Written by: Daniel Gleich
The cost of living varies greatly across the country, and what is considered rich in one city may leave someone else barely scraping by in another. Housing markets, food costs, taxes, and transportation expenses can all play a part in how much you need to make in a particular city to live comfortably. How much does it really take to be considered rich in the U.S.’s most populous cities?
Madison Trust Company researchers studied data from the U.S. Census Bureau and compared the median income of the top 20% of the population in each of the 50 most populous cities in the country to see how much money you need to make in order to be considered rich.
U.S. Cities Where You Need to Earn the Most to Be Considered Rich
The city where you need to earn the most to be considered rich is San Jose, CA. The top 20% of the population earns $500,341 on average. San Jose is the largest city in Silicon Valley, which also has some of the most expensive housing costs. It has the highest percentage of homes over $1 million in the entire country. Some of the biggest companies that have headquarters in San Jose are Cisco, PayPal, eBay, and Adobe.
How much money is considered rich in San Francisco, the second city on the list? That would be $442,934. San Francisco was estimated to be the 13th most populous metropolitan area in 2021 and is one of the wealthiest areas in the United States. Major corporate employers in San Francisco include Uber, Lyft, and Twitter.
Third on the list is Washington, D.C., which is estimated to be the sixth most populous metro area in the country. The top 20% of the population in D.C. earns an average of $353,350. Aside from being the hub of politics in the United States, Washington, D.C., is the headquarters of a lot of governmental organizations and agencies, like the U.S. Postal Service and NASA. Businesses in the D.C. metro area include major companies like Lockheed Martin in North Bethesda, MD, and Marriott International in Bethesda, MD.
Coming in fourth is Boston, MA. The Boston-Cambridge-Newton area of Massachusetts is the 11th most populous metro area in the U.S. according to 2021 estimates, and the mean income of the top 20% of the population is $393,292. Some of the biggest employers in the Boston area are Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston University, and Liberty Mutual.
The city that ranks fifth is Seattle, WA. The top 20% of the population in the Emerald City earn $346,862 on average. It ranks third on a list of the most expensive cities to live in, with housing costs making up an average of 22.84% of residents’ income. The Seattle area is home to many high-profile employers, like Amazon and Microsoft, making it a popular destination for employees looking to land job with a popular technology company.
The Difference in Rich vs. Wealthy
The terms “rich” and “wealthy” are sometimes used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two terms. What’s considered rich? Being rich generally means that an individual earns enough income to live a comfortable lifestyle and afford living expenses in their area. Rich people primarily rely on their incomes and bank accounts to sustain their lifestyles. However, rich people can still be in debt. They can live in lavish homes and drive fancy cars but could be thousands or even millions of dollars in debt.
What is considered wealthy? “Wealthy” is typically defined as people who can control their money through investments (like real estate investments) in order to live a comfortable lifestyle. While not all rich people are considered wealthy, all wealthy people are rich. Wealthy individuals are typically frugal and good at saving their money, and they usually only indulge in extravagances if they have the money for it. While the rich vs. wealthy definition is open to interpretation, it’s clear that those considered to be wealthy want for nothing.
How Much You Need to Make to Be Considered Rich in the 50 U.S. Metro Areas With the Most People
|Rank||City||Metro Area Name||Mean Income of Top 20%|
|1||San Jose, CA||San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||$500,341|
|2||San Francisco, CA||San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, CA||$442,934|
|3||Washington, DC||Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA||$353,350|
|4||Boston, MA||Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA||$353,292|
|5||Seattle, WA||Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA||$346,862|
|6||New York, NY||New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ||$340,209|
|7||San Diego, CA||San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad, CA||$303,546|
|8||Los Angeles, CA||Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA||$302,890|
|9||Denver, CO||Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO||$292,305|
|10||Austin, TX||Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown, TX||$288,453|
|11||Baltimore, MD||Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD||$286,736|
|12||Chicago, IL||Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL||$279,943|
|13||Philadelphia, PA||Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE||$279,362|
|14||Minneapolis, MN||Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN||$275,185|
|15||Raleigh, NC||Raleigh-Cary, NC||$273,011|
|16||Sacramento, CA||Sacramento-Roseville-Folsom, CA||$271,415|
|17||Atlanta, GA||Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Alpharetta, GA||$267,747|
|18||Hartford, CT||Hartford-East Hartford-Middletown, CT||$267,012|
|19||Dallas, TX||Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX||$265,858|
|20||Portland, OR||Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA||$265,594|
|21||Nashville, TN||Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN||$261,974|
|22||Houston, TX||Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX||$260,958|
|23||Miami, FL||Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL||$258,049|
|24||Charlotte, NC||Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC||$253,175|
|25||Phoenix, AZ||Phoenix-Mesa-Chandler, AZ||$252,783|
|26||Salt Lake City, UT||Salt Lake City, UT||$252,048|
|27||Richmond, VA||Richmond, VA||$250,437|
|28||St. Louis, MO||St. Louis, MO||$243,127|
|29||Cincinnati, OH||Cincinnati, OH||$242,151|
|30||Kansas City, MO||Kansas City, MO-KS||$241,351|
|31||Providence, RI||Providence-Warwick, RI||$241,192|
|32||Milwaukee, WI||Milwaukee-Waukesha, WI||$239,633|
|33||Columbus, OH||Columbus, OH||$236,962|
|34||Riverside, CA||Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA||$236,245|
|35||Detroit, MI||Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI||$234,662|
|36||Indianapolis, IN||Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN||$233,611|
|37||Jacksonville, FL||Jacksonville, FL||$233,538|
|38||Pittsburgh, PA||Pittsburgh, PA||$232,959|
|39||Tampa, FL||Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL||$231,066|
|40||Virginia Beach, VA||Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA||$228,291|
|41||Orlando, FL||Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL||$225,962|
|42||Birmingham, AL||Birmingham-Hoover, AL||$224,280|
|43||Cleveland, OH||Cleveland-Elyria, OH||$222,495|
|44||New Orleans, LA||New Orleans-Metairie, LA||$221,739|
|45||Las Vegas, NV||Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV||$220,998|
|46||San Antonio, TX||San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX||$220,114|
|47||Louisville, KY||Louisville/Jefferson County, KY||$218,643|
|48||Memphis, TN||Memphis, TN||$218,158|
|49||Oklahoma City, OK||Oklahoma City, OK||$200,844|
|50||Buffalo, NY||Buffalo-Cheektowaga, NY||$199,448|
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