Special Report

America's Richest (and Poorest) Towns

The economic recovery from one of the nation’s worst recessions has been uneven. While incomes have risen across the United States, so has the poverty rate. Opportunities for those living in wealthy places have been much greater — due to a multitude of reasons, including education, industry composition in the area, and often a better starting point. Opportunities for those living in poor areas have been far worse — for similar reasons.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed income levels in U.S. towns and cities. Scarsdale, New York is the richest town in America with a median annual household income of $241,453. This income is approximately 13 times greater than the income in Macon, Mississippi. In Macon, the nation’s poorest town, the typical household earns $18,232 annually. Seven of the 25 richest towns are in Virginia, while seven of the 25 poorest towns are in Michigan.

Residents in the wealthiest places in the country are frequently employed in highly-skilled positions in high-paying industries that require high levels of education. They work in finance positions in New York City or Chicago, in scientific, information technology, and other professional careers in the San Francisco Bay Area, or in high-paying federal, consulting, and other jobs in the Washington D.C. area. In addition, since public school funding often comes from local property taxes, students living in wealthier communities generally have access to a better-funded education. Not only are high school graduation rates higher in these areas, but also young adults there are frequently college bound. Education levels in these wealthy communities are especially high, while they are often much lower in the poorest towns in America.

Click here to see America’s richest towns.

Click here to see America’s poorest towns.

While 86% of adults nationwide have at least a high school diploma, at least 97% of adults in the nearly all of the wealthiest towns do. Moreover, in 19 of the 25 richest towns in America, at least 75% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree. In Short Hills, New Jersey, the second wealthiest community, 88.7% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree — the highest percentage in the nation. Meanwhile, fewer than 20% of adults in all of the 25 poorest towns have at least a college education.

Poor economic conditions and high unemployment rates are typical of many of the poorest towns. The jobless rate in 17 of the 25 poorest towns exceeds 6.0%. In Muskegon Heights, Michigan and East Cleveland, Ohio, at least 14% of the workforce is unemployed — and these are not the only poorest towns with greater than 14% unemployment rates. By contrast, as of this April, the national unemployment rate was 5.0%. The jobless rates in all of the 25 richest towns are all lower than 5%, and in some the jobless rate is even lower than 3%.

Income is only part of a person’s wealth. Wealth can also include the value of assets such as property and investments. The wealthiest towns in America are also home to some of the nation’s most expensive property. The estimated value of a typical home nationwide is $175,700. The median home value in all of the 25 richest towns is greater than $500,000. In 10 of these communities, the typical home value exceeds $1 million. Of the 25 poorest towns, only four have a median home value greater than $100,000.

To determine the richest and poorest U.S. towns, 24/7 Wall St. considered 2010-2014 five year average median household incomes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). We excluded towns for which the margin of error at 90% confidence was greater than 10% for both median household income and population. Some towns are not part of a metropolitan statistical area. Unincorporated regions called Census Designated Areas were also considered. Poverty rates for all people, median home values, as well as the percentage of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree also came from the ACS and are also five year estimates through 2014. Since unemployment rates in most towns with less than 25,000 people are not available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment rates came from the U.S. Census Bureau and are also average for the five year period 2010 through 2014. Because poverty rates can be skewed in areas with high shares of college students who frequently have very low incomes, college towns were excluded from the list of the poorest towns. College towns are defined as towns where more than 40% of the population is enrolled in undergraduate or graduate school.

These are the richest and poorest towns in America.

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