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Editorial: Income Gap Alive and Well

Statistics make life in the area sound idyllic, but many families are left out in the land of plenty.

Northern Virginia is a place of wonder and plenty. So says the New York Times this past week in, "Income Gap Meet the Longevity Gap," (March 15, 2014).

Fairfax County is cited as place whose residents "are among the longest-lived in the country," and compared to McDowell County, W.Va., where residents have one of the shortest life expectancies. In Fairfax, "men have an average life expectancy of 82 years and women, 85, about the same as in Sweden. In McDowell, the averages are 64 and 73, about the same as in Iraq."

If you are reading this, chances are that the Connection was delivered to your single family home in an affluent neighborhood. In fact, many of us do live in the Northern Virginia described in the New York Times. All it takes is money.

"In Fairfax, there are ample doctors, hospitals, recreation centers, shops, restaurants, grocery stores, nursing homes and day care centers, with public and private entities providing cradle-to-grave services to prosperous communities."

But here is where the crack in the wall appears: "The jobs tend to be good jobs, providing health insurance and pensions, even if there is a growing low-wage work force of health aides, janitors, fast-food workers and the like."

In Fairfax County Public Schools, more than 49,000 of the 185,000 students are poor enough to qualify for subsidized or free meals. In Fairfax County, more than 100,000 people lack health insurance, including 35,000 who could be covered now at no cost to themselves or the state if they lived in West Virginia because West Virginia has embraced the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, so its poorest residents do have access to health care. Not so in Virginia.

In Northern Virginia, we have our own income gap, and likely our own longevity gap. In Northern Virginia, we have a health care crisis. In Northern Virginia, we do have an affordable housing crisis.

Tens of thousands of working poor people in Northern Virginia, families with at least one full time job, cannot afford to rent an apartment. Earnings of at least $1,100 a week would be required to afford market rate rent in Fairfax County according to the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance. But the county’s 50,000 retail workers, for example, average about $635 a week according to the Virginia Employment Commission. The county’s 40,000-plus food service workers average $415 a week. Even the county’s 38,000 local government employees average $950 weekly, a stretch in this area.

To read the story in the New York Times, go to www.NYTimes.com and search "income gap."

— Mary Kimm, mkimm@connectionnewspapers.com