Which States Are the Richest? The Answer May Surprise You

It has long been obvious that it takes a lot of money to live in New York or San Francisco, while you can get along on much less in, say, Nebraska. But only in April of this year did the Bureau of Economic Analysis systematically compute real per capita income for each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia. You can see the results for 2012, the only year published to date, here. For your convenience, I have uploaded the table. Here it is:

Real Per Capita Income by State 2012

Not surprisingly, the most prosperous place in the U.S. is the District of Columbia, with a per capita real income (chained 2008 dollars) of $59,759. In the Age of Obama, lobbyists reign supreme. But what state ranks number one? North Dakota, with a real per capita income of $57,367. Sure, you say, it’s all that fracking. Yes, but look who is number five: oil-free South Dakota, at $48,626. Both of the Dakotas, on a real per capita basis, are higher-income than New York ($43,603), California (a dismal $38,888), Pennsylvania ($43,173), Illinois ($43,063), Maryland ($45,702), Virginia ($44,313), Washington ($42,164) and just about every other state.

A few blue states are prosperous: Connecticut is number two and Massachusetts is number four, edging out South Dakota but far behind North Dakota. But most of the country’s wealthiest states are red or purple: in addition to the Dakotas, Wyoming (#3), Nebraska (#6), Iowa (#7) and Kansas (#11). (Maybe Kansas isn’t so dumb after all.)

BEA also calculated how much each state gained in real per capita income between 2008 and 2012. You can make of this what you will, but the top ten, in order, were North Dakota (with a whopping 23% increase), West Virginia, Mississippi, Ohio, Rhode Island, Montana, Arkansas, South Dakota, Tennessee and New Hampshire.

It is noteworthy, too, that states like New York, California and Illinois have much more income inequality than states like the Dakotas. If we saw the same data using medians instead of averages, the Dakotas, Wyoming, Nebraska, etc. would look even better. The average person is remarkably better off in those states.

While one should rarely draw sweeping conclusions from a single data set, these numbers do cause one to wonder: the blue model has plainly failed at the state level, so why would anyone want to implement it at the federal level?


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