The United States is currently the 6th richest country in the world, according to data released by the International Monetary Fund. However, it is also renowned for its huge economic inequalities that are a regular topic of debate, with wealth concentrated in certain elite and exclusive districts. Are the richest counties concentrated, or are they equally spread out across the continent?
The United States is made up of 3, 144 counties and county-equivalents. The most affluent of these follow no general rule - some suburban, others urban, and many nature havens. However, most are located near - although not too near - big cities, allowing for commuters to get the best of both worlds: work in the city, and come home to a quieter neighbouring county. Therefore, a county's connectedness to bigger urban centres is a key factor in its economic landscape.
The following list has been drawn up according to 2012 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. It ranks the top ten wealthiest American counties with populations of 65, 000 or more. Each county's wealth is determined according to the average household income in the area. Some interesting trends emerge through this data; though Virginia ranks only seventh wealthiest of the fifty US states, many of the country's richest counties are concentrated within its boundaries. New Jersey is the 3rd richest US state, and comes a close second in term of its concentration of wealthy counties.
10 Morris County, New Jersey - $95, 294
Just a short journey away from the mayhem of New York city and Philadelphia, Morris county is renowned for its natural beauty. The county is elevated, in relief from east to west. The county's highest point is at 1,395 feet above sea level. Only the eastern suburbs in the Passaic River valley are relatively level and more developed. Indeed, the great outdoors are a high priority here, with 13, 000 acres set aside for 28 county parks. These are rich in rivers, lakes and nature reserves and also include numerous golf courses. The major employer of the county is Novartis Life Sciences, providing jobs for over 5, 000 of the 492,276 population. The major industries that drive Morris county's economy are finance, insurance, real estate, pharmaceuticals, health services, research and development, and technology.
9 Douglas County, Colorado - $95, 324
Douglas County, the richest county in Colorado, is home to 175,766 people. Many state parks lie within its boundaries. The nature county sits halfway between Colorado's two largest cities, Colorado Springs and Denver. As of the 2010 census, Douglas county's population was 285,465, marking a 62.4% increase since the 2000 census. This makes Douglas County one of the fastest growing counties in the United States. The county is recognised as being one of the most family-friendly counties in the state of Colorado, and offers an exceptionally high quality of life.
8 Somerset County, New Jersey - $95, 825
Somerset County, located in New Jersey, is known for its natural beauty. The unspoiled nature is an ideal city getaway. However, with 323,444 residents, and a population density of 1,071.7 per square mile, it is nonetheless a vibrant, busy place. The county offers a range of parks that offer cycling, hiking trails and boating. In Bedminster, it also boasts one of Donald Trump's numerous golf clubs. It is a very family-friendly place, with 60% of households being made up of couples, and 36% of households with children under the age of 18.
7 Putnam County, New York - $96, 223
Putnam County, situated in the lower Hudson River Valley, has a population of 99, 710. Putnam is made up of six towns and three incorporated villages. It is a hilly county, known for its reservoirs - a pleasant buffer between the country and the hustle and bustle of the New-York-Newark-New-Jersey City metropolitan area in its proximity. The median income for a family in the county in 2007 was $95,145. The population is a surprising 93.9% white, far from the racial diversity of New York City.
6 Stafford County, Virginia - $97, 606
Today, Stafford county is considered part of the Washington DC metropolitan area. Many of its 128,961 residents commute to Washington for work every day. This is made possible by efficient road and rail systems that connect Stafford to the city quickly. With its own airport, it is a connected place to live, and its multiple schools and universities are perfect for families. Approximately 50% of households in the county have children under 18. Stafford county was badly hit by the massive blizzards of December 2009 and February 2010, with about 25 inches of snow in December, and 19 inches in February.
5 Arlington County, Virginia - $100, 474
Affluent Arlington consistently has the lowest unemployment rate of any of the Virginian jurisdictions. The county's top employer is the US government followed by Arlington county which account for 45, 000 jobs. The county has a population of 207,627 people and seems to be one of the most stable places to live in the country, financially speaking. Indeed in October 2008, BusinessWeek named Arlington as the safest city in which to survive a recession. This was based on the fact that 49.4% of jobs are considered to be in strong industries. Indeed the next year in October 2009, during the crisis, the unemployment in the county was the lowest in the state at 4.2%. The rest of Virginia averaged 6.6% for the same time period.
4 Hunterdon County, New Jersey - $105, 186
Formerly rural, Hunterdon county has undergone a gradual suburbanisation and is now home to 128, 349 inhabitants. The main reason for this? It makes a perfect exurb for commuters into New York city and Philadelphia. Far from the stereotypical suburbs of New Jersey, Hunterdon is a busy but relaxing area. More and more towns are popping up throughout the county as well as shopping areas, whilst preserving rural areas. In 2011 Hunterdon also had the highest tax rate in the US with an average of $8, 216.
3 Fairfax County, Virginia - $107, 096
With a population of over 1 million, 13.6% of Virginians call Fairfax County home. It is the state county with the largest population. It was the first ever US county to reach a six-figure median household income. The headquarters of a number of intelligence agencies such as the CIA are based in Fairfax. Employment revolves principally around the county's professional services and technology hub. However, the government is the largest employer at Fort Belvoir, the county's single biggest location of federal employment. With an estimate gross county product of $95 billion, the county's economy is larger than Morocco's. Affluence seems synonymous with health in Fairfax, where males have a life expectancy of 81.1 years - the highest in the nation.
2 Howard County, Maryland - $108, 844
Howard County has a population of 287,085 and is considered part of the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area. Indeed the south of the county has recently realigned with the Washington DC employment and media markets. The county is best known for its affluence, quality of life, and good schools which are ranked first in Maryland. With an unemployment rate of just 4.6%, the county ranks top in the state and is nearly 2% lower than the statewide unemployment rate of 6.4%. With a major airport and top-notch academic facilities and research centers around, Howard County is an ideal location for business investment, guaranteeing the area's economy prospers.
1 Loudoun County, Virginia - $117, 876
Loudoun County is the third most populated county in Virginia, and also its richest. Traditionally a rural wheat-producing county, Loudoun's population has soared since the 1980s: today its population has reached 312, 311. Currently, it has a population density of approximately 606 people per square mile. This is explained by the development of a fully-fledged service economy in the area since the 1990s, and the suburbanisation of the county. Loudoun has attracted the headquarters for numerous tech companies, and benefits economically from the Washington Dulles International Airport which lies within its borders. The rural economy is still strong in the western part of the county which has flourishing equine and wine industries.