The 20 Richest Metros in America (the First 2 Will Surprise You)

More

Screen Shot 2012-11-26 at 6.02.00 PM.png

San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and ... Midland, Texas? The Bureau of Economic Analysis released its personal income report for 2011, naming the richest metropolitan areas in the United States by personal income per capita, and the top two spots require some explanation.

At number one, there's Bridgeport, Connecticut, one of the most unequal metropolitan areas in the country. Home to both Bridgeport, the struggling industrial city, and Greenwich, the home for hedge fund billionaires on the outskirts of New York City, the metropolitan area has the nation's highest share of income earned by the top fifth. This is case where averages tell you one thing -- there are some intensely rich people living in the Bridgeport MSA -- while the median would give you a typical household income figure closer to $30,000.

Meanwhile, it's boom times in the Permian Basin, the petroleum-rich swath of western Texas, where unemployment in Midland is 3% and one-quarter of the labor force works in mining. If Bridgeport's top spot is a statistical glitch, Midland's second-place finish is a geological one: The small city and its big wages are at the mercy of their natural resources and the globally-determined price of energy.

Further down the list, we have cities like San Francisco, San Jose, Boston, and NYC, where wages are high because productive, innovative, and well-educated people work and live there without the benefit of natural resources. There is nothing wrong, as a commenter pointed out, with mining as a profession or a means of production, and living above natural resources doesn't make you lazy. But to the extent that the future of any 21st century country will be tied to its human capital -- and since not every city can be perched above a petroleum-rich basin -- these cities seem closer to a scalable model of a thriving modern metro.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Ghost Trains of America

Can a band of locomotive experts save vintage railcars from ruin?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Video

What If Emoji Lived Among Us?

A whimsical ad imagines what life would be like if emoji were real.

Video

Living Alone on a Sailboat

"If you think I'm a dirtbag, then you don't understand the lifestyle."

Video

How Is Social Media Changing Journalism?

How new platforms are transforming radio, TV, print, and digital

Video

The Place Where Silent Movies Sing

How an antique, wind-powered pipe organ brings films to life

Feature

The Future of Iced Coffee

Are artisan businesses like Blue Bottle doomed to fail when they go mainstream?

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In