America's Richest (And Poorest) States

09/15/2016 05:56 pm ET Updated Sep 15, 2016

The U.S. Census Bureau released on Wednesday new data from its 2015 nationwide population survey. According to the annual survey, the national median household income rose to $55,775 in 2015. No state reported income declines. While 39 states reported significant increases in household income, income levels in 11 states remained the same.

24/7 Wall St. ranked all 50 states according to the newly released median household income figures. Annual income levels range from $75,847 in Maryland to $40,593 in Mississippi.

High-income states typically share certain social and economic characteristics. For example, residents of states with the highest incomes also tend to have high education levels. In 17 of the states reporting higher than average household incomes, college attainment rates also exceed the national attainment rate of 30.1%.

While it certainly does not make up the difference between a poverty wage and a six-figure salary, residents of low-income states enjoy cheaper goods and services than residents of high-income states. For example, goods and services cost 10.3% more in Maryland than they do across the nation. In Mississippi, meanwhile, goods and services cost 13.4% less than the national average.

Similarly, home values closely mirror household incomes. In 18 of the states with high household incomes median home values exceed the national median home value of $194,500. The opposite is the case in the nation’s poorest states.

To identify the richest and poorest states with the highest and lowest median household income, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed state data on income from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey (ACS). Median household income for all years is adjusted for inflation. Data on health insurance coverage, employment by industry, food stamp recipiency, poverty, and income inequality also came from the 2015 ACS. Income inequality is measured by the Gini coefficient, which is scaled from 0 to 1, with 0 representing perfect equality and 1 representing total inequality. We also reviewed annual average unemployment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for 2014 and 2015.

These are America’s richest and poorest states.

The Poorest States:

  • 5. Kentucky
  • Median household income: $45,215
  • Population: 4,425,092 (25th lowest)
  • 2015 Unemployment rate: 5.4% (20th highest)
  • Poverty rate: 18.5% (5th highest)

Like most states, Kentucky’s median household income of $45,215 a year has increased since 2014, when the median income, adjusted for inflation, was $43,014 a year. Residents are still quite poor, however. Kentucky’s poverty rate of 18.5% is the fifth highest poverty rate of all states. While no guarantee, a college degree substantially improves the odds of finding a job with a good wage. In Kentucky, just 23.3% of adults have a bachelor's degree, considerably lower than the national college attainment rate of 30.6%.

  • 4. Alabama
  • Median household income: $44,765
  • Population: 4,858,979 (24th highest)
  • 2015 Unemployment rate: 6.1% (8th highest)
  • Poverty rate: 18.5% (5th highest)

Alabama is one of the poorest states in the nation with a median household income of $44,765 a year. However, this figure is notably higher than in 2014, when the median income, adjusted for inflation, was $42,895.

Like in many of the poorest states, Alabama’s poverty rate of 18.5% is among the highest of all states. Other problems the state faces are a high jobless rate and a high proportion of households relying on food stamps. Last year, 6.1% of workers were unemployed, the eighth highest jobless rate of any state. With low incomes, home values are also low in Alabama. The median home is worth $134,100, or more than $60,000 below the national benchmark of $194,500.

  • 3. West Virginia
  • Median household income: $42,019
  • Population: 1,844,128 (13th lowest)
  • 2015 Unemployment rate: 6.7% (the highest)
  • Poverty rate: 17.9% (7th highest)

The typical West Virginia household earns $42,019, compared to the national median income of $55,775. Individuals struggling to find work who live on little to no income contribute to low household incomes in West Virginia. Of workers in the state, 6.7% were unemployed in 2015, the highest annual unemployment rate of any state.

West Virginia’s population is one of the largest recipients of government assistance programs such as SNAP, which each year help millions of people cope with poverty. Of households in the state, 16.0% use food stamps, the ninth highest share.

  • 2. Arkansas
  • Median household income: $41,995
  • Population: 2,978,204 (18th lowest)
  • 2015 Unemployment rate: 5.2% (24th highest)
  • Poverty rate: 19.1% (4th highest)

Goods and services in Arkansas cost less on average than almost anywhere else in the country. While the relative affordability certainly helps low income households, state residents are still quite poor. The typical household earns $41,995 a year, second lowest after Mississippi. Also, 19.1% of people live in poverty, the fourth highest poverty rate of any state. Homes tend to have relatively low values to match the low incomes. At just $120,700, the typical home in Arkansas is valued at more than $70,000 below the national benchmark of $194,500.

  • 1. Mississippi
  • Median household income: $40,593
  • Population: 2,992,333 (19th lowest)
  • 2015 Unemployment rate: 6.5% (4th highest)
  • Poverty rate: 22.0% (the highest)

With 2015 median household income unchanged from 2014, Mississippi is once again the poorest state in the country.The typical Mississippi household earned $40,593 last year, well below the national median income of $55,775. Mississippi also has the highest poverty rate in the country, with 22.0% of residents living below the poverty line. A relatively large share of state households are very poor. Some 11.5% earn $10,000 or less annually, the highest extreme poverty rate of any state. Similarly, there are relatively few affluent households in the state. Only 2.1% of Mississippi households earn $200,000 or more a year, the lowest such share.

The Richest States:

  • 5. Connecticut
  • Median household income: $71,346
  • Population: 3,590,886 (22nd lowest)
  • 2015 Unemployment rate: 5.6% (18th highest)
  • Poverty rate: 10.5% (6th lowest)

A typical Connecticut household earns $71,346 in a year, considerably higher than the national median income of $55,775. With such high incomes, residents are better able to afford more expensive homes. Connecticut’s median home value of $270,900 is among the highest nationwide. A portion of every state's population is extremely wealthy, and the share of such high earners is especially large in Connecticut. More than one in 10 households earn $200,000 or more a year. Connecticut's relatively high education attainment rate partially accounts for the high incomes in the area. More than 38.3% of adults have at least a bachelor's degree compared to 30.6% nationally.

  • 4. New Jersey
  • Median household income: $72,222
  • Population: 8,958,013 (11th highest)
  • 2015 Unemployment rate: 5.6% (18th highest)
  • Poverty rate: 10.8% (8th lowest)

While New Jersey households report some of the highest incomes in the nation, living in the state is not cheap. Goods and services cost an average of 14.5% more in New Jersey than across the country. Housing is also very expensive in the state. The median home value of $322,600 in New Jersey is considerably higher than the national median home value of $194,500.

Few states have a higher proportion of high-income households than New Jersey, where 10.9% earn $200,000 or more a year. While certainly not a guarantee for such high wages, high college attainment among adults in New Jersey partially explains the high median income. More than 37.6% of adults have at least a bachelor's degree, compared to 30.6% nationally.

  • 3. Alaska
  • Median household income: $73,355
  • Population: 738,432 (3rd lowest)
  • 2015 Unemployment rate: 6.5% (4th highest)
  • Poverty rate: 10.3% (5th lowest)

A typical Alaska household earns $73,355 annually, nearly $18,000 more than the typical American household. While the price of oil has fallen considerably in recent years, Alaska still relies heavily on its traditionally high-paying oil industry. Of workers in the state, 5.6% work in the agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting, and mining sector -- which includes the oil industry -- the sixth highest such share of any state. State workers who are employed in the industry likely still earn relatively high wages.

Like the nation, the percentage of people without health insurance in Alaska dropped substantially in 2015. However, 14.9% of residents still do not have health insurance, the second highest rate in the nation.

  • 2. Hawaii
  • Median household income: $73,486
  • Population: 1,431,603 (11th lowest)
  • 2015 Unemployment rate: 3.6% (6th lowest)
  • Poverty rate: 10.6% (7th lowest)

With its picturesque island scenery, Hawaii attracts some of the world’s wealthiest individuals. The state is also home to some of the more valuable real estate. Hawaii’s median household income trails only Maryland as the highest in the country, and the median home value of $566,900 is the highest of any state and several times greater than the national median home value of $194,500. Even the richest states do not necessarily have especially healthy job markets, but Hawaii’s unemployment rate of 3.6% in 2015 was one of the lowest in the country.

  • 1. Maryland
  • Median household income: $75,847
  • Population: 6,006,401 (19th highest)
  • 2015 Unemployment rate: 5.2% (24th highest)
  • Poverty rate: 9.7% (2nd lowest)

Maryland leads the nation with a median annual household income of $75,847. The state’s poverty rate of less than 10% is also nearly the lowest of any state. The prosperity can be partially explained by high levels of education among state residents. More than 38% of adults have at least a college degree, many of whom are likely among the state’s high-income residents. The state also contains Washington D.C., home to some of the nation’s highest-paying government occupations. More than 10% of Maryland workers are employed in public administration, which represents only one portion of such government jobs.

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