When it comes to wealthy states, few can compete with California. Despite Elon Musk’s move to Texas, California still has more billionaires than any state in the country. However, there is a big difference between being a billionaire and merely being among the wealthiest in a state or region.
Not only that, but the West Coast is large and varied. If we look to not just California but also to Oregon and Washington and even parts of the Mountain West, we can see there is much more to it than a handful of billionaires. Indeed, there are many levels of income and wealth throughout the region.
To hone in on how much you would need to be “rich” on the West Coast by being among the top 20% of earners or even the top 5%, GOBankingRates conducted a study of U.S. Census Bureau and American Community Survey data. Here, we’ll take a look at a few states on the West Coast (and beyond) that show just how varied the necessary levels of wealth actually are.
If you want to be among California’s wealthy elite, you’ll need a higher income than any other West Coast state. There, the income to be in the top 20% is $154,404. This is different from the East Coast, where New York has the most billionaires but is far down the list of incomes needed to be a top earner. The average income of the top 20% in California is $278,638 and the average for the top 5% is $499,596.
Just south of the border of Canada lies Washington, home to Seattle and no shortage of national parks. Among the West Coast, Washington has the fourth-highest income to be in the top 20% of its earners; there, you must earn a minimum of $141,567 to be rich. Average incomes for the top 20% and the top 5% in Washington are $244,742 and $427,580, respectively.
Oregon, the last of the states within the lower 48 along the coastline, has a minimum income of $121,649 to be among its top 20% of earners. While that is significantly less than the same figure for Washington, Oregon is No. 7 of the 13 Western states studied, putting it in the middle of the pack. The average for the top 20% of earners in Oregon is $208,393; for the top 5%, the average is $360,559.
We may not always think of Hawaii as a West Coast state since it is completely separated from the lower 48. But, of course, Hawaii is the westernmost state in the U.S. and is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. The cost of living in Hawaii is known to be particularly high, and incomes follow. The minimum income to be in the top 5% in Hawaii is $150,863; that is second only to California among West Coast states. The averages for the top 20% and the top 5% in Hawaii are $247,294 and $413,913, respectively.
There is a lot to like about Colorado, and it happens to be one of the states where some have fled to get away from high real estate costs in California. However, you will still need a relatively high income to be among the state’s highest earners; the minimum income for the top 20% in Colorado is $138,153. That is fifth among West Coast states studied. The averages for the top 20% and 5% in Colorado are $239,479 and $422,054.
Nevada may be home to places like Las Vegas and Reno, but when it comes to locals, incomes needed to reach the state’s top 20% are on the low end among western states. An income of $114,517 will put you in the top 20% of earners in Nevada. The average for the top 20% there is $203,124, and the average for the top 5% is $370,404.
New Mexico is known for its Spanish and indigenous influences; its capital, Sante Fe, is the oldest state capital in the U.S. However, the reason for mentioning it here is that it has the lowest income to be in the top 20% of earners among western states. There, an income of $102,375 will put you in the top 20%. The average income for the top 20% in New Mexico is $175,925. Meanwhile, the average income for the top 5% is $305,961.
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Methdology: 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 “West” region 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 West Region averages for each factor. All data was collected and is up to date as of November 8, 2021.