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News Release Information

Friday, October 15, 2021


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Consumer Expenditures for the Washington Metropolitan Area: 2019-20

Households in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-MD-VA-WV, metropolitan area spent an average of $89,052 per year in 2019–20, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Regional Commissioner Alexandra Hall Bovee noted that this figure was significantly higher than the $62,188 average expenditure level for households in the United States. Washington-area households allocated their dollars similarly to the nation in 3 of the 8 largest major components. Five of the largest components in the local area differed significantly from their respective U.S. averages. For example, the share of expenditures for healthcare, which accounted for 7.1 percent of the average household’s budget in the Washington area, was lower than the national average of 8.3 percent. (See chart 1 and table 1.)

Highlights of the Washington area’s 2019–20 spending patterns:

  • Housing: This was the largest expenditure component for Washington-area households and averaged $33,572. Housing accounted for 37.7 percent of the area’s household budget, significantly higher than the 33.8-percent U.S. average. Housing expenditure shares among the 22 published metropolitan areas for which data were available ranged from 39.1 percent in New York to 31.8 percent in St. Louis. (See table 2.)

  • Personal insurance and pensions: Washington households spent 13.5 percent ($12,004) of their annual budget on personal insurance and pensions, the second-largest expenditure component for the area’s households. The portion of a local-area household’s budget spent on personal insurance and pensions was significantly above the national average of 11.6 percent.

  • Transportation: Washington-area households spent 12.3 percent of their budget on transportation, significantly lower than the national average of 16.5 percent. Of the $10,912 in annual transportation expenditures in Washington, 90.2 percent was spent buying and maintaining private vehicles; this compared to the national average of 94.9 percent.

  • Food: The portion of a Washington household’s budget spent on food, 11.4 percent, was significantly lower than the 12.5-percent U.S. average. Washington-area households spent $5,785, or 57.0 percent, of their food dollars on food at home and $4,360 (43.0 percent) on food away from home. In comparison, the average U.S. household spent 61.9 percent of its food budget on food at home and 38.1 percent on food away from home.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic Impact on 2019-2020 Consumer Expenditure Surveys Data for Metropolitan Statistical Areas

Data presented in this release reflect data collected both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the pandemic, data collection by personal visit for the CE program was suspended March 19, 2020. Instead, data were collected either online or by phone. Data collected in 2019 and prior to March 19, 2020, were conducted by personal visit. More information about the impact of the pandemic on CE data is available at

Technical Note

Data in this release are from the Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE), which the U.S. Census Bureau conducts for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The data in this release were averaged over a 2-year period, 2019 and 2020.

A household in the CE survey is defined as a consumer unit which includes families, single persons living alone or sharing a household with others but who are financially independent, or two or more persons living together who share expenses. The terms household or consumer unit are used interchangeably for convenience.

Differences in spending among metropolitan areas may reflect differences in the cost of living, but they also may reflect other causes. Spending differences may result from different consumer preferences or variations in demographic characteristics, such as household size, age, or income levels. However, expenditure shares, or the percentage of a household’s budget spent on a particular component, can be used to compare spending patterns across areas. Sample sizes for the metropolitan areas are much smaller than for the nation, so the U.S. estimates and year-to-year changes are more reliable than those for the metropolitan areas. Users should also keep in mind that prices for many goods and services have changed since the survey was conducted.

A value that is statistically different from another does not necessarily mean that the difference has economic or practical significance. Statistical significance is concerned with our ability to make confident statements about a universe based on a sample. A large difference between two values may not be statistically significant, while a small difference could be significant; both the sample size and the variation among the values in the sample affect the relative error of the estimates.

For additional technical and related information, see Data for the nation, the four geographic regions of the United States, and 22 metropolitan areas nationwide are available at Metropolitan definitions used in the survey are available at The metropolitan area discussed in this release is the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-MD-VA-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area which includes the District of Columbia; Calvert, Charles, Frederick, Montgomery, and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland; Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Fredericksburg, Manassas, and Manassas Park cities and Arlington, Clarke, Culpeper, Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun, Prince William, Rappahannock, Spotsylvania, Stafford, and Warren Counties in Virginia; and Jefferson County in West Virginia.. Metropolitan area news releases for the Consumer Expenditure Survey are available at

Information in this release will be made available to individuals with sensory impairments upon request. Voice phone: (202) 691-5200; Federal Relay Service: (800) 877-8339.

Table 1. Average annual expenditures, characteristics, and percent distributions, United States and Washington, DC, metropolitan area, 2019–20
Category United
Washington, DC

Consumer unit characteristics:

Income before taxes

$83,599 $131,740

Age of reference person

51.9 51.2

Average number in consumer unit:


2.5 2.6

Children under 18

0.6 0.6

Adults 65 and over

0.4 0.3


1.3 1.5


1.9 1.7

Percent homeowner

65 68

Average annual expenditures

$62,188 $89,052*

Percent distribution


100.0 100.0


12.5 11.4*

Alcoholic beverages

0.9 0.9


33.8 37.7*

Apparel and services

2.7 3.3


16.5 12.3*


8.3 7.1*


4.9 4.4

Personal care products and services

1.2 1.0


0.2 0.2


2.2 2.2

Tobacco products and smoking supplies

0.5 0.2*


1.5 1.5

Cash contributions

3.4 4.3

Personal insurance and pensions

11.6 13.5*

Note: An asterisk (*) represents a statistically significant difference from the U.S. average at the 95-percent confidence level.

Table 2. Percent share of average annual expenditures for housing, transportation, and food, United States and 22 metropolitan areas, 2019–20
Area Housing Transportation Food

United States

33.8 16.5 12.5


33.5 14.4* 14.1*


35.7 13.9* 15.0*


34.0 16.2 10.6*


33.8 12.2* 11.9


37.6* 14.0 13.8*

Dallas-Fort Worth

37.4* 15.6 10.0*


34.3 16.8 10.3*


32.0* 17.2 12.2


38.7* 13.5* 16.3*


33.1 16.1 10.5*

Los Angeles

37.8* 15.7 13.1


38.4* 18.3 11.6

Minneapolis-St. Paul

32.2 14.5 11.2*

New York

39.1* 12.4* 12.9


35.6 13.5* 11.7


33.8 20.5 10.8*

San Diego

37.2* 13.6* 13.3

San Francisco

37.6* 12.1* 12.5


36.7* 13.2* 12.1

St. Louis

31.8* 14.5 11.5


34.0 18.4 14.1*

Washington, DC

37.7* 12.3* 11.4*

Note: An asterisk (*) represents a statistically significant difference from the U.S. average at the 95-percent confidence level.


Last Modified Date: Friday, October 15, 2021