In the last post I explained why I think Montgomery County is in pretty good shape (at least for the moment) on the economic measures that matter most – jobs and wages. But serious challenges to our ability to maintain and improve our quality of life are already apparent and I’m concerned about our future competitiveness.
Jobs and income: the bad news
In real, inflation-adjusted terms, median incomes in Montgomery County have not recovered to the levels reached before the recession that began in 2008. For that matter, real median incomes are down or flat in every DC-area jurisdiction except for the District and Loudon County. This chart shows the weakness of the recovery in incomes:
Contrary to what some people will tell you, this income decline is not a problem that is limited to Montgomery County or Maryland. Fairfax County and Alexandria are both well below pre-recession levels. The idea that northern Virginia has a secret sauce (or simply lower taxes and less regulation) that allows it to avoid larger economic trends is inaccurate. None of this is to say that we should accept slow or stagnant income growth – in fact, sharpening our efforts to improve our ability to attract and retain high wage jobs should be a top priority.
We also need to be very concerned that, like the rest of the country, we have an inequality problem:
|2016 Median Household Income|
|White, not Hispanic||$122,291||±3,433|
|Hispanic or Latino||$70,100||±4,411|
|Black or African-American||$69,313||±3,319|
The fact that one in four households in Montgomery County lives on less than $50,000 a year would not be such as significant problem if Montgomery and the DC region did not have such an astronomical cost of living (more on that later). In our community, $50,000 is less than half the median income and not nearly enough to meet the housing, transportation, health, child care and other needs of a family of four.
Income inequality also has a major impact on our school system. The percentage of schoolchildren living in poverty has declined slightly, but it still hovers around 10 percent:
Our aging workforce
Most Montgomery County residents are aware that our community is much more racially and ethnically diverse than it was just a decade or two ago, but few are talking about another dimension of demographic change: the aging of the Baby Boom generation.
The economic impact of a graying population will be profound, because the only age group that is growing as a share of the total population is 65+, and by 2040, this age group will make up 20 percent of the county’s population. Here’s a chart that shows what I mean:
Montgomery County, like the rest of the United States, has faced serious economic headwinds over the past decade, but we have benefited from having a relatively large share of the population in their peak earning years. As a larger share of the county’s population ages out of the workforce, this group will generate less tax revenue, which means that we will need to attract and retain more high-wage jobs and workers to fill them just to pay for our current services – never mind adding or improving them.