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What you have to earn to be rich in cities across the US

A visitor to the Marin Headlands reacts while looking out over the Golden Gate Bridge and skyline of San Francisco, as a large cloud gathers over the city, December 12, 2014. A major storm pummeled California and the Pacific Northwest with heavy rain and high winds on Thursday, killing one man, knocking out power to tens of thousands of homes, disrupting flights and prompting schools to close. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT TRAVEL CITYSCAPE) - RTR4HU44
Reuters/Robert Galbraith
Think you’re rich? Think again.
By Zach Wener-Fligner
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Being rich may be a state of mind, but it’s also a factor of location. In the US, the amount you have to earn to be in the top 5% of earners in a city varies widely depending on where you live.

In San Francisco, for example, a top-5% earner makes $423,171 per year according to 2013 US census data, nearly four times as much as in Detroit, where the 95th-percentile cutoff is $107,521 per year.

A new report from Brookings crunched the numbers on the 50 largest US cities to find out where the richest 5% earn the most. Here’s how the cities stack up:

The Brookings report also looked at the household incomes in the 20th percentile, and the ratio between the two income levels, which serves as a proxy for inequality. For example, in Atlanta, top-5% earners make a whopping 19 times more than bottom-20% earners. In Virginia Beach, the top earners make only six times as much as the 20th percentile.

One thing to note is that these statistics don’t take into account fluctuations in cost of living in various cities, which can alter a person’s perception of their wealth. As this nifty graphic from NPR shows, making more money in a city with a relatively high cost of living can leave you feeling poorer than what you earn.

New York’s lower rankings on these lists speaks to the superlative wealth of Manhattan, which is watered down by the outer boroughs. Using a slightly different analysis, the US Census found in 2014 that the big island was the most unequal place in the country.

As for Atlanta’s high rankings on both lists, the city is a hub for Fortune 500 companies, with a thriving tech industry. There is a wide spread of incomes, with the city’s bottom 20% of earners making about $15,000 per year. That said, housing and other basic living costs are relatively affordable. Compare that to San Francisco, where the bottom 20% of earners make $10,000 more than their Atlanta counterparts, but face much higher costs of living.

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