The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

America’s highest-earning state probably isn’t the one you would expect

Pop quiz: Which U.S. state had the highest median income in 2016?

New York or California, perhaps, home to some of the nation's wealthiest cities? Maryland or Virginia, with their Washington suburbs flush with government cash? Alaska, home of the famous oil revenue checks for every man, woman and child?

All of those guesses are wrong, according to the latest 2016 income data released by the U.S. Census. The correct answer, believe it or not:

New Hampshire.

The Granite State's median household income last year was a whopping $76,260, nearly 30 percent higher than the national median of $59,039, according to the Census.

The typical New Hampshire household earned $35,000 a year more than the typical household in the country's poorest state, Mississippi, where the median income is $41,099. Put another way, the median income in Mississippi today is about as low as the median income in New Hampshire 20 years ago, in 1997 ($40,998).

One of the chief drivers of New Hampshire's high median income is its poverty rate, which is the lowest in the nation. Only 6.9 percent of the state's residents live below the poverty line, compared with a national average of 13.7 percent (in Mississippi nearly 21 percent of people live in poverty).

New Hampshire's workforce is also among the best-educated in the country, according to previously released census data. Better-educated workers tend to make more money.

Connecticut is the second-highest-earning state, with a median household income of $75,923. Alaska, Maryland and Massachusetts round out the top five (the complete list is at the bottom of this story).

Conversely, the lowest-earning states are clustered in the South. They include Mississippi ($41,099), along with Louisiana ($42,196), West Virginia ($44,354), Kentucky ($45,369) and Arkansas ($45,907).

One word of caution: These are survey data, and like all surveys the income figures are subject to sampling error. In all but the largest states, the margin of error around the income numbers is in the $1,000 to $3,000 range. Differences between the states of a few hundred dollars don't mean a whole lot.

It's also worth noting that the Census's median household income numbers differ from the per capita income figures published by other federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Each data set has its own strengths and weaknesses, but overall their contours are similar. New Hampshire comes out looking pretty good in both, for instance.

In the census data, New Hampshire's strong showing is consistent from year to year — it hasn't fallen out of the top five median household income states in the past decade.

State Median

household income, 2016 ($)
Alabama 47,221
Alaska 75,723
Arizona 57,100
Arkansas 45,907
California 66,637
Colorado 70,566
Connecticut 75,923
D.C. 70,982
Delaware 58,046
Florida 51,176
Georgia 53,527
Hawaii 72,133
Idaho 56,564
Illinois 61,386
Indiana 56,094
Iowa 59,094
Kansas 56,810
Kentucky 45,369
Louisiana 42,196
Maine 50,856
Maryland 73,760
Massachusetts 72,266
Michigan 57,091
Minnesota 70,218
Mississippi 41,099
Missouri 55,016
Montana 57,075
Nebraska 59,374
Nevada 55,431
New Hampshire 76,260
New Jersey 68,468
New Mexico 48,451
New York 61,437
North Carolina 53,764
North Dakota 60,184
Ohio 53,985
Oklahoma 50,943
Oregon 59,135
Pennsylvania 60,979
Rhode Island 61,528
South Carolina 54,336
South Dakota 57,450
Tennessee 51,344
Texas 58,146
Utah 67,481
Vermont 60,837
Virginia 66,451
Washington 70,310
West Virginia 44,354
Wisconsin 59,817
Wyoming 57,829