Median Incomes of U.S. Cities and States

What People Make Across the Country

Median Incomes of U.S. Cities and States
November 6, 2014

The U.S. Census Bureau released a report in September summarizing results from the 2013 American Community Survey (ACS), including the latest analysis on household incomes in America. Data was compiled and contrasted for metropolitan areas, as well as on a state-by-state basis. The data presents a mixed economic picture, with median incomes slightly improving in the aggregate, but most areas staying flat from 2012 data.

The median household income for the U.S rose slightly from $51,915 in 2012 to $52,250 in 2013. In 36 states and the District of Columbia, there was no statistically meaningful difference between 2012 and 2013 median incomes. Of the remaining states, only Wyoming and Alaska showed growth over 5%, at 5.7% and 5.3% respectively. Most other states claimed growth in the 1-2% range, just keeping up with inflation. This supports the general complaints about stagnant wages in America.

The ACS brief contains a map breaking down median values by state, which highlights the regional aspects of median income.

The majority of states with median incomes of $60,000 or more are located along the Eastern seaboard, starting with Virginia north to New Hampshire, with only Delaware and Rhode Island excluded. Four other states fell into this category: California, Minnesota, Alaska and Hawaii.

Meanwhile, states with median incomes less than $45,000 form a block in the Appalachians through the Mid-South – effectively stretching from the Louisiana/Mississippi/Alabama coast through West Virginia. Three other regions have similarly low median incomes: South Carolina, New Mexico and Puerto Rico.

The District of Columbia is an anomaly in these types of surveys because of its urban makeup and relative affluence due to government influence. No doubt, the impact of government workers extends into Virginia and Maryland as well.

It is worth pointing out that D.C. also had the highest Gini coefficient, which is a relative measure of inequality in income (zero for perfect equality and one for perfect inequality). Thus, the D.C. area has a high median income but the disparity between higher-and lower-paid workers is larger.

Not surprisingly, the study of median income in the 25 largest metropolitan areas tended to follow suit geographically. There are a few exceptions – for example, the Riverside, CA, metro area (just east of the Los Angeles metro area) is unexpectedly lower than the median – but in general, the metro areas tracked their states.

Washington D.C. was by far the highest at a median income of $89,593, although this value was virtually unchanged from 2012. The next closest area is San Francisco/Oakland at $75,779. The Bay Area closed the gap in 2013, having 5.3% growth in median income. Only three other cities/areas registered significant growth in median income: St. Louis, Detroit, and New York City/Newark.

On the positive side, only one metropolitan area showed a significant decrease in median income. The Charlotte, NC, metro area suffered a 3.8% drop in median income to $51,251. However, two Florida metro areas saved Charlotte from coming in last among the 25 areas ranked. Miami/Ft. Lauderdale/West Palm Beach came in at $47,154, and, at the bottom of the list, we find Tampa/St. Petersburg at $45,053.

The takeaway is that except for a few select areas, the median income has stayed basically the same across America. While inflation is low, it is not zero. Thus, there are likely many Americans who are losing purchasing power through stubbornly stagnant wages.

The booming stock market is not reaching down to help these Americans, and the aggregate inequality numbers seem to back up that claim.

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