Who’s Rich? The Data

Apparently the question of how much money you need to make in order to qualify as rich came up last night at Saddleback. Phil Klinker chimes in with some data:

— In 2006, the median household income was $48,201. That means half of all households made less than this amount and half made more.

— For family households, the median was just shy of $60,000. For married couples households, the median was $69,716.

— Households making over $133,000 were in the 90th percentile.Households making over $174,000 were in the 95th percentile. This means that Obama’s line of $150,000 probably hits the top 7–8 percent of household incomes.

— The data on those making above McCain’s line of $5 million dollars aren’t readily available, but those making over $1.6 million are in the top 0.1 percentile (that’s the top one-tenth of one percent). Overall, there are only 146,000 households making over $1.5 million and only 11,000 with incomes over $5.5 million.

A couple of additional points. It’s probably useful for these purposes to distinguish between retired and non-retired people for these purposes. As in other wealthy societies, a pretty large chunk of Americans are retire and retired people tend to have lowish incomes. This drives down median income and creates a situation where most employed people are above average. A second point is that non-citizens (immigrants) and many ex-felons aren’t allowed to vote. People in these categories tend to be poorer-than-average. On top of that, low-SES people vote at lower rates than high-SES people. Consequently, the electorate is substantially higher-income than the actual population, and other measures of political influence (especially, but not by any means exclusively, including campaign contributions) are highly skewed toward high-SES people.


Beyond all this, it’s my strong sense that people probably have considerations of wealth rather than income in mind when they think about who’s rich. Someone “earning” $90,000 a year out of his trust fund (a “trust-fund scumbag” to coin a phrase) while not participating in the labor force is richer than someone earning $115,000 a year at a law firm while paying off college and law school loans.