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updated 12/3/2010 1:17:16 PM ET 2010-12-03T18:17:16

If your family's income is higher than it was a year or two ago, consider yourself lucky.

Median family incomes across the country decreased dramatically from 2008 to 2009, and no region was left untouched by the recession. But despite shrinking paychecks nearly across the board, some cities still stand out for their bigger-than-average salaries.

To find the places where Americans earn the most, we looked at median family income data for 2009, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau. In September, as part of its annual American Community Survey, the Census released updated data for several hundred Metropolitan Statistical Areas — geographic entities defined by the U.S. government that roughly correspond to major cities.

Forbes.com slideshow: Where Americans earn the most

The place with the highest median family income is the Washington, D.C., metro area, which includes the nation's capital, as well as wealthy suburbs in Virginia and Maryland. In 2009 families in this region earned a median income of $102,340, a 0.7 percent increase from 2008. D.C. also boasts a better than average unemployment rate of 5.9 percent, far below the September's 9.2 percent national average.

D.C. has seen its share of layoffs, including government jobs, and the private companies that serve government interests. But when it comes down to it, the federal government still offers more job security than most companies. "The federal government can run deficits, which means they didn't have to do as many layoffs as state and local governments," says Heidi Shierholz, a labor market economist at the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute.

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In places like San Jose, Calif., (No.3) and San Francisco (No. 5), the effects of the recession are more obvious. San Jose, part of the country's biggest tech hub, saw median family income drop 6.5% to $96,443. San Francisco, a financial center which also relies heavily on the tech industry, experienced a decrease of 3.7 percent to $90,734.

Wealthy suburbs on the East Coast also saw negative growth, even though incomes are still high. In second-ranked Greenwich, Conn., (No. 2) and the surrounding areas that make up the Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn., Metropolitan Statistical Area, median family income plummeted by 6.7 percent to $98,118.

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"Places with the biggest housing bubbles, where lots of people are employed in the financial and manufacturing sectors — these are the places where incomes went down," says Shierholz.

So will next year's numbers look better for the rest of the country? If you consider unemployment rates, the prospects aren't good: Overall U.S. unemployment rates have climbed from 5.8 percent in 2008 to 9.3 percent in 2009 and an estimated 9.7 percent in 2010. But Shierholz says there will be more places showing recovery, even if the country at large still struggles. "On average the median income will come down a bit," she says. "But there will be metro areas that see improvement."

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© 2012 Forbes.com


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