A majority of Americans — 54 percent, according to a Pew Research Center poll last year — favor raising taxes on the wealthy to expand programs for the poor. The problem with this, from a policy standpoint, is that nearly everybody thinks “rich people” are those who make more money than they do — no matter how much they actually make, according to a recent Brookings Institution report.
Between 2008 and 2014, the number of Americans who defined themselves as “upper class” hovered between 1 percent and 2 percent. Over the same period, the number who called themselves “middle class” fell from 53 to 44 percent, while the share calling themselves “lower class” doubled from 6 to 12 percent. This was presumably the recession’s effects in action, as households felt the pinch of falling wages and disappearing jobs.
If you ask people who is “rich,” you get different answers, depending on how much they make. In a 2013 Washington Post survey, people who lived in households making less than $50,000 said that an income of $200,000 would make you rich, while people with incomes of $50,000 to $100,000 said you’d need $260,000. And those pulling in over $100,000 wouldn’t feel rich unless they were making a cool half a million a year.
None of this answers the burning question: What is “rich,” really? Again, Pew has answers. Last year, it set out to define the boundaries of lower-, middle- and upper-income households. The researchers settled on the following: Lower-income homes make less than two-thirds of the median income, middle-income homes make between two-thirds and twice the median, and upper-income families make more than twice the median.
These numbers differ, depending on household size. So a single person would need an annual salary of $66,000 to be “upper-income.” For a married couple, the upper-income threshold turns out to be $93,000, while a family of four needs to make $132,000 to be considered upper crust.
This should give you a sense of where you fall among your peers nationally. Of course, all income is local. Try asking your single friends living in New York if a $66,000 salary would make them feel upper-class. In, say, Peoria, that same salary would go a lot further.