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Where the 1% Live

Occupy Wall Street and its companion movements throughout the world have focused attention on the top 1 percent of the income distribution, which raises the question—where do those 1 percent live? 

Internal Revenue Service data shows that the top 1 percent are largely executives, managers or financial professionals, while smaller numbers are doctors or lawyers. But because the IRS data suppresses the locations of many of the very highest-income households, it isn’t actually possible to say where the top 1 percent live. 

However, it is possible to figure out the locations of households with incomes of $200,000 and up (approximately the top 3 percent in 2008, the latest year for which IRS geographic data is available. Nationally the income cutoff for the top 1 percent was $380,354 in 2008).

These very high-income households are disproportionately metropolitan. While about 85 percent of all income tax filers have metropolitan addresses, about 93 percent of the very rich live in metropolitan areas. The top 3 percent are highly concentrated in a relatively small number of large metropolitan areas. 

Only twenty metropolitan areas — New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, San Francisco, Boston, Houston, Philadelphia, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, San Jose, Seattle, Minneapolis, San Diego, Detroit, Phoenix, Baltimore, Bridgeport (Fairfield County, Connecticut, is the center of the hedge fund industry and home to many corporate headquarters), and Denver — have at least 1 percent of all the nation’s very high-income households. Collectively those areas account for 56 percent of the highest-income households but for only 37 percent of all households.

Courtesy Brookings Institution

Unsurprisingly, the New York metropolitan area has the largest number of very high-income households. Nearly 12 percent of top-income households live in the New York region, compared to about 7 percent of all households. Second-place Los Angeles is home to about 5 percent of the very rich, compared to about 4 percent of all households.

There are 54 metropolitan areas whose share of very high-income households exceeds their share of all households. These include 18 of the 20 metropolitan areas with the most very high-income households, several others among the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas (including Hartford, Austin, Raleigh, Charlotte, New Haven, Poughkeepsie and Richmond), some smaller university towns (Trenton, which includes Princeton, plus Boulder, Ann Arbor, Santa Cruz, Charlottesville, Durham, Ithaca, and Iowa City), and some other small metropolitan areas (Naples, Florida; Midland, Texas; Sebastian, Florida; Napa, California; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Anchorage, Alaska; Reno, Nevada; Barnstable Town, Massachusetts; Manchester, New Hampshire; Lafayette, Louisiana; Tyler, Texas and Rochester, Minnesota).

Courtesy Brookings Institution

A drill-down to the zip code level shows that the zip code with the largest number of very rich households is 10023 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, with 7,621 such households. That zip code, plus one other on the Upper West Side, one on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and the Washington suburb of Potomac, Maryland, each have about 0.2 percent of all the nation’s very high-income households. 

Rounding out the 20 zip codes with the most very high-income households are several in Manhattan (on the Upper East and Upper West Sides, Midtown East, and Greenwich Village), the New York suburb of Scarsdale, Chicago’s Lincoln Park, Cupertino in Silicon Valley, the Houston suburb of Sugar Land, part of Houston’s west side, the Chicago suburb of Barrington, Princeton, a suburban area north of San Diego, and the Washington suburb of Bethesda, Maryland. Wall Street itself doesn’t make the list, since few people live there. 

There are Occupy movements in nearly all the metropolitan areas where the top 3 percent are concentrated. All of the 20 metropolitan areas with the most top-income households have groups listed in the directory on the Occupy Together Web site. So do all but six of the 54 metropolitan areas where the very rich are disproportionately located.  (The missing six are Bridgeport, Connecticut; Naples, Florida; Sebastian, Florida; Lafayette, Louisiana; Midland, Texas; and Tyler, Texas.) 

Yet movements in support of Occupy Wall Street also exist in many places other than those where the very rich are concentrated, including such seemingly unlikely locales as Anderson, Indiana, and Texarkana, Texas.  Geographically, their reach is greater than that of the very rich.

Howard Wial is a fellow for the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. He directs the Brookings’ Metropolitan Economy Initiative, conducting research on urban and regional issues. All posts »

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