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Column: Northern Virginia by the Numbers

Most people know the biggest and best numbers about Northern Virginia. We live in a remarkable region of the country. Some of our jurisdictions have among the highest incomes in the country. The educational attainment of adults is among the highest in the country. By most quality of life measures, Northern Virginia is one of the best regions in the country in which to live. Virginia is the twelfth largest state in the nation, and a quarter of its eight million people live in Northern Virginia.

Lost in the big-picture look of the Washington, D.C., suburbs are thousands of people who are not among the highest paid, best educated, or living the good life. In May, 2012, the Commonwealth Institute (www.thecommonwealthinstitute.org) that does studies of public policies with particular attention to their impacts on low and moderate income persons released a report, Under Pressure: The State of Working Northern Virginia, that describes those less well-off in the region. The description that follows is taken directly from the report for which they deserve full credit. It focuses on the Great Recession of 2007 to the present. I find the work of The Commonwealth Institute to be of immense value to me in my legislative work.

Virginia weathered the Great Recession about as well as any state. Its unemployment rate of about 5.5 percent is among the best in the Nation. All the jurisdictions in Northern Virginia have unemployment levels less than the state average with Fairfax County as an example having a rate of 3.7 percent. Due to the large population of the Northern Virginia region, however, the area is home to more than one in four unemployed Virginians which is more than any other region of the state. According to the Institute report, Northern Virginia’s "job gap" – the number of jobs needed to return to pre-recession employment levels, after considering population growth, is a needed 100,000 new jobs.

Poverty levels in the region range from 3.5 percent in Loudoun County to 9.9 percent in Alexandria with the numbers increasing since 2007. Since January 2007, Northern Virginia has seen a 131 percent increase in the number of persons receiving SNAP (food stamps) benefits while statewide participation only increased by 77 percent, according to the report. In 2010, households in Northern Virginia had a median income of approximately $98,747, over 60 percent above the statewide median but still below the region’s pre-recession level of $102,644.

The report concluded that "the Northern Virginia economy deserves its reputation as one of the most robust and prosperous in the nation, but for substantial segments of the Northern Virginia workforce, its promises of opportunity and wealth are elusive, and overall Northern Virginians experience cost of living pressure higher than their peers in other parts of the state." Public and private institutions need to recognize the unique and special needs of Northern Virginians who are a small percentage of the population but a very big number.