Fairfax County and Washington, D.C. are experiencing population stagnation. According to George Mason University policy professor Terry L. Clower, this could be cause for concern.

Clower gave a talk on local economic performance and outlook at the Mount Vernon Springfield Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Outlook 2023 event last month, using national numbers as a comparison. 

Data such as employment trends, changes in gross regional product, real estate market information, poverty measures, and economic mobility can be used to judge a region’s economic performance.

One major category where both Washington and Fairfax are facing difficulty is population. According to Fairfax County’s News Portal, population growth has slowed down in the county since 2020. In 2021, the population decreased, resulting in the first negative growth recorded in the county. 

“Cost of housing and other costs make this an expensive place to live,” said Clower. “The growth of other cities like Austin, Charlotte, Atlanta, Dallas, Charleston, and Nashville means there are job opportunities in communities with a much lower cost of living.”

However, Washington underperforms Fairfax in other categories.

“[Washington] is an expensive place to do business,” Clower said.

With business rent trends on the rise combined with high taxes and high levels of regulation, D.C. can be difficult for businesses. While Northern Virginia is still far from low cost, it is less costly than Washington.

“This is a very complex issue,” said Clower. “I could do a two-semester class and not address all of the issues underlying this topic.”

Clower also mentioned that people moving away from Fairfax is particularly concerning, because of how it might impact the local labor force. 

“If companies can’t find the workers they need here, they may choose to locate elsewhere,” said Clower. “If businesses can’t grow here, the tax base stagnates, maybe even declines. Tax rates have to rise, which causes the county to be less attractive.”

Clower mentioned some ways that Fairfax can improve its economic outlook, some of which are already being done or considered. 

Workable solutions to help lower the cost of housing have been included in budget guidance discussed at the Fairfax Board of Supervisors’ budget guidance for FY 2025. 

“Fairfax County is committed to producing and preserving affordable homes,” said Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay at the budget committee pre-mark-up meeting on April 28. “The board has adopted the goal of producing a minimum of ten thousand new affordable homes by the year 2034.”

McKay also mentioned that funding has already been allocated for the issue, going back to 2022.

“This one-time funding is a combination of utilizing $45 million in federal stimulus funds and $30 million from one-time general fund balances,” said McKay. “It is hoped that this funding will have a significant impact on meeting the new ten thousand home goal.”

Clower’s other suggestions include working to make traffic more tolerable, investing in workforce development to make up for talent that can’t be attracted, exploring options to make key services like child and eldercare more affordable, working with other jurisdictions to modernize and sustainably fund WMATA, and keeping tax rates reasonably funded in the process.

However, the Board of Supervisors is already predicting 2025 to be a difficult budget year.

“With this challenging FY 2025 forecast, it’s imperative that all options to generate and diversify county revenues are explored, but also focus on identifying expenditure savings or moderating expenditure growth,” said McKay.

(2) comments


I don't know, pointing to the pandemic-affected pop decline from 2020->2021 without acknowledging the pop rebound/growth from 2021->2022 seems a bit disingenuous and cherry-picking. It very much remains to be seen what the long-term pop trends will be compared to prior estimates, but it seems a very Chicken Little take to base much of a prediction on the 2020->2021 pop decline, especially when we have more recent data available that contradicts.


Chairman McKay along with everyone else on the board except Supervisor Herrity need to go. Their only solutions to problems is to throw more money at them. Then they ask for more bonds to pay for them and we wonder why everything is going up. This article doesn’t say it, but I would bet that the population is aging because younger people cannot afford to live here.

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