Where the Money Is -- and Isn't

Want to Market to the Affluent? Here's a Look at Changing Patterns in High-Income Households.

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Earlier we looked at the great disappearance of wealth in the U.S. and spent some time examining the 5% drop in the number of households in the top earning segments. Now that the Census has released its first data for small geographies since 2000, we can really look at where the money is. First let's start with the absolute numbers of households earning $200,000. As you might expect the biggest population centers, with their high cost of living and concentrations of high-income industries like financial services, energy and entertainment lead the way in sheer volume. Suburban D.C., an area well-known for its economic growth in recent decades, drives Fairfax County into the top 10 as well.

Based on the 2009 American Community survey, here are the top ten counties for wealthy households in the U.S.

County Wealthy Households
Los Angeles, CA 177,142
New York, NY 124,102
Cook, IL 99,392
Orange, CA 83,821
Santa Clara, CA 73,884
Harris, TX 70,604
San Diego, CA 63,382
Fairfax, VA 60,067
Nassau, NY 56,325
Middlesex, MA 55,764
Another important thing to look at is unusual concentrations. Ad Age's new business intelligence tool, MarketFinder.com, makes finding those easy. Each demographic stat you can look up – top drivers of spending behavior like age, household type, income, and more – will also give you an Index figure of how its population relates to the U.S. as a whole. Index numbers over 100 have higher concentrations of a given population than the U.S. on average.

As a percentage of population, two counties in Virginia and two each in New York, Maryland and New Jersey lead the way. In Fairfax, VA, you're more than four times as likely to find a $200,000 household as you are in the U.S. as a whole.

Here are the top ten counties for concentration of high-earning households in the U.S.

County Wealthy Households
Fairfax, VA (17%) 423
Loudoun, VA (17%) 414
New York, NY (17%) 410
Morris, NJ (15%) 395
Montgomery, MD (15%) 383
Hunterdon, NJ (15%) 379
Fairfield, CT (15%) 379
Marin, CA (15%) 377
Westchester, NY (15%) 372
Howard, MD (15%) 371
That's a lot of spending power on the coasts, and now that the five-year American Community Survey (ACS) results are out, we can really look at how that money drifted that way.

The map below comes with some caveats, but gives you a pretty good sense of what is going on. Comparing 2000 Census data with 2009 ACS is not always apples to apples. In this case, we took households making $150,000 or more in 1999 and compared them with the number of households making $200,000.

In 1999 there were 4.8 million households in the U.S. over $150,000. There are now only 4.5 million households earning over $200,000. For reference $150,000 then is worth about $194,000 today according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator so we're on pretty even footing with this comparison.

This seasonally-appropriate map shows a lot of red and green interspersed in just about every state.

The communities that lost high-income households show two very different pictures.

Counties like Cook and DuPage(Chicago and its near suburbs) or Santa Clara and Los Angeles in California dropped more than 10,000 households a piece. But three of those counties still remain in the top 10 highest-earning. The same cannot be said of other areas shedding high-earning families like Oakland and Wayne counties in the Detroit area or Cuyahoga and Hamilton in Ohio (home of Cleveland and Cincinnati respectively) are not liable to rebound any time soon as their entire economic have shifted. Palm Beach, Broward, Pinellas and Miami-Dade were some of the hardest hit by Florida's real-estate crash.

What we're seeing is some Census-blessed data backing up some of the key trends to shape consumer behavior – and the economy as a whole – in the coming years.

  • The recession hit all levels of income, not necessarily evenly but few escaped its effects completely.
  • Things are not turning around for the industrial mid-West, or much of the South
  • Money continues to cluster on the coasts and in some of the more urbanized areas in between
  • Much of Florida, reversing years of boom, now looks worse off than it did a decade ago. Texas, on the other hand, is on the winning side of just about everything.

Keep an eye on all of this as we turn the page into the next decade, and hope that some of that red turns back green soon.