In this article, we'll examine the extremes of how wealth in the US varies by geographic location. We'll begin by simply identifying the nation's highest and lowest values by state, populated place, and ZIP Code. We'll also point you to easy to use tools for additional research on this topic.
The frame of reference we'll use for measuring comparative wealth is the Wealth Index (WI). It's based on a number of indicators of affluence including average household income and average net worth, but it also includes the value of material possessions and resources. It represents the wealth of the area relative to the national level. Values above or below 100 represent above-average wealth or below-average wealth compared to the national level.
The state with the highest WI is New Jersey with 148, while Missippi has the lowest at 62.
In this analysis, a populated place refers to an incorporated city, town or village as well as a Census Designated Place (CDP). A CDP has an officially recognized name and a defined boundary, but no governmental functions.
The town of Chevy Chase Village, MD, has the highest Wealth Index of any populated place in the nation with a WI of 559.
Chevy Chase is a small town of fewer than 2,000 people and a land area of just 0.42 square miles.
The list of the most popular places in or near Chevy Chase is somewhat unusual. I, admittedly, sometimes have a somewhat strange sense of humor and laughed a bit when I saw the #1 ranked most popular place.
The ZIP Code with the highest Wealth Index is Atherton, CA 94027 with a WI of 523.
If we exclude ZIP Codes that appear to be for areas involving mostly college dormitories, then the ZIP Code with the lowest Wealth Index is Youngstown, OH 44503. This ZIP Code covers the downtown area but it also includes 521 residential address. The vast majority of them are multi-family addresses.
Marin County, California with a WI of 240 has the highest Wealth Index of the 3,142 counties and county equalivents in the US.
McCreary County, Kentucky with a WI of 24 is the county with the lowest Wealth Index.
Three Easy to Use Tools
Here are three tools that you'll find helpful to investigate further:
- State Demographic Data Comparison Tool
- National Comparison of up to 200 Cities & Towns, Counties, and ZIP Codes
- Within State Comparison of up to 200 Cities & Towns, Counties and ZIP Codes. (This example is for CA, but every state gazetteer has this tool)