The Richest and Poorest Counties and Cities in the US

A reader asked that I expand on the earlier post about the poorest counties and richest cities in the US.  His question was really good, so I went back and looked at the data (since I collected it months ago). This data is only for counties and places with over 250,000 people. I figured I would add a broader context by providing a few more charts, and talking about some of the measures. I realize that many people have no idea what the poverty level or the median income in the US is. This chart shows the poverty thresholds for various family sizes. In 2004 the poverty threshold for a family of four (2 kids two adults) was $19,157. The median income for families (regardless of household size) was $44,684. All of the graphs below are from the 2004 American Community Survey. Since this survey is not a Census, the results are listed as estimates (They are very reliable estimates).

In the earlier post, I should also have noted that the places and counties listed are only cities with over 250,000 people. Unfortunately, the American Community Survey does not have a readily available list of smaller counties or places and their median incomes for 2004. Thus, this reflects the countries urban population. However, in this post, I have added the poorest counties and the wealthiest cities with over 250,000 people. Overall, the poorest urban counties are primarily in the south, and cities with the highest median family incomes are really spread out. If you are looking for data on smaller cities or rural areas, the best data is provided by the 2000 Census. (I have added the link below.)

Since I gathered that data a long time ago, I had forgotten why I did not put the cities with the highest median incomes. I now remember why…since they are only looking at cities, we miss the fact that in the modern city wealth is concentrated not in the city, but in the surrounding suburbs. The Census Bureau uses the term places as a synonym for cities over 250,000 people. The suburbs or surrounding areas of these cities are not included. Thus, places like Scarsdale, NY (an extremely wealthy New York suburb), where the median family income in 1999 was around 200,000 dollars, are not included in the analysis because they have under 250,000 residents. Additionally, very poor small towns like Jonestown, MS, where half the people live in poverty are also excluded. Both small towns and rural areas are not in these lists. So, the way a geographic area is constructed does affect the who is included in these lists.Â

The New York city area deserves a special mention since includes more than one of the poorest and richest counties. In the New York city metro area the contrast between wealth and poverty is profound. Bronx county and Kings county are both part of New York city…the boroughs of the Bronx and Brooklyn are located in these counties, and they are surrounded by very wealthy suburban counties, which are listed in the top 15 counties. While there are many metropolitan areas with poor cities and rich suburbs, New York is striking because the contrast is so extreme.Â

There are of course other ways to measure the economic status of geographic areas. The first variable that can be changed or manipulated is the geographic areas as I noted above…we could look at states, counties, metropolitan areas, cities, towns, zipcodes, census tracts, and even census block groups. We can also look at different measures of the economic status of an area, such as the (un)employment rate, the per capita income, the percent of people receiving government assistance, and several other measures (that an economist would know more about LOL!). These graphs focus on families and people and families in counties and cities over 250,000. To prevent graph overload, I wil add another post in a couple days the uses another geographic unit…states. I’ll show you the richest and poorest states in that post.

In the meantime, you can check out your local area by using the Census Bureau’s American Fact Finder site. The results can even be sorted by areas as small as Census block groups or zip codes. The site also contains additional information gathered from the 2000 Census, such as the racial make up of the area, the educational level of the people, the percent male and female, and so on.
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10 Poorest Counties over 250,000 (% in poverty)
1. Hidalgo County, TX (43.6)
2. Cameron County, TX (35.8)
3. El Paso County, TX (32.3)
4. Bronx County, NY (30.6)
5. Philadelphia County, PA (24.9)
6. Baltimore city, MD (23.9)
7. Orleans Parish, LA (23.2)
8. Kings County, NY (22.6)
9. Caddo Parish, LA (21.7)
10. St. Louis city, MO (21.6)

10 Poorest Places Over 250,000 (% in poverty)
1. Detroit, MI (33.6)
2. El Paso, TX (28.8)
3. Miami, FL (28.3)
4. Newark, NJ (28.1)
5. Atlanta, GA (27.8)
6. Long Beach, CA (26.4)
7. Milwaukee, WI (26.0)
8. Buffalo, NY (25.9)
9. Philadephia, PA (24.9)
10. Memphis, TN (24.6)

15 Counties Over 250,000 in the US with the Highest Median Family Income ($)(the ones with * are in suburban NYC)
1. Fairfax County, VA ( 90,194)
2. Montgomery County, MD (90,187)
3. Morris County, NJ (90,168)*
4. Howard County, MD (90,157)
5. Monmouth County, NJ (90,148)*
6. Somerset County, NJ (90,133)*
7. Westchester County, NY (89,249)*
8. Chester County, PA (88,164)
9. San Mateo County, CA (87,762)
10. Nassau County, NY (87,558)*
11. Fairfield County, CT (87,434)*
12. Rockland County, NY (86,624)*
13. Santa Clara County, CA (85,581)
14. Norfolk County, MA (85,091)
15. Bergen County, NJ (84,604)*

15 Places Over 250,000 With the Highest Median Family Income ($)
1. San Jose, CA (77,232)
2. Anchorage, AK (73,840)
3. San Francisco, CA (68,667)
4. Seattle, WA (65,080)
5. Raleigh, NC (64,908)
6. Virginia Beach, VA (60,926)
7. Honolulu, HI (60,618)
8. San Diego, CA (59,818)
9. Arlington, TX (58,924)
10. Charlotte, NC (58,116)
11. Minneapolis, MN (57,164)
12. Colorado Springs, CO (55,554)
13. Austin, TX (55,488)
14. Oakland, CA (54,333)
15. Washington, DC (54,193)

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28 Responses to The Richest and Poorest Counties and Cities in the US

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  3. 3
    Antigone says:

    Thank you for the information.

    However, I wonder if there is something missing? I’m noticing Seattle is one of the richest cities. I don’t disbelieve this HOWEVER I happen to know that you HAVE to be wealthy to live in Seattle. People who have lower incomes commute (sometimes upwards of two hours every day) to get a job in Seattle.

    Is there anyway to get the information on the surrounding counties of these wealthy cities and poorer cities?

  4. 4
    Rachel S. says:

    Is there anyway to get the information on the surrounding counties of these wealthy cities and poorer cities?

    Absolutely, you can go the American Fact Finder site and type in the name of the county, and hit search. You can also do this for cities and zip codes. This will give you data from 1999-2000 when the last Census was conducted.

    I understand the phenomenon that you are talking about. In these realy expensive cities there are many people who want to have a middle class lifestyle, but cannot do so in the city or the suburbs. I think the recent housing boom has seriously contributed to this, and if you look at the counties with the biggest growth they are in what sociologists call exurbs, which are towns and cities that are further out that the traditional suburbs.

  5. 5
    Polymath says:

    just a note:

    st. louis is an odd city, in that the city proper is a separate entity from st. louis county, which includes the suburbs, but not the city. thus st. louis city is included in the poorest counties because all the wealth that fled to the suburbs (like it did in other cities) actually fled the county in this one odd case.

    no value judgement or anything, but it helps clear that up a little, i think.

  6. 6
    ADS says:

    I’ll point out for those who may not realize it that Kings County is the same as the borough of Brooklyn. Bronx County is the borough of the Bronx.

  7. 7
    Nicole says:

    I grew up in one of the NYC suburbs you mention, Bergen County, NJ. Seeing these lists makes it even clearer to me why it is nearly impossible for young couples (I’m in my 20′s) to try and actually own property in Northern NJ. Not only owning property is daunting though, even renting an apartment means $1,200 to $1,800 a month (for a 1 bedroom!). I see the phenomenon that Rachel S. clarifies all around me. My family has lived in the same area for an estimated 100 years. I went to the same elementary school as my grandmother. Can I afford to someday raise my kids in the same area? Not if I want to put food on the table to feed them as well.

    The stark contrast of poverty vs. riches in my area of the country is staggering. There is no middle class anymore, there’s either $5 million dollar McMansions or people barely able to make rent each month. I’m wondering what the backlash is going to be, can my area’s economy support this much longer?

  8. 8
    Rachel S. says:

    Bronx County is the borough of the Bronx.
    Are your sure? If Bronxville also included the Bronx definitely is in Bronx county. You mind elaborating.

  9. 9
    Rachel S. says:

    I found that St. Louis was listed as a city and not a county was very odd. They did the same thing for Baltimore. I was wondering if cities are not considered parts of counties in these states, but I am really clueless about that.

  10. 10
    Newbie says:

    I’ve seen interesting statistics (if only I could remember where!) that analyzed not only the wealth of specific cities but also cost of living. This type of analysis gives a good idea of how far one’s median income will stretch when faced with rent and food prices. On this list, not surprisingly, San Francisco and New York ranked near the bottom despite their high median income, while places like Tulsa, OK were near the top. When looking at a city’s wealth, in my opinion, you can’t erase gentrification and the accompanying high prices from the equation. Which is why Antigone’s comment above about living in Seattle is important to keep in mind.

  11. 11
    Born in the Bronx says:

    Each of the five New York City boroughs — Manhattan, The Bronx, Staten Island (Richmond County), Brooklyn (Kings County), and Queens — is a county. So NYC is a city containing counties.

  12. 12
    Rachel S. says:

    And there are no other cities in Bronx county but the Bronx, right???

  13. 13
    PurpleGirl says:

    Rachel — Yes, NYC is five boroughs, each borough is also a county. However Bronxville is a town in Westchester County, on the border with the Bronx.

    Also, please note that the median income for NYC will depend on whether you mean the city as a whole or taking one borough as the unit. For example, for the city as a whole I saw the median being something like $98,??? but that includes Manhattan. If you look at Queens county, the borough I live in, its median income is $48,???. (I use the question marks because I forget the rest of the number.)

    Queens (and the Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island) doesn’t have the high earners that Manhattan has. Queens and the other borough has middle class, blue collar, working poor and poor. Manhattan has its own areas with low earners, but it has so many high income households that it skews the median for the rest of us. (That’s why they calculate a median for each county on its own.) (Those corporate titans have apartments in the city, houses in the country and skew the stats for everyone.)

  14. 14
    PurpleGirl says:

    Rachel, right, Bronx County only is the borough of the Bronx, no other cities in the county. The same for Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan.

  15. 15
    Brandon Berg says:

    Nicole:
    IMO, this is a non-issue. If people can’t afford to live there, they’ll move to places where they can. If enough low-skill workers move away, their wages will rise enough so that those who can stay can afford it.

    Newbie:
    I live in Seattle (actually, Redmond), and I’m not at all sure that Antigone’s comment about Seattle is accurate. I know a few people who live in Seattle proper on fairly modest incomes. Sure, a big apartment smack in the middle of downtown Seattle will cost you a bundle, and your rent doesn’t go nearly as far as it would in the midwest, but you should have no problem finding a two-bedroom apartment for under $1000/month (mine is $865).

    PurpleGirl:
    There’s no way that the median household income for New York City is anywhere near $98,000. Even in Manhattan it’s just over half of that.

  16. 16
    NancyP says:

    I don’t know about Baltimore, but I too can confirm that St. Louis City, with a relatively small area, is its own county, and the inner ring suburbs of St. Louis are in St. Louis County, a second entity much larger in area. It says so on my MO tax return (can’t get more official than that!), and from the same source, I know that Kansas City, MO city limits do not comprise a county by itself. KCMO is included in a large area including KCMO suburbs.

  17. 17
    Rachel S. says:

    Purple Girl said, “Manhattan has its own areas with low earners, but it has so many high income households that it skews the median for the rest of us.”

    Actually the median cannot be skewed because it is a measure of position, mean on the other hand can be skewed. The median is literally the middle number, so if you ined everybody up in a row and picked out the middle person that would be the median.

    I looked up the Manhattan stats, as did Brandon, and he is right about the median. However, Purple Girl’s point about data being skewed in not at all invalid if we were talking about means. I tried to look up MEAN (NOT MEDIAN) income, and it is not listed on the chart. However, they do list per capita income, per capita measures are similar to means and can be swayed by very high numbers. Per capita income measures the how much money would be available for each person in the household assuming it was divided evenly. For example, a family of 4 making 40,000 has a per capita income of 10,000. If you look that the per capita income for Manhattan, it is a staggering 42,922 in 1999. That’s higher than the family incomes for the US as a whole. The fact that the per capita income is just a little bit lower than the median, let”s us know that their is a dramatic number of ultra rich people in that area.

  18. 18
    Antigone says:

    There are some days that I feel very, very, very lucky to be going to school in Grand Forks, ND instead of in a bigger city. Not only is this the best school for my field, but one could EASILY get a two-bedroom apartment, in a “nice” (said in quotation marks, because there’s not really a “bad” part of town, just bad comparatively) part of town for UNDER $500/ month.

    But yeah, I know Seattle’s expensive: because that was one of the things that the teachers had to argue about during their strike: they could not afford to live in the city on their salaries. Not to mention, quite a few of my friends and family live as far away as Mount Vernon and do the commute thing.

  19. 19
    April says:

    My hometown of Brownsville Texas is in Cameron county.

  20. 20
    Rachel S. says:

    April, Are the other counties in southern Texas, too??

  21. 21
    Charles says:

    Rachel S,

    Actually, Purple Girl is right that the median can be less informative than you’d think. 50 % of Manhattanites make more than $50,000 and 50% make less, but that doesn’t tell you how many make lots less than $50k.

    In fact, looking at the median family, per capita, and % poverty shows that Manhattan has a slightly higher median than the bronx, but Manhattan has both much more poverty and much more wealth (higher poverty rate and higher mean) than the Bronx. The high poverty rate in Manhattan is hidden by the fact that the majority of Manhattanites are well off, so the median family is well off.

    Notably, New York City over all has both a lower median family income and a higher poverty rate than the country over all, while having a slightly higher per capita income than the country over all.

    Manhattan
    median family $50k
    per capita (mean) $43k
    family poverty 17.6%

    Queens
    median family $48.5k
    per capita $19k
    family poverty 12%

    Bronx
    median family $30.6k
    per capita $14k
    family poverty 28%

    New York over all
    median family $42k
    per capita $22k
    family poverty 18.5%

  22. 22
    Charles says:

    Actually, I’m sure you know that perfectly well, and were more reacting off of the phrase “skewing the median.” Still, I think Purple Girl’s central point – Manhattan poverty pockets are invisible in the median is both true and relevant.

  23. 23
    elizak says:

    I am a college student, definately interested in bridging the gap between the wealth and poverty particularly in Connecticut. Having grown up in CT, I have lived with others perceptions of this state being the wealthiest in the country. However, I have seen firsthand the huge gap that exists between different cities and towns here. According to city-data.com, the “the gold coast” of ct: Darien, Greenwich, Wesport, etc.. have median incomes of around 150,000 which is true for most towns in Fairfield County. Even towns in Hartford County, like West Hartford and Avon for instance, have high median incomes of over 60,000.

    However, neighboring cities and some cities in these wealthy counties are extremely poor and the statistics are staggering and a little disturbing. Bridgeport (located in fairfield county) has a median income of a little over than 34,000. More alarming to me and one of the primary reasons I have such a passion for those that are victims of poverty, are the statistics of my neighboring city and state capital, Hartford. In this city, the median household income in 2000 was a little over 24,000!! With a population of over 124,000, residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher was only 12.4%. According to http://www.morganquitno.com, Hartford is on the top 25 of the countries most dangerous cities. Murders, burglaries, etc…are far above the national average according to areaconnect.com. I even compared Hartford with other cities which were know for having high crime rates, and per 100,000 people, the capital always came in at the top. These past couple of weeks have really sparked my concern. In just twenty days, (according to the Hartford Courant), from May 24- (today) June 11, twenty people in Hartford have been shot and this year thirteen people already murdered. (up 25%from last year at this time).

    Obviously, we all know that crime as well as other social ills has a direct correlation with poverty. I just feel dumbfounded at the fact that in our small state which is know for wealth and affluence, that there are these pockets of such poverty. With the shootings that have occured in Hartford recently, politicians as well as law enforcement has taken notice and initiatives are being made to help combat the violence. State police are working with local law enforcement to take back the streets of Hartford. But at the same time I feel like the bigger issues are not being addressed.

    To really stop the violence, doesn’t the issue of poverty need to be addressed? What initiatives can be taken to turn around not just a few handful of peoples’ lives, but a whole city?

    I definately feel that the crime needs to be combatted in Hartford. At the same time, unless other issues are addressed there is still going to be a lingering feeling of desparity and hopelessness among residents who are the victims of poverty. How can such a gap exist and what can be done to bridge this gap? any suggestions?

  24. 24
    carlaviii says:

    I’m living in one of the counties next door to #1, #2 and #4 on the richest counties list — Prince George’s County, MD, which is said to be the county with the highest median black family income in the country. I’m sure that median is lower than our neighbors’, though.

    I am a bit surprised/relieved that DC did not make the poorest city list — counties #1, #2 and #4 are all suburbs of DC, and all the wealth fled DC rather early in the surburbanization of MD/VA.

  25. 25
    carlaviii says:

    Yeah, duh, DC’s #15 on the wealthiest cities. I’ve got to wonder who’s living downtown with so much cash — ambassadors? Senators? That money sure doesn’t show up in the city budget. DC is a pretty screwed up city, financially.

  26. 26
    Lee says:

    The city vs. county thing – to the best of my knowledge, cities like Baltimore, Chicago, and St. Louis are considered completely separate from the counties outside of the city limits.

  27. 27
    Jennifer says:

    Hello,
    My college is doing a “Poverty through time” display to open awareness of the students, that there is great poverty as well as much success within the same county, a paradox. This is for Oakland County Michigan. I was wondering if you had any information, websites, or anything that would help us get good information on this area.

    Thanks.
    -Jennifer
    Phi Theta Kappa

  28. 28
    Elusis says:

    Sure.

    But then, you might have to expand beyond the Internet and go search in a library, or a government office.