If you were a high earner, where would you live?
Since birds of a feather flock together, it might not be surprising to learn that there are some areas that attract the affluent. However, how you measure earnings might make a difference in where these high-income areas are located.
AGI, wages and salaries, and dividend income
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), housed at Syracuse University offers information about tax returns in the United States. Using information from 2013 (the last available year, since tax-year 2014 just ended), it’s possible to get an idea of where the top earners live.
One of the measures you can use to determine where top earners live is Adjusted Gross Income (AGI). When looking at AGI, the information from TRAC asserts that the top places to live include:
- Connecticut ($91,417)
- District of Columbia ($86,334
- Massachusetts ($79,868)
- New Jersey ($77,684)
- New York ($74,799)
These state averages can be compared to the average AGI for the entire United States in 2013, which was $62,645. (It’s important to remember that these averages include super-high earners, which skew the average away from the median income, which the Census Bureau pegged at $51,017 in 2012.)
However, the county with the highest AGI was Teton County in Wyoming, with an average AGI of $296,778 (Wyoming was the sixth-highest state in terms of average AGI). This isn’t as surprising as you might think when you consider that Jackson Hole, which is known as a wealthy enclave, is located in Teton County, Wyoming. Additionally, it also makes sense when you look at the data from TRAC that indicates this county also has the highest average income from dividends and interest. These high earners are getting their money from investments — not wages and salaries.
When you look at wages and salaries, the picture changes a little bit. The top five places for wages and salaries, according to TRAC, are:
- Connecticut ($60,024)
- District of Columbia ($57,296)
- New Jersey ($56,116)
- Massachusetts ($54,223)
- Maryland ($52,167)
In the measure of wages and salaries, Wyoming doesn’t even crack the top 10, although some of the average wages and salaries in individual counties are in line with some of the higher state averages.
The information from TRAC indicates that where you live matters, in terms of wages and salaries, and that a particular county or city might offer a higher average earning potential than the state average.
Another measure: percentage of households earning over $100,000
Perhaps where the highest earners live isn’t just about AGI. Nerdwallet recently released a report that takes a look at the cities with the highest percentage of households earning over $100,000. According to Census Bureau data, households earning more than $100,000 are in the top 20% of all earners in the United States.
When you look at the TRAC data, the high earners in certain areas likely skew the numbers higher. Things change when you take a look at the percentage of households in an area that earn more than a certain amount. Since many people consider the $100,000 mark a line that indicates “high earnings,” that’s the line that was used. Here are the top 10 cities with a higher percentage of households earning more than $100,000, according to the Nerdwallet analysis:
- Sammamish, Washington (73.7%)
- La Cañada Flintridge, California (73.4%)
- University Park, Texas (73.4%)
- Saratoga, California (71.4%)
- Southlake, Texas (71.2%)
- Colleyville, Texas (67%)
- Los Altos, California (66.6%)
- Manhattan Beach, California (65%)
- Brentwood, Tennessee (65.7%)
- Lake Forest, Illinois (65.5%)
When you consider the types of jobs available in some of these areas, the numbers make sense. For example, Sammamish is a suburb where the employees of Microsoft, Amazon, and Boeing live. In La Cañada Flintridge, high incomes come from work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech, and Los Altos is the home to many employees of LinkedIn and Google. Brentwood might seem an unusual choice, but then you consider that it is a suburb of Nashville. Many of those with high-paying jobs in Nashville doubtless live in the ‘burbs, looking for more space. Not only that, but some companies, like Tractor Supply Co., are located in Nashville due to its low costs.
However, before you consider packing up moving to one of these high-earning areas, it’s important to consider the cost of living. Nashville has a relatively low cost of living, with Nerdwallet reporting that average home values are right around $552,400. Compare that with the average home value of $682,100 in La Cañada Flintridge and a median home price of $1.4 million in University Park. You might be making more than $100,000 a year, but it might still be difficult to afford to live in some of these enclaves.