No matter where you are on the income scale, you may feel as if you’d be happier if you earned more money. You may be surprised to learn that Americans are now earning more than ever. Depending on which region you live in, you might earn significantly more than many of your fellow Americans. Exploring a few basic concepts and trends related to the earning history of the U.S. could help you to gain a sense of how such information applies to you.

Earnings Disparity Among Regions

One of the top trends over the last 80 or so years is that earnings have been consistently higher in certain regions. Overall, wages in the Northeast have remained higher than those in any other region. Income levels in the South have remained the lowest in the United States. Although the disparity between the North and South wasn’t always as great as it is now, the difference in income levels between the two regions is greater than ever.

Mississippians have earned the least income in the U.S. for more than 80 years. Connecticut and Alaska have alternated positions at the top of the earnings scale for at least three decades each. The reasons for such an income gap between the regions may vary. One of the main reasons that Mississippi has remained so low on the scale is that it offers little in the way of economic mobility. This means that a Mississippian who is born into a low wage-earning household is apt to stay in that low income bracket. Other states offer their citizens better chances at economic mobility in general.

Consider the Minimum Wage

The federal minimum wage also has an effect on the overall earnings of Americans. The federal minimum wage is actually lower now ($7.25 per hour) than it was in 1968 ($8.67 per hour). However, this does not mean that people who earn the minimum wage do not make a livable income. In fact, data from 2011 and 2012 suggests that three-fourths of minimum wage earners over the age of 25 were living above the poverty line. This could be the case particularly for households in which more than one person works, regardless of whether each wage earner in a household is earning the minimum wage.

Education Level a Major Factor

Another major factor in determining economic success is education level. An individual who has earned at least a bachelor’s degree is likely to enjoy a higher income than a person with a GED or high school diploma. Those who continue their education after high school may also be able to advance further in their careers and earn increasingly higher wages than people who do not. This has been true for many years, as illustrated by data gathered between 1980 and 2005.

Earnings in the United States have risen and fallen due to a variety of economic circumstances, from the Great Depression to the Great Recession. Some regions have fared consistently better in terms of income levels. Other factors, such as the federal minimum wage and post-secondary education, have also played a part in the earnings of individuals. When consumers and business owners understand the various factors that have historically affected the income levels of Americans, they may have a better chance to devise a solid strategy for financial success.