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How much you need to earn to be in the top 1% is wildly different for each state

January 26, 2022, 3:28 PM UTC
The Empire State building and the New York City skyline.
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In the past two years, the issue of income inequality in the U.S. has become a hot-button topic, with public figures regularly calling for the government to “tax the rich” in order to ease some of the burden on the poor.

Of course, that simple idea is much more complicated for so many reasons. And it doesn’t help that many Americans have skewed perceptions of what it actually means to be rich. Recently, a Wharton professor saw her tweet go viral when she shared that one of her students thought the average American brought home $800,000 annually.

In fact, more than 99% of Americans don’t make that much each year.

In a new study of IRS data from 2018, the personal finance advising company SmartAsset found how much the average family needs to make annually in order to be considered part of the 1% in each of the 50 states. Turns out that “tax the rich” means something very different depending on where you live.

After adjusting its data to reflect current inflation using the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, SmartAsset found that to break into the top 1% of earners, an average American family needs to make over $597,815 yearly.

You’ll need to earn nearly double that to cross the 1% mark in Connecticut, the state with the highest income threshold. The average family must make at least $896,490 a year to reach the upper echelon. 

The top five states are all coastal, with Massachusetts ($810,256), New York ($777,126), New Jersey ($760,462), and California ($745,314) following Connecticut.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the bottom five states are in the south and west. In West Virginia, the top 1% of earners need to make at least $350,212 per year. Rounding out the bottom five are Mississippi ($361,462), New Mexico ($384,427), Arkansas ($411,633), and Kentucky ($412,838).

The share of total income tax — federal and state combined — that Americans in the top 1% pay varies across state lines, too. SmartAsset notes that nationally, top earners carry an average income tax burden of 35.79%. The 1% in Nevada pay 50.10%, the highest nationwide, while the 1% in Alaska pay the lowest at just 24.92% 

SmartAsset also highlights the difference between the top 1% and top 5%, noting that the minimum income threshold to crack the 1% is 2.48 times higher than the 5% threshold, where an average American family needs to make a minimum of $240,712 annually to be part of that (not-quite-as) elite group.

Here’s the data for how much a family needs to earn annually to be in the top 1% and top 5% in every state:

StateTop 1% income threshold (2018 data adjusted to 2021 dollars) Top 5% income threshold  (2018 data adjusted to 2021 dollars) 
Connecticut$896,490$311,589
Massachusetts$810,256$314,389
New York$777,126$265,530
New Jersey$760,462$308,976
California$745,314$291,277
Washington$685,128$283,574
Colorado$632,277$264,313
Illinois$627,329$250,266
Florida$623,736$223,179
Texas$594,313$237,383
Maryland$588,035$265,100
Virginia$584,784$270,360
Wyoming$578,298$212,937
Minnesota$574,780$243,659
New Hampshire$568,731$254,995
Georgia$543,748$225,232
Pennsylvania$541,612$229,015
North Dakota$540,837$223,203
Nevada$540,025$205,028
Utah$528,864$217,757
Oregon$517,607$228,006
North Carolina$506,795$218,073
South Dakota$504,422$203,185
Arizona$503,408$216,972
Kansas$501,009$213,529
Rhode Island$493,748$220,113
Tennessee$492,583$201,597
Alaska$486,671$230,260
Delaware$480,472$222,092
Nebraska$477,312$207,417
Michigan$476,358$208,693
Wisconsin$475,584$204,669
Louisiana$471,506$199,454
Missouri$470,279$202,054
Oklahoma$469,311$197,397
Montana$465,702$196,629
South Carolina$463,976$202,000
Idaho$462,352$197,850
Ohio$460,129$197,621
Hawaii$453,471$212,622
Vermont$451,765$206,007
Iowa$441,223$202,268
Indiana$437,567$192,928
Maine$434,306$194,663
Alabama$432,330$193,273
Kentucky$412,836$184,217
Arkansas$411,633$183,945
New Mexico$384,427$185,641
Mississippi$361,462$168,705
West Virginia$350,212$171,135
Data provided by SmartAsset

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