How affluent is Howard County, really?

5 minute read

Howard County median household income vs. other local jurisdictions, 1-year estimates

Click for a higher-resolution version. Graph by Frank Hecker, made available under the CC 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

UPDATE: I’ve corrected my comments about ranking of counties to make it clear that the rankings reflect only counties and county-equivalents with populations over 65,000.

tl;dr: Looking at median household income in Howard County, Maryland, over time compared to other local jurisdictions.

I’m continuing my look at median household income, in pursuit of my ultimate goal of learning more about the issues around housing affordability in Howard County.

After my previous post about Maryland median household income I now turn my attention to looking at Howard County specifically. Unfortunately U.S. Census Bureau data on median household income at the county level does not go back nearly as far as state-level data. The earliest county-level data I can find dates from 2005 and the beginning of the American Community Survey.

The graph above shows all the data I could find on Howard County median household income, compared to a select set of other jurisdictions. All values are in 2017 dollars. The gains and losses thus represent gains and losses in real terms after adjusting for inflation.

I chose the other jurisdictions as follows:

  • Howard County has traditionally been compared with Loudoun County, Virginia, as the most affluent counties in Maryland and Virginia respectively. For this graph I also added Stafford County, Virginia, a rapidly growing county that straddles I-95 south of D.C. just as Howard County straddles I-95 north of D.C.

  • I paired Montgomery County and Fairfax County, the largest and most affluent of the close-in suburban jurisdictions.

  • I paired D.C. and Baltimore city as the respective urban jurisdictions of the Washington-Baltimore metro area.

  • Finally, I added Anne Arundel County as one of Howard County’s most affluent neighbors in Maryland.

(I would have also added Baltimore County and perhaps Frederick County, but I ran out of colors and didn’t want to make the graph more cluttered than it already is.)

Here are some immediate takeaways from the graph above:

  • Howard County experienced a significant drop in median household income from 2016 to 2017.

  • Northern Virginia continues to outpace central Maryland when it comes to median household income, with Loudoun County still way out in front, Fairfax County continuing to lead Montgomery County, and Stafford County having caught up to Howard County.

  • Similarly the District of Columbia is widening the income gap between itself and Baltimore city, and narrowing the gap between itself and its suburbs.

As to why these trends are occurring, I haven’t done enough research to have a solid opinion. However I will note that median household income for the Northern Virginia suburbs is increasing even as median household income for Virginia as a whole is stagnant or decreasing. This is presumably due to the rest of Virginia suffering economic problems to which Northern Virginia is immune.

Howard County median household income vs. other local jurisdictions, 1-year estimates

Click for a higher-resolution version. Graph by Frank Hecker, made available under the CC 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

This graph repeats the previous graph in comparing Howard County to other jurisdictions, except that here the measure is median household income for Howard County, etc., relative to U.S. median household income. My takeaways here are as follows:

  • Loudoun County has separated itself from the pack in the last ten years, with a median household income now 225% or more of U.S. median household income.

  • D.C. continues its growth in median household income, and is now above 130% of U.S. median household income. Given that Baltimore city median household income is stagnant at about 75-80% of U.S. median household income, the next few years could see D.C. have almost double the median household income of Baltimore city.

  • Howard County and the other jurisdictions are trending steadily at 150-200% of U.S. median household income.

Howard County median household income rank vs. other local jurisdictions

Click for a higher-resolution version. Graph by Frank Hecker, made available under the CC 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

The final graph shows the ranking of Howard County over the years versus the most affluent local jurisdictions. The story is similar to that from the graphs above.

UPDATE: While the relative rankings below are correct, the absolute rank numbers do not account for any affluent counties or county-equivalents with populations under 65,000. That’s because they are based on the American Community Survey 1-year estimates, and such estimates are not done for smaller counties.

  • Loudoun County has maintained its position for the last ten years as the most affluent U.S. county as measured by median household income, with Fairfax County also consistently in the top ten. They have now been joined by Stafford County, although the margins of error for Stafford County estimates are so large that it’s likely a matter of sheer randomness whether Stafford County is in the top ten or just outside it.

  • Howard County has dropped out of the top five and the top ten, and Montgomery County has dropped out of the top ten. (Again, due to margins of error Howard County is probably in reality roughly tied with Stafford County.) Anne Arundel County was never in the top ten counties by income, and now sits at #30.

Looking at the rankings for other jurisdictions, Virginia has four jurisdictions in the top ten (with Arlington County joining Loudoun, Fairfax, and Stafford), with the remaining top ten counties in California and New Jersey (with three each). Looking beyond the top ten, ranks #11-30 include two more Virginia jurisdictions (Prince William County and Alexandria city) and five Maryland counties (with Calvert and Charles counties joining Howard, Montgomery, and Anne Arundel).

Caveats aside, overall this reinforces the story of northern Virginia’s economic success and suburban Maryland’s relative economic decline.

In my next post I’ll turn my attention to median household income within Howard County itself, looking at Census data by census tract.

Further exploration

For more on how I created the graphs above, see the following:

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