburg, & Charlottesville numbers include students? If so, this is a major distortion. VT students may be over 50% of Blacksburg. Are we counting the NoVA doctor’s son who is working parttime at Big Al’s as a waiter as a household? If so, the distortion would be much greater in B’burg with the state’s largest student population.

    This website shows B’burg demographics with the medium income close to what you show above. B’burg doesn’t have 48K residents MINUS students.

    Dunno the student populations of JMU or UVA but I suspect they are much smaller. GMU in FFax Cnty has a lot of students that are picking up a degree – or another degree – while working full time at a “real” job.

    B’burg sure doesn’t have the wealth concentrations of, say, Great Falls (see below), but unless you are including something like 25,000 students in the mix, I think your numbers are off.

    Deena Flinchum

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Hey Deena..THANKS for the zipskinny link…

    just curious .. did you do the Blacksburg and Fairfax ZIPs and then went to the page that shows the median income of the neighboring zips?

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    FYI – TOP 20 Zips in Va:

    1 22066 GREAT FALLS VA $154,817
    2 22039 FAIRFAX STATION $140,511
    3 22957 MONTPELIER STA $140,000
    4 22101 MC LEAN $125,105
    5 22182 VIENNA VA $120,075
    6 20124 CLIFTON $117,689
    7 22124 OAKTON VA $116,941
    8 22181 VIENNA VA $116,071
    9 20197 WATERFORD $111,726
    10 22027 DUNN LORINGVA $110,636
    11 20143 CATHARPIN $109,270
    12 20148 ASHBURN $106,977
    13 20171 HERNDON $102,577
    14 22207 ARLINGTON $100,390
    15 22308 ALEXANDRIA $100,012
    16 20194 RESTON VA $98,466
    17 20165 STERLING $95,623
    18 22032 FAIRFAX $93,857
    19 22213 ARLINGTON $93,803
    20 22015 BURKE VA $91,652

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    top 20 Va zips for unemployment:

    1 23001 ACHILLESVA 100%
    2 23186 WILLIAMSBURGVA 65.1%
    3 23407 MAPPSVILLEVA 29.4%
    4 23943 HAMPDEN SYDNEYVA 26.1%
    5 24464 MONTEBELLOVA 24%
    6 22845 ORKNEY SPRINGSVA 17.1%
    7 24094 GOLDBONDVA 16.3%
    8 24285 STONEGA VA 14.5%
    9 24218 BEN HUR VA 14.1%
    10 22924 BATESVILLEVA 12.3%
    11 23416 OAK HALLVA 11.1%
    12 24613 FALLS MILLSVA 11.1%
    13 24474 SELMA VA 10.8%
    14 24602 BANDY VA 10.6%
    15 23395 HORNTOWNVA 10.5%
    16 24604 BISHOP VA 10.3%
    17 23508 NORFOLKVA 10.1%
    18 23357 GREENBUSHVA 9.9%
    19 24601 AMONATEVA 9.9%
    20 24142 RADFORDVA 9.6%

  15. Anonymous Avatar


    You are most welcome. I have found it quite useful for researching areas down here where I do volunteer work. That 24142 zip in Radford is exclusively for people who have PO boxes at the Radford Post Office. Dunno why that is higher unemp than Radford in general.

    If you are interested in seeing what I was talking about in my posting above, look first at Blacksburg, then Pulaski, 35 miles away. B’burg shows almost 56% w/BA/BS or above, 35% poverty, and a median income of $26,390. They must be counting students (65% of men in 24060 are between the ages of 10-29 and 58% of everybody has never married) and who knows how they determine their “income”. As I said, is the analyst/program assuming that the engineering student working at Big Al’s is actually living on what he’s making instead of his parents paying for essentially everything?

    Pulaski has a bit over 10% w/BA/BS and a poverty rate at a believable 17% and median income at $28,160. It has lost a lot of industry and is a depressed area. B’burg, on the other hand, is prosperous as a result of its being the home of VT, probably the major employer here, just as the federal government is in NoVA. If you told the folks in Pulaski that their poverty rate was half that of Blackburg, they’d think you’d been sampling too much Franklin County ‘shine.

    Deena Flinchum

  16. Anonymous Avatar

    Shows taxes as a percent of per capita income.

    Then there is the issue of what you can buy in that location, with what you have left.


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