Economic Progress

You probably won't guess America's highest earning state

Onlookers watch as a 95-by-50-foot American flag is unfurled on the side of an apartment complex, a replica of the "The Great Flag" that was spun, woven, dyed, constructed and displayed on the same building by Amoskeag Manufacturing Company in 1914, in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., June 14, 2017.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder - RC181DACF0B0

The latest 2016 income data released by the U.S. Census shows America's highest earning state. Image: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Christopher Ingraham
Writer, Wonk Blog
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Economic Progress

Pop quiz: Which U.S. state had the highest median income in 2016?

New York or California, perhaps, home to some of the nation's wealthiest cities? Maryland or Virginia, with their Washington suburbs flush with government cash? Alaska, home of the famous oil revenue checks for every man, woman and child?

All of those guesses are wrong, according to the latest 2016 income data released by the U.S. Census. The correct answer, believe it or not:

New Hampshire.

Image: Wonkblog- The Washington Post

The Granite State's median household income last year was a whopping $76,260, nearly 30 percent higher than the national median of $59,039, according to the Census.

The typical New Hampshire household earned $35,000 a year more than the typical household in the country's poorest state, Mississippi, where the median income is $41,099. Put another way, the median income in Mississippi today is about as low as the median income in New Hampshire 20 years ago, in 1997 ($40,998).

One of the chief drivers of New Hampshire's high median income is its poverty rate, which is the lowest in the nation. Only 6.9 percent of the state's residents live below the poverty line, compared with a national average of 13.7 percent (in Mississippi nearly 21 percent of people live in poverty).

Have you read?

New Hampshire's workforce is also among the best-educated in the country, according to previously released census data. Better-educated workers tend to make more money.

Connecticut is the second-highest-earning state, with a median household income of $75,923. Alaska, Maryland and Massachusetts round out the top five (the complete list is at the bottom of this story).

Conversely, the lowest-earning states are clustered in the South. They include Mississippi ($41,099), along with Louisiana ($42,196), West Virginia ($44,354), Kentucky ($45,369) and Arkansas ($45,907).

One word of caution: These are survey data, and like all surveys the income figures are subject to sampling error. In all but the largest states, the margin of error around the income numbers is in the $1,000 to $3,000 range. Differences between the states of a few hundred dollars don't mean a whole lot.

It's also worth noting that the Census's median household income numbers differ from the per capita income figures published by other federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Each data set has its own strengths and weaknesses, but overall their contours are similar. New Hampshire comes out looking pretty good in both, for instance.

Image: Wonkblog- The Washington Post
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