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Washington Suburbs Are Richest, Most Educated in U.S.

The Washington metropolitan area is the wealthiest and most educated region in the U.S., according to government data that offered demographic estimates of communities from the past five years.

Seven of the 17 counties in the U.S. where more than half of residents 25 years or older had a college degree are located in the Washington suburbs, the Census Bureau said today. The agency also said the only three communities with median household incomes higher than $100,000 are in suburban counties in Virginia. Maryland, which also borders the nation’s capital, saw income levels in Howard County increase at the eighth-fastest pace in the U.S. since 2000.

The Washington suburbs are home to government contractors such as Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corp., the world’s largest defense company, and General Dynamics Corp., the Falls Church, Virginia-based maker of Abrams tanks and Gulfstream business jets.

“Not only does the federal government itself have highly skilled and highly paid jobs, but the growing number of federal contracts also offer that kind of employment,” said D’Vera Cohn, a census analyst at the Pew Research Center in Washington. “The flip side of all this is that the Washington area is less dependent on sectors like manufacturing and construction which have had losses during this recession.”

Education, Income Survey

The education and income gauges come from the American Community Survey, which has been used since 2005 to replace the so-called long-form census questionnaire that had asked detailed questions every decade. The annual survey is designed to complement the decennial count and provide more timely annual data for small geographic areas.

“The ACS represents the first time such a massive compilation of data estimates for small geographic areas is available,” Robert Groves, director of the Census Bureau, said in a statement. The “very important socioeconomic information will inform planners throughout the country,” he said on a conference call with reporters.

The data released today in Washington covered more than 670,000 distinct geographic areas and represent about one in 10 U.S. households. The projections, a five-year average of an annual survey that asks about topics such as poverty, housing costs and work-commute times, are the last look at the U.S. population before the Census Bureau releases figures from its 2010 decennial count.

Census Influence

Data from the final census count, scheduled for release on Dec. 21, will affect the allocation of about $4 trillion in government funds during the next 10 years and determine which states will gain or lose seats in Congress.

The community with the lowest percentage of college graduates was Owsley County, Kentucky, where 4.6 percent of residents had a bachelor’s degree. Falls Church in Virginia had the highest at 69.5 percent. Owsley also had the lowest median household income, at $18,869, compared with $112,021 in Loudoun County, Virginia.

“People with college degrees have the highest incomes because they have the highest-paid jobs, and the Washington area tends to have highly educated and highly paid people because of the federal government,” Cohn said. “The presence of government tends to insulate the Washington area from the impacts of the economic downturns.”

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