The Income Needed to Be Among Top Earners in the 10 Largest U.S. Cities

Wealthy investor looking out over city
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This story originally appeared on SmartAdvisor Match.

You work hard to earn your income, but where do you stack up against others in your city and across the country?

In 2018, the working households that comprised the top 20% of earners nationwide made at least $125,322 throughout the year. In contrast, the working households in the bottom 20% of earners made $25,434 or less.

As a ratio, top-earning households made almost five times as much as bottom-earning households.

The Census Bureau annually reports estimates of household income quintile limits, but it’s important to note that income distributions vary widely across cities.

In this study, SmartAsset took a closer look at the income needed to be a top earner in America’s largest cities.

We considered the 100 largest cities in the U.S. and ranked cities according to the income needed to be in the top 20% of working households. Additionally, we discussed the ratio between top-earning and bottom-earning households by city. All data for this report comes from the Census Bureau’s one-year American Community Survey.

First, we’ll look at the cities where top earners make the least. Then, the cities where top earners make the most.

Detroit

Detroit, Michigan
Stephanie Kenner / Shutterstock.com

Detroit has the lowest income needed to be a top earner of the 100 largest cities in America.

To be in the top 20% of earners in Detroit, households must make at least $65,603, which is roughly $3,700 more than the national median household income, $61,937.

In fact, the threshold to be in the top 5% of working households in Detroit ($122,330) is lower than the threshold to be in the top 20% of working households nationwide ($125,322).

Cleveland

Cleveland, Ohio
Rudy Balasko / Shutterstock.com

In 2018, the income needed to be a top-earning household in Cleveland, Ohio, was $70,632, about 44% lower than the national average.

Since Ohio’s highest tax bracket only applies to income above $217,400, many of these top earners will have relatively low tax rates compared to top earners in other cities.

Toledo, Ohio

Toledo, Ohio
T.Slack / Shutterstock.com

Following Cleveland, Toledo is the second Ohio city among those with the lowest income needed to be a top earner.

The top 20% of households in Toledo made upward of $73,087 in 2018, moving down from $75,526 in 2017. This threshold to be a top-earning household is about 42% lower than the national average ($125,322).

Hialeah, Florida

Hialeah, Florida
tome213 / Shutterstock.com

In 2018, the top 20% of households by income in Hialeah made more than $77,324 while the bottom 20% made less than $17,120. In other words, top earners made about 4.52 times what bottom earners did.

Newark, New Jersey

Newark, New Jersey
mandritoiu / Shutterstock.com

The median household income in Newark, New Jersey, was a little less than $38,000 in 2018, and top-earning households made about 5.8 times what bottom-earning households did.

Specifically, the threshold to be a top-earning household was $82,012 and the upper threshold for bottom-earning households was $14,140.

Next, see the five cities where top earners make the most.

5. Seattle

Aerial view of roads leading into Seattle at sunset.
Punit Sharma Fotography / Shutterstock.com

With many high-paying jobs opening up in the tech hub of Seattle, the income needed to be a top earner has gone up.

Last year, using census data from 2017, we found that the lower limit for the top 20% of working households was $172,235.

Census data from 2018 showed an increase of 10.5%, with households needing to make more than $190,000 each year to be in the top quintile according to income.

4. Arlington, Virginia

Arlington, Virginia
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

In 2018, Arlington, Virginia, had the second-highest median household income of the 100 largest U.S. cities, following only Fremont, California.

As a result of high incomes across the board, the bar is higher to be in the top 20% of earners. Census data shows that top-earning Arlington households made more than $216,605 in 2018.

3. San Jose, California

The skyline of San Jose, which has a lower median rent than median mortgage payment
stellamc / Shutterstock.com

In 2018, the top quintile of working households in San Jose, California, made at least $219,023. Compared to the No. 1 city on the list, the difference between the bottom quintile of households and the top is less severe in San Jose.

The ratio between the top and bottom-earning households in the No. 1 city is greater than seven, while in San Jose it is similar to the national average, hovering around five.

2. Fremont, California

Fremont, California
Felix Mizioznikov / Shutterstock.com

Like last year, Fremont, California, takes the second spot in our list of the cities with the highest income needed to be a top earner, with the required income increasing by more than 8%.

Specifically, in 2017, the annual income needed to be in the top 20% of households was $224,776, while in 2018, it was $243,080.

1. San Francisco

San Francisco neighborhood.
Bertl123 / Shutterstock.com

Although the 2017 income needed to be a top-earning household in San Francisco was $231,347, the 2018 income needed to be a top-earning household exceeded $250,000, a figure beyond which the Census Bureau does not report specific income details.

This high figure for wealthy households is perhaps unsurprising, given San Francisco’s high cost of living. Even the median household income in the city is more than $112,000 annually.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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