The United States is arguably one of the most economically well-off places on the planet. The U.S. accounts for 31% of global wealth, or $145.8 trillion, according to Credit Suisse's 2022 Global Wealth Report. The second-largest country by global wealth, China, is responsible for 18%, or $85.1 trillion. This makes the U.S. the richest country on Earth, in terms of total wealth.
The U.S. also has the most millionaires in the world—39% of the world's supply, or 24.5 million adults, according to the 2022 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report. Not surprisingly, the country with the second-highest number is China, with 6.2 million individuals. Considering this seemingly limitless potential for economic prosperity, it's not surprising that more than a million people immigrate to the U.S. each year.
However, that wealth is not distributed equally across all parts of the United States. Income inequality in the U.S. is considerable. Despite the more than $158 trillion in total wealth, 11.6% of the U.S. population lived in poverty in 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Another inequality stamp: The median wealth per adult in the United States for 2021 was $93,271. In the highest-ranking country—Belgium—it was $269,515.
- The United States is the wealthiest country in the world in terms of total global wealth percentage. It also has the world's most millionaires.
- Though the U.S. is the wealthiest country, that wealth is not distributed evenly; many states have a low median household income and high rates of poverty.
- The states with the highest median household income are Maryland, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.
- The states with the lowest median household income are Mississippi, West Virginia, and Arkansas.
Measuring Wealth: What Median Income Tells Us
Median income is a particularly good way to look at how people are doing, both nation to nation and among states in the U.S. Here's why.
There are several ways to assess wealth in a given area. A state's gross domestic product (GDP) offers a glimpse into its overall economic health, but not necessarily how individuals and households are doing.
Mean income (the sum total of all values divided by the number of values in a dataset—otherwise known as the average) is the primary mathematical value for making comparisons. But having a large number of high-earning one-percenters or low-income people in a region can skew the end result in revealing how much money individuals earn.
The median gives you a better picture. It is determined by lining up all values in a dataset in numerical order, then finding the "middle" value. A state's median income is exactly halfway between what people earn on both sides of the wealth spectrum. That makes median income a much more accurate assessment of what the average American makes annually than the actual average income.
How Race and Gender Affect Income
Structural racism and sexism severely and negatively impact many Americans and their families. Here, we look at individual income to focus on how individual workers are faring.
A significant contributing factor to American income inequality is a disparity in earnings by race. The differences are stark. Controlling for other factors, a 2022 study by Payscale.com points to a gender pay gap for Black women of $0.98 for every $1 earned by white men. Weekly earnings for Black men were 77.3% of the median of White men in the third quarter of 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Additionally, Black and Hispanic families own less wealth than white families. A typical (median) white family had a wealth of $184,000, while a typical Black family had a wealth of $23,000, and a typical Hispanic family had a wealth of $38,000.
A prominent income gap exists between men and women in the United States. Women make approximately 82 cents for every dollar of men's wages in an uncontrolled gender pay gap while women make 99 cents for every dollar in a controlled gender pay gap. Controlled gender pay gaps take into consideration job title, education, experience, industry, job level, and hours worked. Contributing to these discrepancies: Men constitute approximately one-third of minimum-wage workers, while women account for just 15% of Fortune 500 CEOs as of 2022.
For the third quarter of 2022, Asian and White women earn a median of $1,177 and $990 per week, respectively; Black women and Hispanic or Latinas earn a median of $830 and $782 per week, respectively. And although all women were more likely to live in poverty than White men in 2019, women of color experienced a higher poverty rate than White women.
Median Household Income
One of the measures of income provided by the U.S. Census Bureau—and the one we chose to use for our state-to-state comparison—is median household (HH) income. This is the total gross income of all persons 15 years or older within a housing unit.
When the Census Bureau measures and compares how different parts of the nation are doing, "median HH Income is perhaps the single most widely used measure of income in the census," as the Missouri Census Data Center explains. Median household income can include households with only one resident as well as those with multiple residents who are not related (i.e., roommates).
Median household income is different from two other measures that the census uses:
- Median per capita income, which looks at each individual person's income, rather than treating a household as a singular entity.
- Median family income, which only considers households with two or more people related by birth, marriage, or adoption.
As of 2021, the most recent available figures, the median U.S. annual household income was $70,784.
Richest States by Median Income
The map above shows the pattern of median income, across the U.S. Let's start with a look at the richest states.
Special Consideration: The District of Columbia
- Median household income: $93,547 (2021)
- Population: 670,000 (2021)
- Unemployment rate: 4.8% (October 2022)
- Poverty rate: 16.5% (2021)
The District of Columbia is not a state, of course, but the U.S. Census Bureau includes it among the 50 states when listing median income. Its inclusion makes sense, given the fact that the District's median income is higher than any state. As is likely unsurprising, the federal government is the largest employer in the nation's capital
D.C. has the highest population density in the U.S. along with the second-highest median value of owner-occupied housing units. Despite its high income and small population, D.C. also has the highest poverty rate of any of the richest states.
- Median household income: $91,431 (2021)
- Population: 6.17 million (2021)
- Unemployment rate: 4.5% (October 2022)
- Poverty rate: 10.3% (2021)
Maryland's private-sector industries were responsible for $352.4 billion in economic output. The Free State also had the largest number of federal jobs per capita in 2020, which makes sense, given its adjacency to Washington D.C. Both the Social Security Administration and the Food and Drug Administration are headquartered in Maryland.
2. New Jersey
- Median household income: $89,703 (2021)
- Population: 9.27 million (2021)
- Unemployment rate: 3.5% (October 2022)
- Poverty rate: 10.2% (2021)
Not only does New Jersey have the largest population of the three richest (and the three poorest) states, but it also has the largest population density of any state in the U.S. Healthcare is the Garden State's largest industry, adding $37 billion to the state economy and employing approximately 488,000 people. New Jersey is also the birthplace of major industries, such as organized baseball, professional basketball, movies, and passenger flights.
- Median household income: $89,026 (2021)
- Population: 6.98 million (2021)
- Unemployment rate: 3.5% (October 2022)
- Poverty rate: 10.4% (2021)
Massachusetts' economy was originally heavily dependent on agriculture and maritime trade, though manufacturing would become more prominent in the 19th century. Today, education and professional and business services employ the largest portion of the Bay State's workforce. Its leisure and hospitality industry is also a major economic powerhouse.
Poorest States by Median Income
Now, the opposite end of the spectrum. These states have the lowest median incomes.
- Median household income: $49,111 (2021)
- Population: 2.95 million (2021)
- Unemployment rate: 3.8% (October 2022)
- Poverty rate: 19.4% (2021)
Despite 35% of Mississippi land being dedicated to farmland, the federal government is the second-biggest employer in the Magnolia State, after trade, transportation, and utilities. In addition to having the highest poverty rate of any state in the country, Mississippi is also known as the "hungriest state" in the U.S., with 20% of its population being food insecure.
2. West Virginia
- Median household income: $50,884 (2021)
- Population: 1.78 million (2021)
- Unemployment rate: 4.0% (October 2022)
- Poverty rate: 16.8% (2021)
The Equality State is another case where the federal government is the largest employer, but this time it hasn't pushed enough people out of poverty. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, West Virginia's 1938 unemployment rate was the highest in U.S. history.
- Median household income: $52,123 (2021)
- Population: 3.03 million (2021)
- Unemployment rate: 3.6% (October 2022)
- Poverty rate: 16.3% (2021)
Agriculture makes up the Natural State's largest industry, adding $16 billion to the state's economy each year. Forests comprise 56% of land, 25% of which belongs to the forestry industry. Despite the low income and high poverty rate, several major companies are headquartered in Arkansas, including Tyson Foods and Walmart.
Which State Has the Highest Median Income?
The state that has the highest median income is Maryland, with a median income of $91,431 in 2021. The District of Columbia, which is not a state, has the highest median income overall, with a median income of $93,547 in 2021.
What Is Middle-Class Income?
What is considered middle-class income will depend on a person's location. A middle-class person in Arkansas may not be a middle-class person in New York City, for example, where the cost of living is much higher. Generally, a three-person household should have an income between $51,967 and $155,902 to be considered middle class.
What Percentage of Americans Make Over $100k?
As of 2022, 34% of American households made over $100,000. This is slightly lower than in 2019 but higher than any point before 2019. In fact, before the financial crisis in 2008, it was 29.2%.