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Comparing the Wealth of U.S. Geographic Regions Over Time

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Comparing the Wealth of U.S. Geographic Regions Over Time

Comparing the Wealth of U.S. Geographic Regions Over Time

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

Every year, the average American takes home about $51,600 in personal income.

Of course, what you make each year depends on factors like your job, work ethic, education, and personal circumstances – but it also varies significantly over geography.

The Geographical Wage Gap

Today’s chart uses data from the Brookings Institute, and it focuses on the geographical wage gap, or the difference in per capita income that exists between various U.S. regions.

Interestingly, it’s a gap that has historically narrowed over time.

Just after the Great Depression, income per capita in the Mideast was 50% higher than the average American, and roughly three times higher than in the Southeast. Over the next 50 years, this gap would continue to narrow until reaching its smallest differential by the mid-1980s.

In the last couple of decades, however, the geographical wage gap has shown signs of a potential reversal: per capita incomes in New England, Mideast, and Far West have been increasing relative to the average American wage, while other regions are remaining more stagnant.

The Vitality Index

Wages are just one factor in measuring prosperity, and the Brookings Institute has attempted to create a more well-rounded approach to this with the Vitality Index.

The Vitality Index is comprised of the following variables:

  • Median household income – 45%
  • Poverty rate – 24%
  • Life expectancy – 13%
  • Prime-age employment-to-population ratio – 9%
  • Housing vacancy rate – 5%
  • Unemployment rate – 4%

The following map is directly from the aforementioned report, and it shows the Vitality Index by county, using recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau:

Vitality Index

Which areas have seen the biggest increases and decreases in vitality?

The Great Lakes region, which relies heavily on manufacturing, has seen the most significant drop between 1980-2016, while the Mideast has seen the biggest rise over that same 26 year period.

Cost of Living

One fair point of objection to the analysis of the Vitality Index – or any measure of economic differences between geographic regions – is that cost of living is not taken directly into account.

Here is what the researchers had to say on this:

It would be reasonable to adjust median household income for cost of living, but we opted to not do this for two reasons. First, cost-of-living estimates that are comparable across places are not available for 1980. Second, cost of living may vary for reasons that are directly related to the county vitality we seek to measure. For example, a place with stronger labor demand or better local public goods could attract in-migration that contributes to higher housing prices. Finally, cost of living may reflect the amenity value of a place, and not simply inflated prices for the same goods and services.

No analysis is perfect, but the Vitality Index and historical data on per capita income are interesting to consider when framing any analysis on wages, prosperity, and economic inequality in America.

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Personal Finance

Mapped: The Income a Family Needs to Live Comfortably in Every U.S. State

Families in expensive states require over $270,000 annually to live comfortably.

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A map showing the income that two working adults with two children need to live comfortably in each U.S. state.

The Income a Family Needs to Live Comfortably in Every U.S. State

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Families in the top five most expensive U.S. states require an annual income exceeding $270,000 to live comfortably.

This visualization illustrates the income necessary for two working adults with two children to maintain a comfortable lifestyle in each state.

“Comfortable” is defined as the income needed to cover a 50/30/20 budget, with 50% allocated to necessities like housing and utilities, 30% to discretionary spending, and 20% to savings or investments.

The calculations for family income needed in each state were done by SmartAsset, using the cost of necessities sourced from the MIT Living Wage Calculator, last updated on Feb. 14, 2024.

Massachusetts Tops the List

Massachusetts is the most expensive state to live comfortably in, requiring a total family income of about $301,184. Hawaii ($294,611) comes in second, followed by Connecticut ($279,885).

Housing is one main reason Massachusetts is an expensive state to live in, particularly in the Boston area. In addition, the state also has a high cost of living, including expenses such as healthcare and utilities.

RankStateIncome for 2 working adults raising 2 children
1Massachusetts$301,184
2Hawaii$294,611
3Connecticut$279,885
4New York$278,970
5California$276,723
6Colorado$264,992
7Washington$257,421
8Oregon$257,338
9New Jersey$251,181
10Rhode Island$249,267
11Vermont$248,352
12Minnesota$244,774
13New Hampshire$244,109
14Alaska$242,611
15Maryland$239,450
16Nevada$237,286
17Virginia$235,206
18Illinois$231,962
19Arizona$230,630
20Pennsylvania$230,464
21Maine$229,549
22Delaware$228,966
23Wisconsin$225,056
24Utah$218,483
25Michigan$214,490
26Nebraska$213,075
27Georgia$212,826
28Montana$211,411
28Iowa$211,411
30Idaho$211,245
31North Carolina$209,331
31Ohio$209,331
33Florida$209,082
34Indiana$206,003
35New Mexico$203,923
36Wyoming$203,424
37Missouri$202,259
38North Dakota$202,176
39Texas$201,344
40South Carolina$200,762
41Kansas$196,768
42Tennessee$195,770
43Oklahoma$194,106
44Alabama$193,606
45South Dakota$192,608
46Kentucky$190,112
47Louisiana$189,613
48West Virginia$189,363
49Arkansas$180,794
50Mississippi$177,798

Meanwhile, Mississippi is the least expensive state for a family to live comfortably, requiring $177,798 per year. Arkansas ($180,794) comes in second, followed by West Virginia ($189,363). In common, all these states share low prices of housing.

Learn More About Cost of Living From Visual Capitalist

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out this graphic, which ranks the median down payment for a house by U.S. state.

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