Which U.S. cities have the highest income growth?

A new study by Portfolio.com ranks the U.S. cities with the highest income growth over the past quarter-century.

Topping the list is El Paso, Texas, which had a 147 percent increase in income levels over the past two decades. Part of the reason it's number one? It may be because the housing market in El Paso has been relatively stable compared with other metropolitan areas and its graduation rates are on the rise.

Overall, the best markets for income growth lie in the Mid-Atlantic region to the Southwest, except Honolulu, ranked at number 10. Mid-sized cities with populations of around one million (with the exception of 3rd-ranked Baltimore and 6th-ranked Pittsburgh, which have populations over two million) did better than bigger metro areas, like New York City at #35, Los Angeles at #54, and Chicago at #73.

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"It's refreshing to see that the cities with the best opportunities for income growth go beyond the major metros," said J. Jennings Moss, editor of Portfolio.com, in a press release. "When you consider the current high rate of unemployment in this country, our study suggests that people may want to explore job opportunities or start businesses in smaller cities, like Baton Rouge and Oklahoma City, where income growth is higher and the economy has been relativity stable in comparison to other parts of the U.S."

Portfolio looked at the nation's top 100 metropolitan areas, analyzing federal income data over the last 25 years. The study used 25-part formula to calculate the consistency and strength of per capita income growth in the nation's markets. See a top 10 list of cities with the highest income growth below.

Atlanta notched the worst long-term income growth. The city has a much higher per capita income than El Paso, but it has been hurt over the past 25 years by declining real estate prices and woes in its manufacturing industry. The other cities rounding out the bottom of the list for income growth: Detroit was second-to-last, followed by Raleigh, Toledo and Charlotte.

"Most people are interested in knowing what cities have the highest per capita income, but that doesn't always reflect the areas with the most available opportunities," said G. Scott Thomas, a nationally-recognized demographer who participated in the analyses for Portfolio.com. "The highest income growth rankings are designed to give the people an alternative view on what constitutes a flourishing economy and maybe even the chance for a fresh start."

Cities with the highest income growth:

  • El Paso, Texas
  • Baton Rouge, La.
  • Baltimore, MD.
  • Virginia Beach-Norfolk, Va.
  • New Orleans, La.
  • Pittsburgh, Pa.
  • Oklahoma City, Okla.
  • Little Rock, Ark.
  • Jackson, Miss. / Honlolulu, Hawaii

See the full list here.

About the author

Daryl Paranada is the associate web producer for Marketplace overseeing all daily website content and production, as well as producing multimedia features -- including the popular economic explainer series Whiteboard -- and special projects. Follow him on Twitter @darylparanada.


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