(October 2002) In the 1990s, the United States experienced one of the longest periods of economic growth in its history. Census 2000 figures indicate that, as a result, median household income, median family income and per capita income all increased substantially in real terms. Median household income rose by more than $2,000 between 1989 and 1999 (adjusting for inflation), while median family income grew more than $4,000. At the same time, per capita income increased from $18,800 to $21,500. The number of households falling into the lowest income brackets — those with income less than $25,000 — fell from 33 percent in 1989 to 29 percent in 1999. At the other end of the economic scale, 12 percent of all U.S. households had income over $100,000 in 2000, compared with only 10 percent in 1990. Households with income between $35,000 and $75,000 in 1999 constituted the largest income bracket, accounting for over 36 percent of all American households.
The 2000 Census showed that, despite these gains in the nation as a whole, the level of economic prosperity varied considerably by state and local area. In 1999, as in 1989, the majority of the poorest states in the United States were in the South. In two states — Mississippi and West Virginia — more than 40 percent of households had income less than $25,000 in 1999. Metropolitan states on the east coast had the largest concentrations of affluent households. Over 20 percent of households in Connecticut and New Jersey reported income greater than $100,000, while in West Virginia, only 5 percent of households fell in this category.
Wealth Concentrated, Poverty Dispersed
At the county level, income tended to be highest in selected suburbs in the Washington, D.C., New York, and Denver metropolitan areas. Fairfax County, Va., had the highest percentage of households with income over $100,000 (38 percent), followed by Hunterdon County, N.J. (37 percent), Douglas County, Colo. (37 percent), and Somerset County, N.J. (36 percent).
The poorest counties were more scattered around the United States and included several counties in the Mississippi Delta, Appalachia, and predominantly American Indian areas. Buffalo County, S.D., was the poorest county in 1999, with 45 percent of households with income less than $10,000, followed by Wilcox County, Ala. (36 percent), Holmes County, Miss. (33 percent), Ziebach County, S.D. (33 percent), and Owsley County, Ky. (33 percent).