2009 Richest Counties in America

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Stimson-Green Mansion by Patsy Bullitt CollinsI was a little surprised to learn that my home county, Howard County, MD, was the third richest county by median income based on 2008 data released by the American Community Survey. I always knew Howard County was one of the more affluent areas in Maryland but I figured that it wouldn’t stand a chance being compared to the suburbs around New York City, which pepper the rest of the top ten.

Another bit of data that I found both surprising and disconcerting was the percentage of those over 25 with at least a Bachelor’s degree in the richest counties. Arlington County, VA (#9) had a staggering 71% while three others counties (two in Virginia and Howard County, MD) had over 60%. Eleven counties had over 50%. While I knew that college degrees had a significant impact on one’s earning power, and I also know drawing causation out of so little data is dangerous, but this only confirms the suspicions that an advanced degree is almost necessary to get those high paying jobs.

Richest Counties in America

Rank County Population % w. Bachelors+ Median Income
25 Suffolk County, NY 1,510,716 34% $84,767
24 Chester County, PA 485,083 51% $84,844
23 Alexandria City, VA 140,657 63% $85,135
22 Summit County, UT 35,448 53% $85,448
21 Charles County, MD 140,032 28% $86,586
20 Forsyth County, GA 158,008 46% $86,938
19 Santa Clara County, CA 1,734,756 46% $87,287
18 Marin County, CA 246,985 55% $88,101
17 Williamson County, TN 165,336 53% $88,316
16 Goochland County, VA 20,494 32% $88,552
15 Putnam County, NY 99,195 40% $88,580
14 Prince William County, VA 358,719 38% $88,675
13 Calvert County, MD 88,126 30% $89,049
12 Stafford County, VA 120,219 36% $89,536
11 Nassau County, NY 1,352,817 45% $93,579
10 Montgomery County, MD 942,747 59% $93,999
9 Arlington County, VA 204,889 71% $96,390
8 Douglas County, CO 270,286 54% $97,480
7 Morris County, NJ 486,459 52% $97,565
6 Fairfax City, VA 23,281 52% $98,133
5 Somerset County, NJ 321,589 53% $100,207
4 Hunterdon County, NJ 129,000 52% $100,947
3 Howard County, MD 272,412 60% $101,710
2 Fairfax County, VA 1,005,980 60% $106,785
1 Loudoun County, VA 277,433 58% $110,643

Another surprising fact is the concentration and location of affluent counties. Maryland and Virginia claim twelve of the twenty five counties. New York and New Jersey snag up another six. You can read Forbes’ interpretation of the data but they point to the proximity to major metropolitan centers, which also supports some of the other counties.


(Photo: martinvirtualtours)

{ 32 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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32 Responses to “2009 Richest Counties in America”

  1. Ryan says:

    Number 22 Summit County…says $35,448…I assume that should say $85,448.

    I wonder what the background is for Charles County, MD with only 28% Bachelors. Why so low?

  2. Anthony says:

    I am proud to say that my household income is at the $110k mark, which matches the median income for the #1 position above.

    Having said that, I won’t pull any conclusions out of it.

    But I will say that I live in a “poorer” (relatively speaking) county, so my dollar will likely stretch a little further here than any of the places listed in the table…

  3. cubiclegeoff says:

    I’m a bit surprised that no counties in Massachusetts or Connecticut are in there at all, yet Utah and Georgia are.

  4. This information cannot be publicized enough. I begin my econ class each semester by emphasizing that we are at one of the richest spots on the face of the planet. Some of my students realize this fully because they have lived in other, much poorer, parts of the world. They understand the wealth around them in Howard County. Unfortunately, too many take it for granted. Many people on the planet wake up not knowing where their meals will come from that day and economic systems play a role in this!

  5. mannymacho says:

    Guess you are making too much money Jim! 🙂

    On another note, why does Summit County, UT say the median is $35K? Is that a typo?

  6. billsnider says:

    A better statistic is disposable income. Housing prices in the areas you mentioned are much higher. Ditto for services and taxes. Less so for food.

    Bill Snider

  7. I wonder what sort of correlation there is between the age of people in those counties and the income level. It stands to reason that areas with large portions of the population at peak earning age would have a higher median income that those that are flooded with people in entry level jobs.

    That’s not to suggest that the numbers are invalid, though.

    • Jin6655321 says:

      I agree. Loudoun County (#1) is mostly late twenty-early 50 year olds. I often see articles about how local businesses are trying to attract the younger crowd but it’s not happening. People live in Fairfax county when they’re young. They move to Loudoun county to raise their family, then retire to a cheaper place.

  8. Evan says:

    Whoo Whoo #11 baby! But I want to move to #25

    fml because the house prices where I live/want to live are indicitive of those stats

  9. I live in Maryland as well and it’s nice to see that we fare so well. I am a little shocked that Montgomery county is not higher on the list as they have some of the richest people that live in Potomac.

  10. Jin6655321 says:

    I’ve lived in Loudoun County most of my life and I’m always amazed when we pop up as #1 on these lists. With Great Falls, Falls Church, Mclean, and Reston, I would’ve thought Fairfax would be #1. Then again, Fairfax probably has way low income households than we do.

    And, if anyone was wondering, Loudoun County is a great place to live. If you live in the Eastern parts you get all the benefits of living in Fairfax County (shopping, culture, etc.) w/o the bad parts.

  11. Marcie says:

    I definitely thought Fairfax or Arlington would have been the top, not Loudon. They are all amazing places to live, but I can barely afford my rent!

  12. Dave says:

    Oh yeah, I live in the 5th most expensive county. I live in what I’d call the “middle class” town in my county and its not too expensive. There are a couple of towns in my county that I couldn’t even pay the taxes on the houses. One town in particular has 2 bedroom condos going for what my 4 bedroom house costs. Oh yeah, and that town is full of huge mansions with ltos of old money and with NYC executives living them, including the CEO of Goldman Sachs (Or so I”ve heard).

  13. Jess says:

    Isn’t this survey a strong indication that the US Federal Government is bleeding too much wealth from the working people of this country. What is the correlation between county wealth and percentage of Federal employees and government contractors.

  14. zapeta says:

    Interesting distribution, I expected to see some in MA and CT, and more in CA.

  15. knitter82 says:

    This is interesting, I’ve never seen such a listing before. These places are nowhere near where I live, a farming community in the midwest.

  16. Bonnie says:

    @Jess – That was EXACTLY my thought when I read this list!

  17. eric says:

    I wouldn’t have guessed Virginia and Maryland that’s for sure!

  18. Steve says:

    Since these counties surround Washington DC, one should not be surprised. Our government is running a deficit, in part because, on average, Federal Government employees are paid upwards of 10% more than individuals in the private sector doing similar tasks.

  19. Justin says:

    Tangentially related: five years after I moved away, my home town was voted “The #3 Best Place To Live In America” by Money Magazine. Funny, I don’t FEEL like I grew up in the third best place to live…

  20. Ronnie says:

    Don’t forget that in VA, a lot of cities split counties. All of Great Falls isn’t Fairfax County, and that probably makes a difference with all of the high-income cities that make up the counties. I’ll tell you though, Fairfax County is as far as I go (I previously lived in Vienna). Loudoun gives me the creeps big time, and I need to be closer to more ethnicity than I feel Loudoun provides.

  21. Texas Wahoo says:

    “I’ve lived in Loudoun County most of my life and I’m always amazed when we pop up as #1 on these lists. With Great Falls, Falls Church, Mclean, and Reston, I would’ve thought Fairfax would be #1. Then again, Fairfax probably has way low income households than we do.”

    Unlike most states, cities in Virginia are completely separate from counties. Therefore, people that live in Falls Church or Fairfax City will not be counted as living in Fairfax County.

    This list is also scewed towards DC because most of the poor people live in DC. Other urban/suburban counties in the rest of the country will generaly include a major city within their population base.

  22. Renae says:

    Woohoo I’m on the list! Although I agree with the others, the cost of living is ridiculously high. Since I don’t even come close to touching that income, I’d rather boast that my town was voted in the top 10 towns to live that one of the riches counties. Makes me wonder what other areas in the county are actually like, because while I love it here, I don’t think it’s that impressive of a place.

  23. Chris W says:

    Interesting stuff! I’d love to see the richest counties tied in with a cost of living calculator to some basis and see what changes show up across the country and within this list.

  24. jsbrendog says:

    putnam county woop woop. the taxes there are insanely high, however, so there is that.

  25. I’m not surprised to see 3 NJ counties on the list…I actually expected to see Bergen COunty there as well.

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