Who are America’s rich?
“Not me” is the answer from a surprising segment of the population, including many people making six figures and above. Some 87% of people who make at least $90,000 a year said they weren’t rich or poor, according to new findings from polling company YouGov. (The survey asked 1,163 Americans how much money someone needs to be rich or poor.)
‘The point at which most Americans think you’ve escaped being poor comes at around $30,000.’
When it comes to who’s poor, most respondents (68%) thought people who make the equivalent of the federal minimum wage ($7.25 an hour, or $15,080 a year) fell into that category. “The point at which most Americans think you’ve escaped being poor comes at around $30,000,” wrote YouGov’s lead data journalist Matthew Smith.
People start to be considered “rich” when they make at least $90,000, the survey found. But only 44% of poll participants said someone making $90,000 a year was rich. Meanwhile, hitting those six figures seems to make all the difference: 56% of those surveyed said they considered people who earn $100,000 a year rich.
Josh Bivens, research director at the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank, said the findings relate to the growing gap between the rich and poor, and middle class and everyone else. The average annual income of America’s top 1% was $1.8 million in 2015, Bivens noted. That was a far cry from the $100,000 a year deemed rich in the survey he said.
But many people seemed to feel they exist in a middle zone between poverty and affluence, likely influenced by the cost of living in their respective towns and cities: 64% of the participants said they weren’t rich or poor. The survey sheds light on attitudes about poverty and affluence, and how they align with official calculations surrounding “haves” and “have nots.”
There are clear definitions of poverty in the U.S. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for example, draws the 2019 poverty line at $25,750 per year for a four-person family. Some 12.3% of Americans lived in poverty in 2017, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures. The median household income was $61,372 in 2017, according to the Census.
YouGov’s survey on “rich” and “poor” labels arrives as income inequality has become a growing concern for many observers and policymakers. Lawmakers across the country are weighing whether to increase minimum hourly wages to $15. The District of Columbia and three states are planning to make $15 the minimum; cities including New York City, N.Y., San Francisco, Calif. and Seattle, Wash. are already there.
Being somewhere between rich and poor doesn’t necessarily mean living comfortably. Costs of living can vary widely across the country and many households have heavy debts and costs to contend with, like student-loan obligations or child-care bills. Likewise, a lack of savings for emergencies and retirement also make people feel financially unstable.
There are probably two things going on with the survey: An underestimation of how much more the top 1% earned and a broadening of what it means to be rich, Bivens said. “It mostly means something being less than yachts and mansions, free from economic anxiety about paying next month’s bills,” he added. That’s sadly something lots of people aspire to, but don’t experience.”
It may not be surprising that people making at least $90,000 didn’t view themselves as rich. With the nation’s highest earners so high above and the cost of housing in cities like New York and San Francisco and Seattle, it takes a lot of money to not be housing insecure, experts say. People earning $90,000 a year compare themselves to others, just like someone earning $180,000 a year.
“I think that’s a very human thing,” Bivens said.
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