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Shale, Not Stock, Fuels the Wealthiest U.S. County

Set those 1040s aside and look where the real money is.
Photographer: Craig Warga/Bloomberg

There are three good guesses for which U.S. county has the the highest adjusted gross incomes (AGI): New York County, otherwise known as Manhattan; Connecticut’s Fairfield County, where those rich Manhattanites land when they want a lawn; and Wyoming’s Teton County, home of Jackson Hole, where the richest of the rich go to play and sometimes stay. 

As you run out of reasons to procrastinate (the deadline to file your taxes is Tuesday!), chew on this: The correct answer is McMullen County, Texas. This rectangle, about 70 miles northwest of Corpus Christi, is home to about 1,000 living people and, in Boot Hill Cemetery, dead ones who saw violent ends and were—as the saying goes—buried “with their boots on.” The average AGI in McMullen County per federal return in 2015 was a whopping $303,717, according to a database search on the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).  

On the county level at least, income from shale oil in South Texas overshadowed East Coast stock market wealth, the numbers reveal. “I joke that oil and gas finally made ranching profitable,” said Thomas Tunstall, research director for the Institute for Economic Development at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “A lot of old Texas families live on large ranches in McMullen County, and the older generation went through tough times prior to five years ago.” Now, he said with mock horror, he’s hearing about Bentleys, rather than F-150s, driving down those gravel roads.

Here’s an income tax data travelogue, courtesy of TRAC’s user-friendly database