How Much You Need To Be ‘Rich’ on the East Coast of the United States

Aerial view of the Central park in New York with golf fields and tall skyscrapers surrounding the park.
Ingus Kruklitis / Getty Images/iStockphoto

The coasts of the U.S. are generally considered to be the areas where the nation’s wealthiest people reside. In fact, New York is home to the nation’s second-most billionaires with nearly 100 people having a 10-figure (or higher) net worth. As a whole, though, New York is far from the East Coast’s wealthiest state.

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Here’s How Much You Need To Earn To Be ‘Rich’ in Every State

Indeed, the East Coast is made up of a large number of states, and several of them require more wealth than New York to be among the top 20%. Because the East Coast is so diverse with so many states, we identify the Northeast and the Southeast as two distinct regions. That line is drawn South of Pennysylvania; Virginia is the Northernmost state in the Southeast.

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Then, to determine how much you need to be “rich” in each location, GOBankingRates conducted a study identifying the lowest income needed to be in the top 20% in each state, the average income of the top 20% and the average income of the top 5%.

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how much to be rich on east coast

The Northeast

For the Northeast as a whole, the lowest income to be in the top 20% is $150,031. The average for the top 20% is $275,511 and the average for the top 5% is $505,745. As we will see, these numbers are all noticeably higher than the averages for the Southeast.

While there are several billionaires in New York, the state is large and diverse, and it only has the sixth-highest income to be in the top 20%: $144,704. The averages for the top 20% and the top 5% in New York are $276,728 and $525,456. Pennsylvania has the lowest income to be in the top 20% among northeastern states at $121,701.

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At the high end of the list are New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland, in that order. Their incomes to be in the top 20% are $166,320, $162,959 and $161,751, respectively.

Monthly Expenditures and Unemployment in the Northeast

While incomes tend to be higher in the Northeast, so, too, is the cost of living. A separate GOBankingRates study found that Massachusetts has the fourth-highest monthly expenditure on necessities in the country at $3,354.29. New Jersey is sixth-highest at $3,178.06, and Delaware is seventh-highest at $3,161.23.

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The unemployment rate for October 2021 in the Northeast was 6.9%, well above the national average of 4.6%.

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The Southeast

For the Southeast as a whole, the lowest income to be in the top 20% is $121,390. The average for the top 20% is $219,088, and the average for the top 5% is $394,779.

As noted, the threshold to reach the top 20% of earners is much lower in the Southeast on average. In fact, the only state in the Southeast that makes that top 10 among east coast states is Virginia. And that may be skewed by cities that are considered part of the Washington, D.C. metro area, such as Arlington and Falls Church. These cities have the highest incomes in the state. Nevertheless, the income to make the top 20% in Virginia is $148,018. The averages for the top 20% and the top 5% in the state are $256,360 and $442,566.

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Other states in the Southeast have much lower bars to call yourself one of the wealthy few. In Georgia, the southern state with the next-highest figures, the income needed to be in the top 20% is $117,611. The averages for the top 20% and the top 5% are $212,411 and $384,511.

The southern state with the lowest figures is Southeast Carolina, where the income needed to be in the top 20% is $105,667. The averages or the top 20% and the top 5% in the state are $186,571 and $334,492.

Monthly Expenditures and Unemployment in the Southeast

Monthly expenditures in the Southeasteast tend to be lower than they are in the Northeast, though not as low as other areas, such as the Midwest. South Carolina has the lowest average monthly expenditure on necessities on the East Coast at $2,613.23. While that is reasonable given it has the lowest levels of wealth, those costs are No. 25 in the country — right in the middle of the pack.

Virginia, which has the highest levels of wealth on this list, is No. 33 in terms of cost of living, with $2,877.00 spent on monthly expenditures. Florida has monthly expenditures of $3,043.97 on necessities despite having a lower top-20% threshold than Virginia.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate in the Southeast was 6.5% — higher than the national rate, but lower than the Northeast.

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Methodology: For this piece GOBankingRates used American Community Survey data from the United States Census Bureau to first find the states that make up the Census designated “Northeast” and “South” regions of the United States. With these states isolated, GOBankingRates then used American Community Survey income quintile data to find each state’s: (1) lowest income to be considered in the top 20% richest income bracket; (2) the average income of the richest 20% and (3) the average income of the richest 5%. Only factor (1) was considered in final rankings. GOBankingRates also found the Northeast and South Region averages for each factor. All data was collected and is up to date as of November 8, 2021.

About the Author

Bob Haegele is a personal finance writer who specializes in topics such as investing, banking, credit cards, and real estate. His work has been featured on The Ladders, The Good Men Project, and Small Biz Daily. He also co-runs Modest Money and is a dog sitter and walker.

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