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Mapping IRS Tax Return Filings Reveals Marked Differences in the Distribution of Income and Dependents

Published Apr 27, 2023

Most Americans filed their taxes recently, not only providing the federal government with funds needed to operate but also providing the IRS (and ultimately the public) with data about the reported amounts and sources of income, their number of dependents, and other factors that shape the distribution of financial means across the country.

For the U.S. as a whole, the average adjusted gross income (AGI) reported on federal income tax returns filed in 2021 increased to $76,539. This reflects income received during 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Filings during 2021 showed AGI up only slightly from $75,758 during the previous year. This does not adjust for inflation.

Reported income, however, varied markedly across states and counties. Aside from D.C., Massachusetts had the highest average reported income at $101,863, followed by Connecticut at $101,589 and Washington State at $95,584. The lowest AGI with only half that of the top three states was Mississippi at $50,876. West Virginia had the second lowest income at $53,461 while New Mexico returns reported on average an AGI of $56,383 which was the next lowest.

AGI does not tell the whole story, of course. Income variation by county does not take into account the cost of living, which is considerably higher in places like New York City and Los Angeles than in rural areas. Nonetheless, mapping the distribution of AGI by county shows where concentrations of lower-income and higher-income tax filers reside.

For instance, Figure 1 shows the lowest average income bracket used in this study (less than $40,000) concentrated in the U.S. South, including significant parts of Kentucky and West Virginia, rural parts of Georgia and the Carolinas, as well as the region surrounding the Mississippi River from Louisiana to Missouri. Beyond the South, other concentrations of lower-income filers exist in northern Nebraska, New Mexico in the Southwest, and the Rio Grande Valley region of South Texas.

Conversely, counties with the highest AGI are along the coasts and parts of the Western states, with Marin County (outside of San Francisco) showing an AGI of $213,349 and Manhattan in New York City showing an AGI of $208,568.

Figure 1. Average Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) by U.S. Counties and Parishes Reported on Federal 1040 Income Tax Returns Filed in 2021.

Although concentrations of lower-income counties appear in the South, according to IRS data, the mountain states are home to the counties with some of the highest and the lowest AGI. Crowley County in Colorado showed an AGI of $21,880, the lowest in the country and one of just 16 counties with an AGI under $30,000. Teton County in Wyoming which reports an AGI of $420,317 was the highest in the country – a ranking it has held for the prior five years as well. Its reported average AGI has doubled since 2017 when it was $210,905.

To highlight counties at both ends of the spectrum, Figure 2 shows the top 50 and bottom 50 counties by average AGI. The individual counties, along with their average AGIs in the top and bottom 50 are listed in Tables 1 and 2.

Figure 2. Top 50 and Bottom 50 Counties by Average AGI Reported on Federal Income Tax Returns Filed in 2021.
Table 1. Bottom 50 Counties by Average Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) Reported on Federal 1040 Income Tax Returns Filed in 2021.
County Average AGI Rank (from bottom)
Crowley County (Olney Springs) $21,880 1
Buffalo County (Fort Thompson) $21,937 2
Rock County (Bassett) $22,018 3
Kusilvak Census Area (Hooper Bay) $24,105 4
Keya Paha County (Burton) $25,185 5
Sioux County (Fort Yates) $26,571 6
Arthur County (Arthur) $27,045 7
Hayes County (Hayes Center) $27,095 8
Lake County (Tiptonville) $28,173 9
Corson County (Mclaughlin) $28,522 10
Quitman County (Marks) $28,721 11
Guadalupe County (Santa Rosa) $28,877 12
Forest County (Marienville) $29,358 13
Oglala Lakota County (Pine Ridge) $29,438 14
Wheeler County (Alamo) $29,670 15
Todd County (Rosebud) $29,940 16
Blaine County (Halsey) $30,000 17
Lee County (Beattyville) $30,140 18
Mellette County (White River) $30,161 19
Greene County (Eutaw) $30,445 20
Holmes County (Lexington) $30,485 21
Allendale County (Allendale) $30,821 22
Harlan County (Harlan) $30,893 23
Jefferson County (Fayette) $30,943 24
McCreary County (Pine Knot) $30,997 25
Logan County (Napoleon) $31,092 26
Bullock County (Union Springs) $31,223 27
Bent County (Fort Lyon) $31,239 28
Hughes County (Holdenville) $31,347 29
Madison Parish (Tallulah) $31,477 30
Hudspeth County (Ft Hancock) $31,516 31
Tunica County (Tunica) $31,549 32
Perry County (Marion) $31,666 33
Sioux County (Harrison) $31,792 34
McDowell County (Welch) $31,845 35
Zapata County (Zapata) $31,894 36
Brooks County (Falfurrias) $31,932 37
East Carroll Parish (Lake Providence) $32,073 38
Claiborne County (Port Gibson) $32,094 39
Greensville County (Jarratt) $32,271 40
Jackson County (Interior) $32,271 41
Telfair County (Mcrae) $32,300 42
Marlboro County (Bennettsville) $32,463 43
Elliott County (Bruin) $32,637 44
Bennett County (Martin) $32,812 45
Wheeler County (Bartlett) $32,915 46
Martin County (Inez) $32,971 47
Ziebach County (Dupree) $33,036 48
Starr County (Rio Grande City) $33,046 49
Lee County (Bishopville) $33,171 50
Table 2. Top 50 Counties by Average Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) Reported on Federal 1040 Income Tax Returns Filed in 2021.
County Average AGI Rank (from top)
Teton County (Moose) $420,317 1
San Mateo County (Menlo Park) $221,192 2
Marin County (Point Reyes Station) $213,349 3
Summit County (Kamas) $212,200 4
Pitkin County (Aspen) $208,611 5
New York County (Manhattan) $208,568 6
Santa Clara County (Palo Alto) $194,151 7
Falls Church City (Falls Church) $191,685 8
San Francisco County (San Francisco) $185,498 9
Collier County (Naples) $182,407 10
Blaine County (Ketchum) $178,531 11
Fairfield County (Danbury) $167,495 12
Union County (Elk Point) $167,361 13
San Miguel County (Norwood) $160,931 14
Westchester County (Montrose) $154,995 15
Williamson County (Franklin) $154,902 16
Oconee County (Watkinsville) $145,862 17
King County (Seattle) $144,574 18
Monroe County (Key West) $143,511 19
Norfolk County (Braintree) $142,607 20
Goochland County (Goochland) $142,313 21
Morris County (Picatinny) $136,663 22
Arlington County (Arlington) $136,199 23
Palm Beach County (West Palm Beach) $135,336 24
Middlesex County (Laurence G Hanscm, Lext) $132,207 25
Loudoun County (Round Hill) $131,332 26
Martin County (Stuart) $131,219 27
Fairfax County (Fort Belvoir) $131,061 28
Somerset County (Lyons) $130,251 29
Glasscock County (Garden City) $129,532 30
Albemarle County (Crozet) $128,429 31
Benton County (Decatur) $128,250 32
Hunterdon County (Sand Brook) $128,132 33
Douglas County (Parker) $127,268 34
Montgomery County (Willow Grove) $127,253 35
Kendall County (Boerne) $125,883 36
Walton County (Eglin A F B) $125,512 37
Travis County (Austin) $124,325 38
Eagle County (Minturn) $124,028 39
Chester County (Coatesville) $123,965 40
Contra Costa County (Richmond) $122,534 41
Ozaukee County (Port Washington) $122,357 42
Morgan County (Croydon) $121,397 43
Orange County (Chapel Hill) $120,351 44
New Kent County (Quinton) $120,331 45
Boulder County (Boulder) $120,164 46
Hamilton County (Carmel) $120,160 47
Montgomery County (Bethesda) $118,742 48
Alameda County (Oakland) $118,542 49
St. Johns County (St Augustine) $118,370 50

Contrasting Patterns by Income Source

AGI alone does not tell the full story, since sources of income also vary. Wages are paid compensation for employment. In contrast, dividends are income based on ownership in a company. Understanding the relationship between counties that fall above (or below) the country average of AGI and above (or below) the country average on dividends reveals interesting patterns. Counties in light purple report higher-than-average dividends but lower-than-average wages, while counties in light green report lower-than-average dividends but higher-than-average wages.

Figure 3. Comparison of Wage Versus Dividend Income by U.S. Counties and Parishes on Federal 1040 Income Tax Returns Filed in 2021.

Number of Dependents Vary as Well

The average number of dependants reported on federal income tax returns fell to 1.83. This figure has been slowly falling over the last decade, down from 2.01 average dependents reported on returns filed in 2011.

But there is considerable variation in these numbers across counties. Reported averages varied from a high of 2.5 in Loving County, Texas and 2.44 in Morgan County, Utah to a low of 1.43 in Forest County, Pennsylvania and 1.48 in Manhattan, New York.

Not surprisingly, urban counties and those with higher AGI tend to report a lower average number of dependents. Low numbers of claimed dependents are common in New England (including Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts) and in many urban areas such as Atlanta, Georgia, and Cleveland, Ohio.

Northern Michigan also shows very lower average dependents, as does much of Colorado, South Florida, and the urban parts of the Pacific Northwest. However, it’s not just urban counties; many rural counties across the country report an average of fewer than 2.0 dependents. By comparison, eastern Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Texas show comparably higher average claimed dependents across the state, with western Texas and much of Utah standing out as much higher than the norm.

Figure 4. Average Number of Dependents Claimed on Federal Income Tax Returns.

National, State and County Statistics on Income Reported on Federal Tax Returns

TRAC makes these data available through an easy-to-use online “ Taxpayer Returns by County” tool, which the public can use to explore state-by-state and county-by-county information such as adjusted gross income, wages and salaries, income from interest and dividends, and exemptions. This unique tool makes it easy to browse through TRAC's extensive store of information covering the last quarter century on the constantly shifting types of income that flow to taxpayers in the fifty states and every one of the more than 3,000 counties. TRAC also provides a range of other tools for understanding IRS data, including data on audits and criminal enforcement, at TRAC’s IRS hub here.

TRAC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit data research center affiliated with the Newhouse School of Public Communications and the Whitman School of Management, both at Syracuse University. For more information, to subscribe, or to donate, contact trac@syr.edu or call 315-443-3563.