Looking at affordability

Historical median household income in Maryland and its neighbors

I’m starting my look at housing affordability in Howard County. Instead of throwing some opinions out there without any support, I’m first taking a look at what data I can find that’s relevant to the issue, starting with data on household income and how that’s changed over time.

I’d really like to look at income data specifically for Howard County, but unfortunately I can’t find any U.S. Census Bureau income data at the county level until the 2000s. So I’m starting with data on median household income at the state level. (Recall that “median” means half of all households have less income than this value, and half more.)

Above you can see the data over the last 30 years or so for Maryland, D.C., and Virginia, as well as for the U.S. as a whole. These values are inflation-adjusted, expressed in 2017 dollars. I also used the 3-year average to smooth out spikiness in the values, whether due to sampling issues or year-to-year economic fluctuations. Thus the figure for (say) the year 2000 is actually the average for 1998, 1999, and 2000.

Some quick takes on this:

  • Maryland median household income has always been higher than that for the U.S., as well as higher than for both D.C. and Virginia.

  • Median household income has not increased very much in real terms over time: less than $10,000 in 2017 dollars over 30 years, or about $300 per year—significantly less than 1% per year.

To get a better feel for how the local jurisdictions have fared relative to one another, here’s another graph showing median household income for Maryland, D.C., and Virginia as a percentage of the U.S. median household income (the horizontal line at 100%). Again, this uses the 3-year averages for median household income.

Two takeaways from this graph:

  • Maryland median household income has been about 130% or more of U.S. median household income in the past few years, while Virginia median household income has been about 120% or more.

  • D.C. has undergone a startling change from the 1990s, when its median household income was less than 90% of U.S. median household income, to the present day, when its median household income rivals that of Maryland.

I’ll refrain from speculating exactly why these changes (or non-changes) have occurred. Next I plan to look at recent median household income for Howard County and neighboring jurisdictions. Till then, be safe!