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D.C. workers have America's highest salaries

By Les Christie, staff writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Washington, D.C.'s workers enjoy the highest salaries of any major U.S. city., with a median household income of $85,198.

The nation's capital fared better than most of the rest of the country in 2009, according to the Census Bureau's annual survey of income and poverty in the United States, which was released on Tuesday.

While D.C.'s income was essentially flat from 2008 to 2009, nearly every other major metro area suffered a drop in income. Of the 52 largest metro areas with more than 1 million residents, only San Antonio did not record a loss. The city's median income grew 0.5% to $47,698.

"This goes to how broad-based the downturn was," said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics. "During other recessions, a region or two avoided the recession. This time, none did."

He attributed Washington's relative success to the fact that the federal government is a stable source of income and jobs. Plus, the city has largest percentage of college degrees -- both undergraduate and graduate.

But, it's not just well-educated government workers swelling D.C.'s income statistics; many private businesses are opening operations in the city.

"It's so key to the regulatory environment that a lot of businesses are setting up shop," Zandi said.

The metro areas that suffered the largest income drops came from two disparate regions: the Rust Belt and the Sun Belt.

In the Rust Belt, Detroit median income fell the most, dropping 10% to $48,535; Cleveland recorded an 8.5% decline to $45,395, and in Indianapolis income fell 7.1% to $50,140.

Hard-hit Sun Belt cities were led by Orlando, where median income fell nearly 10% to $46,856, and Miami dropped 8.2% to $45,946.

Texas cities fared better than most, with Houston almost flat and Dallas and Austin suffering just 3% declines. And, of course, San Antonio gained.

"San Antonio did not participate in the housing bubble," said Zandi, "and didn't suffer in the bust. There's also few financial services companies there, an industry that got obliterated in the bust, and not much manufacturing, another industry that got crushed."

Wages are also low in the city. Household income is 44% below that of Washington, D.C., so it's less likely to lose companies to other areas and more likely to attract any expanding businesses.

Nationally, income dropped by 2.1% to $50,221 in 2009. Accounting for some of that decline was shorter work weeks: The median time at the job fell by 36 minutes to 38.4 hours from 39.

The decline in work hours hit two groups hard: the self-employed and those working in construction, extraction, maintenance and repair.

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