Virginia is home to the country’s wealthiest county (Loudoun, VA) but also the biggest in-state wealth disparity between its wealthiest and poorest counties.
We’ve taken a deep dive into the poorest and wealthiest counties in the U.S., looking closely at each state’s median income on the county level, and the data is pretty surprising.
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Loudoun, VA, at $134,600 in median household income, is more than $100,000 above the median household income of the state’s poorest county, Buchanan, VA, at $31,800. The West Virginian counties of McDowell (poorest) and Jefferson (richest) border these two Virginia counties, meaning that within a few hours’ drive, you have a huge area that’s more than double the national median household income ($59,039) and an area that’s well below it.
The state with the highest median household income is also home to the second-richest county (Howard County, MA).
But Massachusetts is also ranked fourth for the state with the biggest disparity between the poorest and richest county.
The states with the most disparity between the poorest and richest counties in the U.S. are Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado, Maryland, and Tennessee, all of which have a gap of about $80,000 or more in median household income.
As you scan these charts, you might notice that the higher the state median household income and highest county income are, the more wealth disparity there is. This is certainly the case for Maryland, which has a huge gap, but there are exceptions. For instance, Kentucky has a low median for the state and has a massive amount of disparity. Then, there’s Alaska, which has a very high income for the whole state ($76,100) and a fairly low disparity (a gap of only about $49,700).
Here are the wealthiest and poorest counties in the U.S., according to the American Community Survey (ACS) from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The Top 10 Wealthiest Counties in the U.S. by Median Household Income
- Loudon County, VA
- Howard County, MA
- Fairfax County, VA
- Hunterdon County, NJ
- Santa Clara County, CA
- Arlington County, VA
- Douglas County, CO
- San Mateo County, CA
- Morris County, NJ
- Williamson County, TN
The Top 10 Poorest Counties in the U.S. by Median Household Income
- Holmes County, MS
- Buffalo County, SD
- Owsley County, KY
- Wilcox County, AL
- McDowell County, WV
- Clay County, KY
- Stewart County, GA
- McCreary County, KY
- Perry County, AL
- Harlan County, KY
Naturally, some of the wealthiest counties in America are all packed into one state; Virginia and California show up on the top 10 list multiple times. Kentucky is on the list of poorest counties multiple times as well.
Ask yourself, “What is the poorest county in my state?” and see how it compares to the richest counties in the country. Our deep look at wealth disparity by state can help us see which communities are being left behind on the road to progress and which local governments need to find new ways to help the state as a whole.