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The World’s Richest Country Has No Concept of Wealth

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What You Need to Know

  • In a bit of a head-scratcher, Schwab's poll found that people think it takes $2.2 million in net worth to be “wealthy,” down from $2.6 million in 2020.
  • A separate survey out today from the investment firm Schroders — also taken in February, back when the S&P 500 Index was about 500 points higher — finds Americans think they’ll need $1.1 million to retire comfortably.

How much money would it take to make you feel wealthy? What is wealth? What is money?

These are just some of the mind-bending questions raised by the results of a new Charles Schwab Corp. survey taken way back in Ye Olden Times of February.

In a bit of a head-scratcher, the survey found that people think it takes $2.2 million in net worth to be “wealthy,” down from $2.6 million in 2020, just before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Survey respondents think it takes $774,000 to be “comfortable,” which is down from $934,000.

Given that consumer price inflation has soared from about 2% year-over-year before the pandemic to roughly 8% now, you might think people would need more cash to feel “wealthy,” “comfortable” or “able to buy milk.”

Then again, maybe the pandemic has made us lower our sights a bit. Perhaps all it takes to feel wealthy now is an RV, a pleasant Zoom background, maybe a home office on the French Riviera.

In fact, the Schwab survey also found many respondents highly value, uh, values when considering employment. More than half said they’d take a lower-paying job for a company that “better represents personal values or interests.” Of course, my personal values and interests include a home office on the French Riviera, so your mileage may vary here.

Still, 89% of respondents said they wanted fulfilling work, 85% said they wanted the respect of their colleagues and 84% said values guided their career.

Lest you think such numbers merely reflect the attitudes of so many woke millennials, consider that Gen X and baby boomers together made up 56% of survey respondents.

So maybe money really is slightly less important these days. And from a global perspective, you could say $2.2 million is still exorbitant, considering the median global income is roughly $12,000.

Teen grocery clerks — or at least the ones not yet replaced by self-checkout machines — in America might be considered wealthy, or at least comfortable, by such standards.

On the other hand, again, have you seen prices lately? One rule of thumb for what a person might need to retire comfortably is 10 times their retirement-age income.

The median household income of Schwab survey respondents was $68,000, meaning the median retiree would need $680,000.

Make a little or a lot more than the median, and you can quickly see how even the $774,000 the Schwab survey considers “comfortable” can get uncomfortable in a hurry, particularly with inflation chewing through it.

The sad fact is that most Americans don’t have enough to survive in retirement, much less live comfortably or extravagantly.

A separate survey out today from the investment firm Schroders — also taken in February, back when the S&P 500 Index was about 500 points higher — finds Americans think they’ll need $1.1 million to retire comfortably. But less than a quarter actually expect to hit that mark.

Terrifyingly, more than half of the Schroders survey respondents in or nearing retirement say they have less than $250,000 saved.

Again, everything is relative, and in most contexts $250,000 is a lot of money. But a lot of us are in for a rude awakening about how truly expensive it is to be “comfortable” in America in 2022.

Mark Gongloff is a Bloomberg Opinion editor and writer of the Opinion Today newsletter. A former managing editor of, he ran the HuffPost’s business and technology coverage and was a reporter and editor for the Wall Street Journal.

(Image: Shutterstock)

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