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Redefining the Concept of “Rich” in America

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As a year filled once again with financial chaos nears its end, it may be a little surprising to see what average Americans feel about their relationship with investable assets.

According to a recent Gallup poll, the benchmark of $150,000 in annual income is what most folks now consider “rich.”

In a nation where the U.S. Census Bureau says that the average household brings in about $50,000 per year, that $150,000 Gallup finding is telling. And after three months of nationwide (and global) protests by the various Occupy Wall Street activists, who’ve complained about the financial control exercised by that elusive (but probably not inaccurate) 1 percent, it seems that your average American indeed sets the “rich” bar considerably lower than that stratospheric percentile.

The mental benchmark is indeed up from Gallup’s 2003 poll, at which time respondents said that a $120,000 annual income was a hallmark of being “rich.”

This year’s results aren’t quite as cut and dried, as 30 percent of the 500 people polled said that less than $100,000 a year would be enough income to be called “rich,” and another 18 percent who, a bit depressingly, said that even $60,000 a year or less would qualify as “rich.” Only 15 percent agreed with the predominant Occupy Movement mindset and said that a million dollars a year or more constituted “rich” in America.

The poll found that estimates were higher among men than women, among older Americans and also among college graduates; respondents with children had higher expectations of wealth, as did people living in urban centers, versus rural respondents.

A little more interesting for our business was the question about how much net worth or savings in cash, stocks, real estate or investments qualifies for the “rich” tag: as it was in 2003, that figure is still roughly $1 million.

Only 26 percent say that they would need more than $1 million in savings to be “rich;” again, in a more telling picture of America’s real economic circumstances, 13 percent said that just $100,000 in savings would make them feel “rich.”

Gallup says the poll indicates a disconnect between the federal government’s definition of the term “rich” and that of your Average Joe, as the top tax bracket only kicks in at $379,000 in annual income, and recent Congressional clamoring about extending existing tax cuts centered on those making more than $200,000 per year.

And Gallup’s most interesting interpretation of the results: “Americans usually show widespread support for higher taxes on upper-income Americans to pay for specific programs, such as those designed to create jobs, reduce the deficit or pay for the health care legislation.”

Apparently it’s all in the eye of the beholder. Something to think about as you broach the subject with your own clients (and prospects). How do they feel about wealth, and what would they consider an indication of not only being “rich” but being secure in their future plans?