Which States Are the Richest, Poorest, and Have the Best Economies

Income and Net Worth by State

states with best economies
••• Many of the states with the worst economies depend on farming for growth. Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Comparing America's richest states to its poorest ones reveals the nation's income inequality. Six of the 10 richest states are near a major U.S. East Coast city. They benefit from having major world-class research universities. As a result, highly-educated people live in those cities. There is a high correlation between education and income.

Eight of the poorest states are in the South, an area dependent on agriculture.

But China and India were able to take related higher-paying jobs. The South used to have many textile and clothing manufacturers that were located near cotton fields. Foreign countries could make the products more cheaply, despite being further away from the raw materials.

The comparison between the richest and poorest states is striking. In 2016, Maryland's median household income was $78,945. In Mississippi, the poorest state, it was $41,754. Both are significantly different from the national average of $59,039. The median income is the point where half the people make more and half make less. A household is any group of people who live together according to the United States Census.

Despite their discrepancy, both averages are well within the middle-class. The Pew Research Center defines middle class income as being between 67 percent and 200 percent of median household income. As a result, households making less than $39,554 are low income, while those earning more than $118,072 are high income.


Top 10 Richest States

Here are the top 10 richest states in 2016. The number reported is for median household income. If you want to live in these states, your'e better off making more than the median. The cost of living is also higher in these states. 

  1. Maryland - $78,945. The nation's richest state is a bedroom community for the fourth richest city, Washington D.C. The median income for the District of Columbia is $75,506. 
  1. Alaska - $76,440.The northern-most state benefits from oil reserves in Prudhoe Bay. It also depends on tourism, which attracts 1.1 million visitors a year. Wild seafood, especially salmon, is another significant component.
  2. New Jersey - $76,126. This is a bedroom community to New York City.
  3. Massachusetts - $75,297. This state has a concentration of top universities and business schools. As a result, it has a flourishing technology sector, especially computers and electronics. Its education and health services employ the most people.
  4. Hawaii - $74,5118.The island state depends on tourism from the mainland and Japan. It also benefits from a military base, and exports of sugar, molasses, and pineapple. 
  5. Connecticut - $73,433. The state is a bedroom community to New York City.
  6. New Hampshire - $70,936. Another bedroom community to Boston.
  7. Virginia - $68,114. A bedroom community to Washington D.C. 
  8. California- $67,739. If it were a country, California would have the world's sixth largest economy. It's buoyed by the world's densest concentration of high tech companies in Silicon Valley. It also exports dairy products, vegetables, grapes, almonds, and cattle.
  9. Washington - $67,106. This northwestern state has the nation's largest concentration of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workers reside. It follows California in the most patents filed. It also has no personal income tax.

    10 Poorest States

    Most of the nation's poorest states are in the South. They struggle because they have historically been reliant on agriculture, especially cotton and tobacco. The number of cotton farms has fallen by half in 20 years. Demand has fallen as consumers have turned to synthetics. Tobacco use has fallen due to declines in smoking rates.

    The  South doesn't have a lot of manufacturing industries. Manufacturing is generating growth in those states. These industries create more jobs than farming or real estate. In fact, manufacturing provides some of the highest-paid jobs in the United States. 

    RankStateMedian Income (2016)Comments
    41South Carolina$49,501


    Dependence on agriculture

    44New Mexico$46,748
    49West Virginia$43,385Agriculture

    Fastest Growing States

    Which states have the best economies and job markets? There's not a one-size-fits-all answer to that question. For example, many of the states with the fastest-growing economies did so for reasons that might not get you a job. Four out of the 10 owed most of their growth to real estate and construction. That's great only if you have those skills. 

    You might have better luck in Minnesota, Michigan and New Hampshire. Those states's economies are driven by business growth. You would benefit if you had office or sales skills. Here are the growth rates for the 10 best performing states.

    State2016 Growth RateTop Growth Industry
    Florida2.4%Real Estate
    District of Columbia2.1%Government
    Hawaii1.9%Real Estate
    North Carolina1.9%Real Estate
    South Carolina1.8%Real Estate
    New Hampshire1.6%Business


    Top 10 Best States to Find a Job

    Here are the 10 best states to find a job. Arizona has four cities that rank as the easiest to find jobs. These communities are adding many jobs. California is second, with two job-abundant cities. Many of these cities are in the fastest-growing states in the list above.

    1. Arizona: Chandler (#1), Scottsdale (#2), Peoria (#4), Gilbert (#5).
    2. California: San Francisco (#3), Irvine (#8)
    3. Texas: Plano (#6), Austin (#11) 
    4. Maine: Portland (#7)
    5. Wisconsin: Madison (#9)
    6. Massachusetts: Boston (#10)
    7. North Dakota: Fargo (#12), Bismarck (#14)
    8. Florida: Orlando (#13), Tampa (#16)
    9. Maryland: Columbia (#15)
    10. Washington: Seattle (#17)

    In Depth: Median Income per Person | Average Net Worth