November 9, 2022

Income and Wealth in the United States: An Overview of Recent Data

Government surveys collect a wide range of information about the population of the United States that contain useful insights about Americans’ economic status. Three annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau include data on household income and wealth. The American Community Survey (ACS), provides income data at the state and local levels; the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) presents national-level income data for various demographic categories; and the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) offers data on household wealth. Below are several measures of income and wealth from those three surveys.

Income Levels Vary Across Geography, Race, and Gender

According to the ASEC, median household income was $70,784 in 2021, which is a decrease from the median household income in 2020 of $71,186. Looking at data for national averages, however, may mask important differences by region, race, level of education, or other categories.

The table below shows that median income varies by region — for example, it is higher for households in the Northeast and West than it is for those in the Midwest and South.

The Northeast and West have higher median household incomes than the Midwest and South

Region 2020 Median Household Income (2021 dollars) 2021 Median Household Income
United States $71,186 $70,784
Northeast $79,032 $77,472
West $78,755 $79,430
Midwest $70,528 $71,129
South $64,355 $63,368

SOURCE: United States Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2021 and 2022 Annual Social and Economic Supplements.
NOTE: The differences between the values above are not all statistically significant at the confidence level used by the Census Bureau.

© 2022 Peter G. Peterson Foundation

The ACS provides income data at the state level. The table below shows the wide discrepancy in household incomes across the United States in 2021. The median household in Maryland, the highest-income state, had an income that was nearly double that of the median household in Mississippi, the lowest-income state.

Median household incomes vary widely by state

State 2021 Median Household Income
Maryland $90,203
District of Columbia $90,088
Massachusetts $89,645
Louisiana $52,087
West Virginia $51,248
Mississippi $48,716

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, 2021 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.
NOTE: The differences between the values above are not all statistically significant at the confidence level used by the Census Bureau.

© 2022 Peter G. Peterson Foundation

Income also varies by race and ethnicity. The table and chart below show median household income grouped by the race and ethnicity of the head of household. In 2021, households whose head was classified as Asian or White had median incomes that were higher than the national median, while households headed by people classified as Black or Hispanic had median incomes that were lower than the national median.

In 2021, median household income varied considerably by race and ethnicity

Race/Ethnicity of Household Head 2020 Median Household Income (2021 dollars) 2021 Median Household Income
All races/ethnicities $71,186 $70,784
Asian $99,622 $101,418
White, not Hispanic $78,912 $77,999
Hispanic (any race) $58,015 $57,981
Black $48,175 $48,297

SOURCE: United States Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2021 and 2022 Annual Social and Economic Supplements.
NOTE: The differences between the values above are not all statistically significant at the confidence level used by the Census Bureau.

© 2022 Peter G. Peterson Foundation

Income varies widely across racial and ethnic groups in the United States

The table below shows median household income, grouped by educational attainment of the household head. Households led by an individual 25 years of age or older with a bachelor’s degree or more have incomes that are considerably higher than the national median. Households led by an individual aged 25 or older 25 with less than a high school diploma earn less than half of the national median.

Median household income varies based on the educational attainment of the household head

Educational Attainment of Household Head 2021 Median Household Income
All education levels $72,046
No high scho9l diploma $30,378
High school or equivalent $50,401
Some college, including Associate's degree $64,378
Bachelor's degree or more $115,456

SOURCE: United States Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2021 Annual Social and Economic Supplements.
NOTE: The data above is for household heads who are 25 or older.

© 2022 Peter G. Peterson Foundation

The ASEC also gathers data on earnings, which includes wages and salaries, but excludes income sources such as public assistance and interest payments. In 2021, the median earnings for full-time, year-round male workers was about $10,000 higher than the median earnings for full-time, year-round female workers.

Male workers earn more than female workers

Full-Time, Year-Round Workers 2020 Median Individual Earnings (2021 Dollars) 2021 Median Individual Earnings
Men $64,217 $61,180
Women $53,387 $51,226

SOURCE: United States Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2021 and 2022 Annual Social and Economic Supplements.
NOTE: The differences between all of the values above are statistically significant at the confidence level used by the Census Bureau.

© 2022 Peter G. Peterson Foundation

Wealth is an Important Component of Americans’ Economic Status

When it comes to describing the financial status of Americans, income doesn’t tell the whole story. Income measures the flow of money and assets during a given period of time whereas wealth measures the stock of money and assets that have been accumulated as of a certain point in time. For example, a household with an income of $100,000 that saves $5,000 each year would have $25,000 of additional wealth at the end of five years.

Wealth is measured through a concept called net worth. Net worth is the difference between a household’s assets and debts. For example, if a household has $10,000 in its checking account, $40,000 of student debt, and $5,000 of credit card debt, then it has a net worth of -$35,000.

The table below shows median net worth in 2020 by education level. (SIPP data for 2021 have not yet been published.) It illustrates how net worth, on average, is higher for households with a higher level of educational attainment.

Household net worth varies by education

Highest Level of Educational Attainment in Household Median Net Worth in 2020
No HS diploma $4,685
HS graduate $41,1220
Some college, no degree $71,880
Associate degree $116,800
Bachelor's degree $233,700
Graduate or professional degree $459,800

SOURCE: United States Census Bureau, 2021 Survey of Income and Program Participation, public-use data.

© 2022 Peter G. Peterson Foundation

The ASEC, ACS, and SIPP contain data for many more demographic categories, such as occupation, family structure, marital status, and number of children. Such data highlights variations among populations in the United States and can help lawmakers evaluate policies to address such differences.

Related: CBO: Income Inequality Continues to Rise


Image credit: IP Galanternik D.U.

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