Define “rich”

From the interviews with Rick Warren last weekend:


Q. Okay. Taxes. This is a real simple
question. Define rich. I mean, give me a
number. Is it 50,000, 100,000,
200,000? Everybody keeps talking about
well, here we’re going to tax. How do
you define that?

A. You know, if you’ve got book sales of 25
million and you qualify —

Q. Okay. All right. I’m not asking about

A. Look, here is how I think of it. Here is how I think of it and this is
reflected in my tax plan. If you are
making $150,000 a year or less as a family, then are you middle class or you
may be poor. But $150[000] down, you are
basically middle class. Obviously it
depends on region where you are living.


Q Define rich. Everybody talks
about, you know, taxing the rich and — but not the poor, the middle class. At what point — give me a number, give me a
specific number, where do you move from middle class to rich? Is it 100,000, is it 50,000, 200,000? How does anybody know if we don’t know what
the standards are?

A Some of the richest people I’ve ever known
in my life are the most unhappy. I think
that rich is — should be defined by a home, a good job and education and the
ability to hand to our children a more prosperous and safer world than the one
that we inherited. I don’t want to take
any money from the rich. I want
everybody to get rich. I don’t believe
in class warfare or redistribution of the wealth. But I can tell you for example there are
small businessmen and women who are working 16 hours a day, seven days a week
that some people would classify as, quote, rich, my friends, who want to raise
their taxes and raise their payroll taxes…

I think if you’re just talking about income, how about five million. So — but seriously, I don’t think you can —
I don’t think, seriously that — the point is that I’m trying to make here
seriously — and I’m sure that comment will be distorted, but the point is —
the point is — the point is that we want to keep people’s taxes low and
increase revenues.

From a recent Pew survey:

2 percent described themselves as "upper class"

19 percent described themselves as "upper-middle class"

53 percent described themselves as "middle class"

19 percent described themselves as "lower-middle class"

6 percent described themselves as "lower class"

1 percent didn’t know or refused to answer.

10 Responses to “Define “rich””

  1. landismom Says:

    At this point, I’d define ‘rich’ as ‘not having to worry about paying the bills.’ But maybe that’s just me.

  2. amy Says:

    You gotta be kidding. The hero says up to $150K is “middle class”? (And people wondered why he lost in PA?)
    If I had an income of $150K, then after taxes, I’d be salting away upwards of $50K/yr. That turns into real money surprisingly fast if invested well.
    This set of exchanges is one of the best arguments I know for reforming campaign finance laws to actively promote the candidacies of people who come from Earth.

  3. dave.s. Says:

    Amy, we are governed by rich people, both parties. Pelosi is rich, $50 million. McCain is, well, shall we say rich by intinction? Feinstein, well over $20 million. The estimate I saw for Bush II was $16 million, Cheney $30 million. The Clintons have pulled in over $100 million since he left office. Edwards in the tens of millions, Romney and Warner (Mark Warner) in the hundreds. I haven’t seen a tallying for Obama, but people noticed that her salary went from $120000 to $300000 the year he won the Senate. The Mister Inside, Mrs. Outside thing worked for the Clintons, too, in Arkansas, when she had a dizzying rise in a local law firm while he was Governor. Bush I lost a lot of backing when the story of his not knowing about supermarket scanners got wide currency.
    This can lead to being really out of touch. I thought the couple-years-ago outpouring against immigration amnesty was a good example. Pelosi and Lott thought that if they were in agreement, they had covered the bases. Turned out they had the agreement of the Rich Peoples Party.

  4. bj Says:

    I am fascinated by this discussion “what is rich”? and wish there was more data on it (on what people think, that is). I think the reason there isn’t is that it’s very contextual. I recently heard about a conversation in which one guy had a house in Bordeaux the other a house in burgundy, and the ensuing conversation concerned a road trip between the two houses in a one of their ferarris. (Oh, and they live in China and England). That was getting to “rich” for me. (And, 150 K is far less than what I would consider rich).
    I suspect that “rich” is having everything you want, and even super rich people (like Hillary & Mitt & Mark) don’t think of themselves as so, because, after all, even they don’t have everything they want (most notably, they are not president of the US). And, someone who makes 200K and used to make 50K, might think of themselves as rich (at least for a while), if they now have everything they couldn’t have when they had 50, and have all the other things money can’t buy (well at least not all the way), love, family, health, . . .

  5. Amy P Says:

    How about, you could stop working, and your family would enjoy the exact same standard of living? It’s not a perfect definition, but it emphasizes wealth rather than employment-generated yearly income. The latter can be deceptively large but very fleeting–ask any real estate agent, general contractor, or mortgage broker.

  6. dave.s. Says:

    more opinions

  7. Jody Says:

    This is a variation on the “what is middle class” discussions you’ve hosted here, and that pop up elsewhere, too.
    Median household income nationwide is something like 60K (at BEST, and yes, I’m pretty sure that that includes the New York City area and other urban locations where it’s hard to imagine anyone surviving on such a small income, given housing costs). That means that 50% of households in this country get by on less than 60K. But when I came right out and wrote, hey, given the numbers, I have to call myself wealthy, even though I sure don’t FEEL wealthy (no vacation home, drive cheap old cars, etc.) — well, it was a big deal. Plenty of folks on my blog, whose family incomes appeared to be about the same as ours, wrote to protest: WE’RE not wealthy.
    But in a country where, according to Wikipedia anyway (yeah, weak data sourcing, but the quickest to locate), having a household income of $157K places you in the top 5% of households, and having a household income of $88K places you in the top 20% of households — well, there are a lot of folks who feel middle class but are clearly among the income elite in this country.
    It seems to me that inverting the question is useful. If you’re in the top 20% of households for income, but you don’t feel rich, does that mean that the folks in the bottom 20% aren’t poor? Do we reserve rich and poor only for the top and bottom five percent?
    At some point, though, it doesn’t matter: you don’t win elections telling people that they’re far more privileged than they feel. It’s a recipe for disaster. No one in the USA wants to hear that they’re anything better than middle class.

  8. Sue Says:

    If you have an income in the top 20% and you don’t feel rich it is probably because you live well within your means. You have saved for your retirement, your children’s college educations, and any forseeable emergency. In other words, you are in the small minority of Americans who are not responsible for the mess we find ourselves in now. “The Millionaire Next Door” paints an entirely different portrait of the rich than what most people assume. Many people with high net worth live quite modestly. Defining rich is a waste of time. There are too many variables. Better to work on defining your own values
    than to put labels on others which may be meaningless.

  9. Amy P Says:

    “If you have an income in the top 20% and you don’t feel rich it is probably because you live well within your means. You have saved for your retirement, your children’s college educations, and any forseeable emergency.”
    I think Sue is on to something, but I’d add in charitable giving, too, to the list of outlays that contribute to not feeling rich. I also think we tend to think of “rich” as meaning not having to think about how much stuff costs, whereas even (or especially) for upper-middle class families, financial security requires thinking very carefully about how much stuff costs, and cutting down on current consumption in order to purchase security in the form of an emergency fund, various insurance policies, retirement savings, education savings, etc.

  10. amy Says:

    “If you have an income in the top 20% and you don’t feel rich it is probably because you live well within your means. ”
    To me, this is the very definition of rich.

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