Taxpayer Returns:
Rankings by County, State and More

The latest information about U.S. taxpayer returns is now available on TRAC's web site. New this year is a powerful app that makes it much easier to browse through extensive information on the constantly shifting kinds of income flowing to taxpayers in the fifty states and every one of the more than 3,000 counties.

TRAC's new Taxpayer Returns application can help identify changes in overall income trends, spot unusual contrasts since 1991 and zoom in and focus on particular communities. Built-in ranking information and graphic displays help bring all this information into sharp focus.

The data reported on federal income tax returns — including adjusted gross income, wages and salaries earned, interest income, dividend income, and exemptions claimed — provide unique views of the economic conditions of the country as a whole, as well as for each state and county. At the same time, the tax return information offers unusual insights about the sources of the income flowing from incomes taxes into the federal coffers.

Figure 1. TRAC's Taxpayer Returns Application. (click to use the app)

Top 50/Bottom 50 County Rankings

The unique TRAC Taxpayer Returns application lets you quickly identify the different communities that are leading or trailing the nation in terms of wages and salaries or dividends, as well as those having the most exemptions per return. Looking at the latest data available ranking counties, for returns filed during 2008:

  • When it comes to exemptions claimed per taxpayer, Utah County (Provo), Utah is number one in the country, with 2.76. At the other end is New York County (Manhattan) in New York with only 1.54 exemptions.

  • Loudoun County (Round Hill), Virginia reported the highest average wages and salaries of $85,028. While Catron County (Glenwood), New Mexico reported the lowest average wages and salaries of only $14,289.

  • Teton County (Moose), Wyoming reported the highest average gross dividend income with $11,179. At the bottom of the rankings was Shannon County (Pine Ridge), South Dakota with an average of only $30.

  • San Juan County (Friday Harbor), Washington reported the highest average interest with $8,760, while at the other extreme Wade Hampton Census Area (Chevak), Alaska reported the least interest of only $87.

  • When all income sources are combined, Teton County (Moose), Wyoming topped the list with an average of $142,048 in adjusted gross income reported, while Douglas County (Ava), Missouri came in dead last reporting only an average of $18,262 in adjusted gross income on returns filed there.

State Rankings

In addition to county listings, states can also be ranked by the same measures. Here are a few state results:

  • Utah, Idaho, and Texas in that order are the states with the highest average number of exemptions claimed on their returns. The District of Columbia, Rhode Island, and Vermont take the lowest three spots.

  • Connecticut, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, respectively, take the top three spots for the highest average wages and salaries. Mississippi, West Virginia, and Arkansas have the lowest.

  • Connecticut, the District of Columbia, and Wyoming in that order report the highest average gross dividends, while Mississippi, West Virginia, and Oklahoma occupy the other extreme.

Rankings for Every County

Besides identifying the counties in the fifty top and bottom spots, TRAC's Taxpayer Returns application allows you to look up any one of the 3,000 plus counties and see where it ranks — within the same state or across the nation as a whole. Then you can sort by their rank or look at an alphabetical list of all counties and quickly find how they stacked up. Out of 3,139 counties, from A to Z:

  • Abbeville County (Abbeville), South Carolina ranked 35th in the state and 2,674 nationally, while Acadia Parish (Crowley), Louisiana ranked 29th in the state and 1,681 in the country on adjusted gross income.

  • Ziebach County (Dupree), South Dakota ranked 65th in the state and 3,132 overall, Zapata County (Zapata), Texas ranked 2,291 nationally and 190th in the state, while Zavala County (Batesville), Texas ranked 3,134 nationally and 254th in the state on adjusted gross income.

Graphing Trends Over Time

With local economies and industries often in flux, America and many of its thousands of communities frequently experience change. The graphing capabilities of TRAC's Taxpayer Returns application lets you plot any series over time. Mousing over the plot, the values for any particular year are displayed. (Because, as already noted, the latest available figures are for the tax returns filed in 2008 about incomes earned in 2007, the changes resulting from the current recession are not yet visible.)

The forces behind these shifts are hugely varied — the boom and collapse in Silicon Valley, the development of well-to-do retirement communities in Arizona, or the special impact of unique forces such as the role of state payments in Alaska. For example:

  • Santa Clara County (Palo Alto), California with $70,216 in average wages and salaries reported on federal tax returns currently ranks as the top county in California. But at the peak of the boom the average salaries were over $10,000 higher, peaking at $80,383 and they have not yet managed to recover to their previous high point.

  • The North Slope (Barrow), Alaska also illustrates the vicissitudes of the economy affecting that part of the county. In 1995, the county ranked number one in the country on average gross dividends reported on federal returns. In 1996, it was fourth in the country. By 2004 it had slid to 2,698th place. In 2008 it had climbed back to 7th place.