In recent decades, income inequality in the United States has taken a sharp turn for the worse. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, the net worth of the 20 wealthiest living Americans is equal to that of more than 50% of the U.S. population.
In some states, the net worth of the wealthiest resident is greater than half of the state’s entire GDP. In many cases, the fortune of a state’s wealthiest resident, whether self-made or inherited, was generated in an industry specific to the state. In most states, the wealthy have an outsized influence on the area in which they live, either through philanthropy, political campaign contributions, or other local business endeavors.
A state’s leading billionaire is often representative of a state’s key industry. In California, for example, Silicon Valley tech billionaires dominate the list of the state’s wealthiest residents, with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg leading the pack.
Jim Justice II, the leading billionaire of West Virginia — the second largest coal producer in the country — owes his fortune in the state’s coal industry. Sheldon Adelson, the wealthiest resident in Nevada, made his fortune in the casino and resort industry; and the wealthiest residents of New Mexico and Oklahoma — two of the top five oil producers in the United States — made their fortunes in oil.
A large number of America’s wealthy elite inherited their fortunes. According to a study by market research company Wealth X in collaboration with The Wall Street Journal, approximately 20% of American billionaires achieved their wealth through inheritance and have done nothing to increase it. Another 18% of billionaires inherited some of their fortune and took actions to successfully increase their wealth, with the remaining 62% of qualifying as fully self-made billionaires.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest living Americans and other sources to determine the richest person every state.
Editor’s note: In an earlier version of this article, Omaha was incorrectly referred to as the capital of Nebraska. The capital of Nebraska is Lincoln.