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The previous blog in this series described how income-based population dynamics are shifting within Montgomery County. This blog compares these dynamics with those in Montgomery County’s regional neighbors and other large counties across the nation.

Income Change in the Washington, DC Region

The previous blog noted that Montgomery County’s low- and middle-income populations both shifted by five percentage points, in opposite directions, from 2005 to 2022. The low-income share of Montgomery County’s population rose from 25% to 30%, while the middle-income share fell from 23% to 18%.

This shift may not seem significant, but it stands out in the region. Compared with the United States as a whole and the 10 largest jurisdictions near Montgomery County, these compositional changes in low- and middle-income populations were the largest and second largest in their respective directions (orange bar in Figures 1 and 2). Within this region, only Prince William County and Montgomery County failed to increase their high-income shares (Figure 3).

Montgomery County gained more low-income residents and lost more middle-income residents than any of the 10 other jurisdictions. Washington, DC, Loudoun County, VA, and Fairfax County, VA all gained more high-income residents during the period than Montgomery County, with DC nearly doubling Montgomery County’s gain. Although Montgomery County had the third largest net gain in high-income population, its percent change—accounting for the initial size of its high-income population—was the lowest of its neighbors at 14%.

Table 1: Net and Percent changes of Income-Based Population Groups in Washington, DC Region*, 2005–2022, listed in order of net low-income change

Jurisdiction Net Change Percent Change
Low-income Middle-income High-income Low-income Middle-income High-income
Montgomery County, MD 87,927 -26,279 67,177 39% -12% 14%
Prince George's County, MD 54,905 -1,339 45,827 19% -1% 15%
Prince William County, VA 47,774 29,434 58,697 49% 35% 36%
Fairfax County, VA 33,341 -2,558 98,771 15% -1% 17%
Loudoun County, VA 29,473 24,176 122,362 76% 41% 78%
Howard County, MD 25,405 -4,564 46,243 61% -7% 30%
Charles County, MD 9,940 7,316 14,652 26% 20% 24%
Frederick County, MD 7,633 11,334 48,715 13% 17% 52%
Alexandria City, VA -733 -1,680 23,663 -2% -6% 37%
Arlington County, VA -7,756 2,165 45,341 -14% 6% 44%
District of Columbia -44,938 22,097 152,557 -18% 24% 89%

Data: 2005 and 2022 1-year ACS estimates

*Includes the 10 largest jurisdictions in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria (DC-VA-MD-WV) metropolitan statistical area and Howard County, which is in the neighboring Baltimore-Columbia-Towson (MD) metropolitan statistical area. Fairfax City, Falls Church City, Manassas City, and Manassas Park, all in Virginia, are not included in the data.

Income Change in the United States Overall and in Other Large Counties

The yellow bar in Figures 1 through 3, representing the entire United States, shows that Montgomery County’s compositional shift in population by income level runs counter not only to its neighbors’ trends, but also to the shifts occurring nationwide. To gauge where Montgomery County stands relative to similarly large counties across the country, we ranked its low-, middle-, and high-income changes against the 50 largest counties by population in 2005 (Montgomery was the 40th largest county; see the Navigating Income Shifts in Montgomery County: Towards Shared Prosperity research brief for the full list).

While Montgomery County began the study period with a proportionally small low-income population, ranking 49th out of these 50 counties, its rapid net growth in this group ranked 9th out of these 50 counties (see Table 2). To put this growth in perspective, Montgomery County added more low-income people over this period than several counties whose total populations were more than twice its size in 2005. These include Dallas County, TX; Miami-Dade County, FL; and San Bernardino County, CA.

Table 2: Montgomery County’s Rank among the 50 Largest Counties in Net Change of Income-Based Population Groups, 2005–2022

Total Population 2005 Population group net change
Low-income Middle-income High-income
Rank 40 9 40 36

Data: 2005 and 2022 1-year ACS estimates

Montgomery County again contrasts with its neighbors and the nation regarding compositional change. Its five-percentage-point increase in low-income population was not only the highest in the region, but it was also the highest among these 50 large counties. Likewise, it ranked third-to-last in change in share of both middle- and high-income populations.

Table 3: Montgomery County’s Rank among the 50 Largest Counties in Change in Share of Income-Based Population Groups, 2005–2022

Total Population 2005 Population group net change
Low-income Middle-income High-income
Rank 40 1 48 48

Data: 2005 and 2022 1-year ACS estimates

Most counties on this list, as well as the nation overall, saw a decline in the middle-income population, as incomes have generally improved relative to the poverty level since 2005. In this sense, Montgomery County is no different. What sets Montgomery County apart is the combination of its middle-income loss with its significant low-income gain. These shifts have contributed to Montgomery County’s rapid compositional change in population and its stagnation in overall income metrics. While there is no single factor underlying these income trends, the dramatic decline in middle-income population suggests there’s not enough housing in the county that this group can afford.

The last blog in this series takes a deeper dive into how housing relates to these population shifts and what Montgomery County can do to encourage more inclusive and sustainable growth.

Ben Kraft
About the author
Benjamin Kraft is a research planner in Montgomery Planning’s Research and Strategic Projects Division. His research and planning work focus on topics related to the economy and employment. Ben has a Ph.D. in city and regional planning from Georgia Tech and a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Michigan.

One Response to “Repositioning Montgomery County for Prosperity, Part 2: Montgomery County’s Income Shifts in Regional and National Contexts”

  1. Tony Byrne

    Many thanks for this series. It’s great to see MCPD sharing actionable research as we re-think housing policy in this region.