Are You Rich?
August 1, 2019 9:07 AM   Subscribe

A simple and provocative interactive from The New York Times that uses your income to assess whether or not you are rich within your current (USian) community: "Are You Rich?"
Net worth is probably a better way to assess your richness.
posted by Going To Maine (79 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you're the type of person who clicks on a NYT quiz entitled"Are You Rich?", then yes, you probably are.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:18 AM on August 1, 2019 [11 favorites]


So more of a class-based assessment rather than one based on earnings, I guess.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:23 AM on August 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


Why yes, definitely have my income and my location. And if you would, please tie that to my IP address and my service provider, and while you're at it put 11 cookies on my browser from different ad networks. I don't see why not.

[ETA: snark directed at NYT not at OP]
posted by Horkus at 9:26 AM on August 1, 2019 [51 favorites]


Understandable that the results are geographically limited, but interesting that you're only compared to people of a similar age.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:31 AM on August 1, 2019


Yeah would be interesting to see what difference in online ads you get if you e.g. lied egregiously to it, say you make a few million a year or whatever. Sabotage the system.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:34 AM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


If you're the type of person who clicks on a NYT quiz entitled"Are You Rich?", then yes, you probably are.

I took the quiz because my immediate surroundings are so very, very, extremely much wealthier than I am that I no longer had any perspective on the matter, and was surprised to find that I'm actually quite firmly in the 50th percentile for my region. Which is what I would have thought, based solely on my tax return, but when all of your neighbors earn, you know, 25x your salary, you start to wonder.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:35 AM on August 1, 2019 [9 favorites]


Huh. I recently(ish) turned 35, which magically catapults me from "the depraved youth" to "might as well be a Boomer" in the NYT's weird dichotomy of people. For fun, I toggled it to "18-34" (oh for the sweet halcyon days of 2018), and the gap in earnings between those age groups is staggering. Like, catapults-me-up-30-percentage-points staggering. Part of that differential is that seniority in your field confers a bigger paycheck, but in no sane world should it more than double the thresholds of 80/90th percentiles.

As in all things, I guess Millenials really do get the shaft. 95th percentile for 18-35-year-olds in my metro area isn't enough to buy a single-family house anywhere near the city, much less save for retirement or your kids' college. I guess that was a privilege reserved for the post-war crowd, and the youth of today just needs to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and all become top-5%-earners, Lake-Wobegon-style
posted by Mayor West at 9:36 AM on August 1, 2019 [36 favorites]


The results are interesting, though, potential privacy issues aside. The jump it would take to go from where I am to top 5% is huge— I knew it was big but hadn’t realized how big. (Spoiler: I’m never going to be in that category, sadly.)
posted by Dip Flash at 9:39 AM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


The stubborn resistance, noted in the article, to thinking of oneself as anything other than middle class, always amazes me. The graph of the fraction of of people describing their income as "average" is really enlightening. There seems to be a floor, around 20-30% of people, who say they make an average amount of money despite being clearly to the far ends (5th or 95th percentile) of the earning distribution. You're making so much money that for every person making what you're making, 20 people are making less (or more). And yet you're "average".

There are so many ways one can be rich, though. You can be rich in spending, which doesn't even require being rich in income or assets, at least for a while. As a devotee of The Millionaire Next Door, I do feel strongly that spending is not wealth, even though they are often conflated. The world might be a better place if more people could admit that they are rich without feeling like it makes them morally superior to those who are not.
posted by wnissen at 9:39 AM on August 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


For fun, I toggled it to "18-34" (oh for the sweet halcyon days of 2018), and the gap in earnings between those age groups is staggering.

I did this too! I put in the average salary for the career I'm working on a PhD for and got 90th percentile, then realized I'd be in the 35 to 65 range by the time I'm (theoretically) at that point in my career and toggled it. Dropped to 75th percentile. It's a little astonishing that earning 80k puts you in the top 10% for 18-35.

Of course, these are all mythical numbers because there's no guarantee I'll get a job in my chosen field, or that any of this will mean the same thing in 10 years.
posted by brook horse at 9:45 AM on August 1, 2019


My household income puts me at the 65% percentile in my not San Francisco metro but major metro. (so we are comparing apples to apples). Across most of the rest of the US metros at the 70-75th percentile.

This is why I don't think adjusting incomes based on COL (for purposes of declaring 'rich') is a very good idea. Incomes across the US are relatively consistent, and then COL adjustments come after income generally adjusting downwards. To put it another way, you ain't getting paid much more to live in a high COL metro.

The real disparity only occurs at the top 5-10% and is extreme. For example, between NYC and LA (both high COL) the disparity at 5% is $50k per year. SO NYC high earners dominate LA high earners, but then the disparity between NYC and SF is $100k a year (SF is higher).To compare a high COL to a low, SF is almost 2X Miami in the top category.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:46 AM on August 1, 2019


For fun, I toggled it to "18-34" (oh for the sweet halcyon days of 2018), and the gap in earnings between those age groups is staggering. Like, catapults-me-up-30-percentage-points staggering

And this doesn't even touch on the debt load those kids are likely carrying.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:46 AM on August 1, 2019 [12 favorites]


I found it interesting that in my 35+ age bracket, I really thought that in my metro area I'd be at least in the upper 50% of households even though I'm living on a single income, and it turns out that I am not. That plus my debt and at least it starts to make sense why I still feel a little broke even though I'm making twice what I used to make before I moved into tech. It's actually a more interesting look at what constitutes middle class in my area than it is anything about the locally rich.
posted by Sequence at 9:51 AM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


For Pittsburgh I'm rich but if I change my location in the app to SF or NYC, I'm definitely not.
posted by octothorpe at 9:53 AM on August 1, 2019


I entered Jeff Bezos' salary of 81K and found out there are lots of delusional people who believe they are richer than the Sauron of Silicon Valley. I will now cheer myself up by reading Bezos' horrible sex API requests to alive_girl_1.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:56 AM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I am officially Not Rich. But I live I in a perfectly fine home, with clean air and water, electricity, tv, (stupid expensive US) Internet, have a car, eat well, have a dog, dog and I are clothed well, have some lifestyle toys(canoe, kayak, stuff like that). No debts. I live somewhat simply, by choice/ philosophy.

What makes me Poor compared to a lot of the world is the US health care system, in which I could go to the ER to rule out a heart attack, and leave with a bill for 2,000 that I will be paying for a long time, because I had high-deductible insurance that also disallowed the testing prescribed, substituting a cheaper type of test with less comprehensive results. The profit generated by the US health care system is a significant component of the transfer of wealth from the many to the few, and they have and will fight like hell to preserve this profit source.
posted by theora55 at 10:04 AM on August 1, 2019 [29 favorites]


Do people really think of "rich" as "how does my salary compare to everyone else "? I never really thought of it that way, I think of "rich" as "someone who can buy whatever they want or need and not think twice about it." And no matter what this thing says, that's definitely not me. Although this thing also said I wasn't rich in their concept either.
posted by bleep at 10:04 AM on August 1, 2019 [14 favorites]


it said I'm not rich, I'm gamey? fuck you, New York Times
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:07 AM on August 1, 2019 [19 favorites]


To get into the top ten percent in the large surrounding metro area, my household would have to almost quadruple its income. That same increase would take us up to only the median income for the city we actually live in. I know we're doing just fine, but it's weird being surrounded by people who are all so much wealthier than we are.
posted by chromium at 10:15 AM on August 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


Also, I find the "If your income rank is higher than you thought, you’re not alone" note intriguing, because all the young people I know would probably, like me, find themselves lower than they expected. Like, we're so used to millennial = broke as fuck, that I thought I was at least somewhere in the average range for my age. I mean, I guess by the bell curve 15th percentile is, but I was thinking low end of average, not low end of low average, ya know? I have zero savings but my partner and I do pretty okay compared to a lot of other people our age. I know so many young people on minimum wage that just think this is normal. They've got no money for medical bills or car repairs but they usually eat three meals a day, that's the picture of "middle class" for millennial nowadays.
posted by brook horse at 10:16 AM on August 1, 2019 [11 favorites]


Damn, this just tells me again I've got to try and make more money. I actually feel fine (ecstatic even) financially but I'm uh pretty low down that bracket list. And I'm still in the youngest bracket, despite not being/feeling all that young, which makes it even more worrying. God I hate this treadmill.
posted by rue72 at 10:18 AM on August 1, 2019


Do people really think of "rich" as "how does my salary compare to everyone else "? I never really thought of it that way, I think of "rich" as "someone who can buy whatever they want or need and not think twice about it."

I don't really think these two things are that unrelated? If you are living in an area where more people are earning much more than you, all of the things around you are likely to be much more expensive, and therefore if your salary is comparatively low you will find things unaffordable.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:18 AM on August 1, 2019


Are You Rich?*

* On the American scale.

The website for 'are you rich?' on the global scale is just one of those sites that has 'YES' written on it in big letters.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:19 AM on August 1, 2019 [18 favorites]


More than a third of respondents in the 90th percentile described their income as “average” compared to Americans in general

I want to say I'm surprised, but I'm not. Even in this thread we've got people saying they're poorer than this calculator thinks they are. Maybe they're right, I don't know. I'm in the 20th percentile for my area. I'm doing better than I was 5 years ago.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:21 AM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


The stubborn resistance, noted in the article, to thinking of oneself as anything other than middle class, always amazes me.

It makes sense, though, to think of one's income as "average" because the vast majority of people mostly interact with others in a similar income bracket to their own. We live and work among people who make about the same amount of money as we do. In day to day life, it requires effort to interact with people who are truly different from us. At least, that's true for my life, as a middle aged person in a mid-sized city working a corporate job. I'm actually one of the lowest paid people in my office, as an executive assistant, but I still feel like I'm roughly the same as everybody around me, whether or not that's actually true.

I think there's a self-centeredness aspect too, though - when not given explicit detail otherwise, I always imagine strangers on the internet as being roughly the same age as me, for example, and have noticed that when gender is intentionally left out of an AskMe my instinct assumes the asker is female, because I myself am a woman. Imagination is hard.
posted by something something at 10:22 AM on August 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


the gap in earnings between those age groups is staggering. Like, catapults-me-up-30-percentage-points staggering. Part of that differential is that seniority in your field confers a bigger paycheck, but in no sane world should it more than double the thresholds of 80/90th percentiles

Yes, but the 18-34 bracket includes a lot of undergraduates more-or-less-intentionally earning about diddly-squat. You see the same thing happen (at least here in Buffamalo) if you tell it you're 65+ because of retirees.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 10:22 AM on August 1, 2019


I make a solid middle-class income, but I can't afford to live in the area of Atlanta (upper middle class Sandy Springs/Roswell) that the calculator had available. I live in a much more affordable/far less affluent area west of the metro.

I'm not sure if or how that factors into the results of the calculator, though.
posted by Fleebnork at 10:26 AM on August 1, 2019


Shocked & surprised yet again to find I am still a temporarily embarrassed member of the rich.

Spoiler: I am not rich at all
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:26 AM on August 1, 2019


The stubborn resistance, noted in the article, to thinking of oneself as anything other than middle class, always amazes me.

In the context of "rich" rather than just class, I think a big part of it is many people think of it in terms of net worth rather than income and most people aren't saving all that much and don't think of themselves as well off because of it. And there's lifestyle signifiers that you'd see on things like Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous that people think of as defining being rich such as personal staff, private planes, mansions, etc. that are actually signifiers of being really, really rich. If your mental image of being wealthy is being in the 1%, you can look at your top 5% lifestyle and tell yourself that you're clearly not that, so you're only middle class.
posted by Candleman at 10:26 AM on August 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


Right "rich" is sort of irrelevant? I know that my household income is below median in my neighborhood, but that my personal income is above median in the city of Chicago. I also know that one long term illness/cycling accident wipes out our savings and long term not-working leaves us unable to support ourselves. That means we're not secure and, to my mind, that means we're not rich.

But much of that insecurity is because the US is fucked up, not because we don't have good incomes. So why does "rich" matter?
posted by crush at 10:28 AM on August 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


I'm 55th percentile for the NYC area, but would be 85th percentile in my home town.

If I bump my age up 3 years, it goes to 50th percentile/70th percentile.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:29 AM on August 1, 2019


By " long term not-working leaves us unable to support ourselves", I mean--we can't retire because without our current incomes, we can't buy food or housing. And I mean that if either us loses our job without another lined up, I'm pretty sure we'd not get re-hired before our savings ran out and judging by friends who are education/career history similarly situated, we'd probably be looking at years and years of being unable to find new jobs.
posted by crush at 10:30 AM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


By global standards, I'm in the top 3.5% for wealth or income, but I wonder if they have properly valued the lack of affordable health care, esp. as profits and prices rise lie crazy. If you are middle or working class in Mexico or Ecuador or Portugal, can you afford your insulin? Do you have to even think about the cost of it?
posted by theora55 at 10:32 AM on August 1, 2019


We are poorer than I thought, and that's for Atlanta, no less. Interesting. Switching to under 35 got us to the median, so that's nice since we only aged out of that class recently. But given our Republican governor and legislature, state employees are unlikely to see adequate cost of living raises any time soon.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:39 AM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I never really thought of it that way, I think of "rich" as "someone who can buy whatever they want or need and not think twice about it."

Me, too, but I've known others who believe you can only be called "rich" if you have enough money to never have to work another day in your life. Whereas I believe that the working rich and working poor both exist.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:39 AM on August 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


So why does "rich" matter?

It's a distracting word because people have different definitions of what it means. But how much money you make does matter. It matters both for your personal quality of life and security, and on a societal level, it matters how assets and income are distributed across the population.

(I mean, there are gradations between "I can just barely make rent and I'll lose my job if I can't find $500 to fix my car" and "I can't weather six months without a paycheck" and "I'm building my own space yacht to escape the revolution." Even if you are insecure in some ways, money will protect you from being insecure in other ways.)

It also matters when people underestimate how much money they make compared to the rest of us, because it hides the extent of the problem and fosters a victim-blaming mindset. After all, if they're getting by on their "average" income, then why isn't everyone? Either the problem must not be that big, or people must just be making bad choices.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:58 AM on August 1, 2019 [15 favorites]


"Rich" has always (I think) for Americans conjured images of Daddy Warbucks or Old Man Potter or Bruce Wayne, with palatial estates and servants and whatnot, and that convinces people who earn $400K a year that they're not really in that cohort.

Guess what? They are. They feel like they're not because expenses tend to expand to absorb income, so maybe you're making $400K but you're servicing a mortgage to the tune of $10K a month, and paying for two cars and private school and a nanny and who the fuck knows what else, and you feel pinched. But that's a bullshit pinch; it's not real.
I've known others who believe you can only be called "rich" if you have enough money to never have to work another day in your life. Whereas I believe that the working rich and working poor both exist.
"Working rich" is a great term. The trick, if you're fortunate enough to have one of those careers, is to transition from "working rich" into "non-working rich."

I know a guy who did that, but his lifestyle isn't at all flashy until you realize he lives this way without a job. He just made his f-you number early (40?) in finance, and bailed to live his life instead of trying to stack the cash higher.
posted by uberchet at 11:16 AM on August 1, 2019 [11 favorites]


It's true, if your idea of rich is the Robin Leach version, few people are rich. The most popular watch owned by millionaires is a Seiko. Especially in high-cost parts of the Bay Area, you would never look at the relatively modest ranch homes on small lots and think "millionaire". But if you bought your house in the 90s and merely avoided leveraging it to the hilt, you're probably pretty close.
posted by wnissen at 11:23 AM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


The problem is that there persists in being only three words commonly used for wealth -- "Poor", "Rich" and "Middle Class". In reality, it would make sense for half a dozen or more tiers. There are real differences between people who can't save any money and people who can't always afford enough food; between people who can afford holiday of a weeklong roadtrip and people who can afford a ski vacation in the Alps; between people who can afford a large house in an expensive area and people who can afford an island as an occasional getaway.

There's the point where you're secure in your bottom-Maslow-rung needs, the point where you can start to afford nicer versions of things, the point where you're not adding up your groceries in your head, the point where you can handle a small emergency, the point where you can afford luxuries, the point where you don't need to look at prices at the grocery store, the point where you don't look at prices on the menu, the point where your money starts turning into power. And so many points in between and beyond.

If we said all food was either soup, a salad or a sandwich, we'd have the same sort of unhelpful discussions about how people who think their pasta primavera is only a salad, because sandwiches conjure images of a Katz's Deli pastrami on rye, but guess what -- that's a bullshit rationalization, a pasta primavera is just a casserole, and a casserole is a version of a Chicago-style pizza, and a pizza is an open-faced sandwich. And others fighting back that Katz's Deli gives you a two inch stack of pastrami, but pasta primavera is vegetarian just like a salad. Neither of these are right, or wrong, they're stupid -- the idea that there are only three types of food is just a flawed premise.

So let's stop fighting over who's rich or poor; let's talk about billionaires, or people with six-figure incomes, or people below the poverty line or whatever else is actually happening.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:32 AM on August 1, 2019 [20 favorites]


I actually think it's sort of fascinating that the NYTimes has pegged its audience as people who aren't rich but think they are.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:33 AM on August 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


Rich to me means you just don't worry about money anymore. Not in the "how are we going to finance the beach house this year" way, but the complete security in knowing that you will never go broke or slip into the bottom rungs of society because of some major life set back like job loss, a medical emergency, etc. Maybe you worry about your career and your ability to generate *more* wealth, maybe you worry about your actual health. But you don't worry about losing it all and dying destitute.
posted by windbox at 11:35 AM on August 1, 2019


According to this Twitter thread by article co-author Kevin Quealy, the interactive was inspired by a 2015 article by Josh Barro: "Reader Mailbag: Why Does Josh Barro Hate The Merely Affluent?"

Also, co-author Rumsey Taylor is very proud of some of the interactive's design elements.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:37 AM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


One of the better jokes in Billions is when one of the hedge-funders, looking at the end of his career, is asked if he and his family could really make it on $40 million. His kids went to expensive private schools and took part in equestrian competitions! He was already downsizing the car collection...next he'd have to give up the private jet and some of his estates. Eventually he'd have to fire his driver. What would even be left for setting up the family office? (A couple of episodes later, the hardscrabble billionaire who delivers that psychological squeeze has to admit that he and his wife couldn't possibly live on $300 million.)

Obviously that's obnoxious, but I agree that people think of being "not rich" in relation to richer people. OTOH this is NYT, so I'm not surprised that they came up with a calculator to reassure people that make a quarter million dollars a year they're not actually rich. The reason why this matters is all this vagueness lets people anti-tax zealots imply that the government is coming after your grandmother because she bought a house in Huntington Beach in 1970. That's why I appreciate Elizabeth Warren's approach to communicating about her wealth tax: the first 50 million is yours, free and clear, no tax! Person who makes $2 million per year and somehow thinks of themselves as middle class? This one probably doesn't affect you, buddy!
posted by grandiloquiet at 11:37 AM on August 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


The website for 'are you rich?' on the global scale is just one of those sites that has 'YES' written on it in big letters.

A counterpoint website: Living on Almost Nothing in America (that's "less than $2/day cash almost nothing")

Living alone does strange things to the numbers. Having just gone through a fairly thorough financial examination to qualify for a benefit earlier this year, I know that I am Officially Middle Income for NYC purposes and would in fact need to increase my income by more than 10% not to be, but I'm also at around the 75% marker (about where I expected to be).
posted by praemunire at 11:45 AM on August 1, 2019


(I took so long to hit "post" that Kutsuwamushi beat me to it with basically the same point. )
posted by uberchet at 11:45 AM on August 1, 2019


I think that for many people "rich" equates to "lots of disposable income to spend on luxuries." An issue is what is considered "disposable income" and what is considered "luxuries." I know a lot of people earning between $500K and $1MM. This is "rich" in my eyes. But it's also the case that many of these people have, for example, four kids going to expensive private schools and/or colleges, several cars, an expensive home in the 'burbs plus a summer house, and they're socking away a lot of money into retirement savings. So it's not like they're taking vacations to exotic locations, wearing high-end clothes, going to expensive restaurants and engaging in the other things the popular imagination associates with "being rich." They don't have enough money left over after the other expenses to be able to pay for that stuff. And here's the thing: Spending $50K per child on a private high school is a luxury available to the rich, but it doesn't feel like one in the same sense that buying $3,000 bespoke suits might feel like a luxury available to the rich. Despite the fact that they don't really need to spend all that money on private schools and fancy homes and so on, they feel like necessary expenditures. And because there isn't money left over for very many of the stereotypical "rich people luxuries" they don't feel rich. I would argue that those who have plenty of money for all those things are perhaps better described as "super rich" or perhaps simply "oligarchs."
posted by slkinsey at 11:49 AM on August 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


The "Billions" joke is really just an expansion of the well-known fact that expenses tend to expand to fill income, and you stop realizing that it's happening.

I mean, that's absolutely been my experience, though at a vastly lower level (say, just shy of 90th percentile locally).
posted by uberchet at 11:50 AM on August 1, 2019


Sorry: I meant to say that hte NY Times has pegged it's audience as people who *are* rich but think they aren't. But this is the NY Times, which recently did a whole article on what middle-class people want politicians to talk about, and basically none of the middle-class people had household incomes under $100,000 a year.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:50 AM on August 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


Jeepers. I would consider myself quite comfortable but apparently, according to the website, I'm not. But then I have almost no debt, I have a senior citizen bus pass, I get Social Security, and I have boatloads of white privilege, so in my urban neighborhood I pass for rich.
posted by Peach at 11:51 AM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Betteridge rides again!

(Why no thanks NYT, I don't really need another blow to my ego today.)
posted by aspersioncast at 11:52 AM on August 1, 2019


Like some other newly 35 year olds (shut up, December still counts).. I toggled back to 34 and wow, I AM doing okay!

Then no, no I'm not at all.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:55 AM on August 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


so many major metro areas in the US are so segregated by race and class that even taking this tool at face value (without all the weirdnesses and problems with deciding who is "rich" as others have mentioned) seems pretty useless. big cities often have a core of very wealthy urban dwellers surrounded by poorer neighborhoods where the service industry workers who work in the city can actually afford to live, even though both are part of the same metro. so if you really wanted to measure yourself against others like you, for some reason, the way to do it would be by zip code, not metro area.
posted by wibari at 12:06 PM on August 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


A counterpoint website: Living on Almost Nothing in America (that's "less than $2/day cash almost nothing")

I was mostly getting at the fact that if you have the resources (time, technology) to be doing NY Times quizzes, you are almost certainly rich on a global scale, but I also appreciate that link and the information in it, which I wasn't familiar with.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:08 PM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


For Pittsburgh I'm rich if I tell them my salary is individual income and not rich if I say it's household income, both of which are true because my partner can't work and doesn't get disability payments, but I wonder what assumptions it's hiding behind that toggle?
posted by Stacey at 12:14 PM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Rich to me means you just don't worry about money anymore. Not in the "how are we going to finance the beach house this year" way, but the complete security in knowing that you will never go broke or slip into the bottom rungs of society because of some major life set back like job loss, a medical emergency, etc. Maybe you worry about your career and your ability to generate *more* wealth, maybe you worry about your actual health. But you don't worry about losing it all and dying destitute.

I think it's pretty obvious that anyone who worries that a major life setback might put them in the same boat as the majority of Americans is definitely rich.
posted by FakeFreyja at 12:19 PM on August 1, 2019


I know a lot of people earning between $500K and $1MM. This is "rich" in my eyes. But it's also the case that many of these people have, for example, four kids going to expensive private schools and/or colleges, several cars, an expensive home in the 'burbs plus a summer house, and they're socking away a lot of money into retirement savings. So it's not like they're taking vacations to exotic locations, wearing high-end clothes, going to expensive restaurants and engaging in the other things the popular imagination associates with "being rich."
I'd say that "four kids going to expensive private schools and/or colleges, several cars, an expensive home in the 'burbs plus a summer house, and they're socking away a lot of money into retirement savings" is, by any reasonable definition, rich.
posted by uberchet at 12:20 PM on August 1, 2019 [13 favorites]


I think it's pretty obvious that anyone who worries that a major life setback might put them in the same boat as the majority of Americans is definitely rich.

That's...presumably why the poster used it as their literal definition for "rich"?
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:28 PM on August 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


The vagueness of basically all terms related to class in the U.S. ensures that we will never have a productive conversation about the topic at all. Is "rich" an absolute term, a relative term, a feeling or an objective state, a set of opportunities or a collection of items, is it a category you assign yourself or that others assign to you? All of these definitions appear just in this relatively short mefi thread. No wonder we cannot cohere around an understanding nationally.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:33 PM on August 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


That's...presumably why the poster used it as their literal definition for "rich"?

No, the poster was saying that someone who does have to worry about money - in the oft-repeated "a medical catastrophe would make me poor" sense - is not rich.

This is false. If your biggest worry is that you might, through misadventure, become not-rich... you are rich.
posted by FakeFreyja at 12:35 PM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm in the top half percent of the country in terms of income, so this quiz didn't tell me anything about myself that I didn't already know.

That said, I do think it's interesting to consider the issue of "middle class" and how people of means are able to see themselves as part of it even if they are not. For example: me! I and my family are by no means middle class by income, but if you were to come to our house and look around at how we live, all the income signifiers would be "upper middle class" at most: Nice but not especially new or expensive cars; a good-sized house with land, but in an area where both cost significantly less than in most other places; clothes from Kohl's and JC Penny's; food from Krogers and occasionally Aldi. We live well and want for nothing, but neither do we present in a way that conspicuously raises us up over our neighbors. We are financially rich, but culturally middle class.

Where our wealth "shows" is in ways people don't see. We have no debt, and our daughter will leave college without debt. We invest and save substantially more of our income than most Americans. We don't have to fear that an illness or injury or a legal proceeding will draw our savings down to zero. If I die, my wife and child don't have to worry how they will be able to continue to live as they do now. We have insurance for our insurance. Our wealth isn't in material things; it's in margin. We have to go through a lot -- much more than our neighbors -- before we feel a pinch. We look and feel (to others and to ourselves) middle class on a day-to-day basis. But we're not.

That margin to me is the great distinguisher of wealth in the United States, particularly given the state of our national social net. For me, "Middle Class" isn't about the size of your house or the color of your collar, it's how long it takes you to get to zero. The poor in the US have almost no space between them and zero. The middle class has a few months to a year. If you have more than that -- friend, you're rich.
posted by jscalzi at 12:53 PM on August 1, 2019 [42 favorites]


Aha, jscalzi just confirmed that my friend about to publish his first sci-fi novel WILL be rich! Drinks are on him.

On the topic you bring up, I have known and interacted with a wide range of six-figure families over the years in a few different non-profit jobs and most live a very stereotypical upper-middle class life without any outward flashiness unless you noticed where they were vacationing once or twice a year, I guess. They drive 5-10 year old nice but not insane cars, their clothes are pretty normal or even from the mall (probably a department store) and their house isn't usually a grotesque McMansion.

But yes, it's the margin. Once you hit a certain threshold and don't increase your standard of living, the wealth grows exponentially but silently. Debt is similarly silent and the only markers are probably either an easiness for the rich or a caged wariness in the eyes whenever money is on the mind. To me, richness will always denote that easy state of mind because you will never doubt you can pay the rent or for food.

There's some interesting research on how we imagine if a situation will be painful that I relate to discussions of class/money and how we interact across the lines. Basically, it's very hard to identify with other circumstances EVEN IF we experienced those circumstances. I'm just loosely paraphrasing it but it tracks to my experience... people had their arm put in a bucket of cold water vs. a bucket of warm water then asked how painful it would be to jump in an ice bath. The colder water people said more painful. But when you removed them from the cold water and waited a few minutes, they had forgotten being cold and it went back to less painful in estimation. So even though I have been very poor in my life, that desperation is as hard for me to remember as how much it hurt to be hungry after I've eaten a pizza.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:03 PM on August 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


For Pittsburgh I'm rich if I tell them my salary is individual income and not rich if I say it's household income, both of which are true because my partner can't work and doesn't get disability payments, but I wonder what assumptions it's hiding behind that toggle?

Not really any assumptions. IIRC, the household income is just the sum of incomes of people over 18 (16?) in the same dwelling, in that survey.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 1:06 PM on August 1, 2019


I've said before that I'm the last middle-class person in America, and this doesn't disagree with me. It's kind of a curious way of being average, though, because it's driven more than anything by the fact that we're a single-income household in a milieu where that's not the norm, living in one of the most expensive regions.

(Also I'm certainly in a somewhat better position than average as far as parents' resources go.)
posted by atoxyl at 1:19 PM on August 1, 2019


I had assumed I was in the top 5% for LA, but apparently not. I guess that explains why housing prices / rent are approaching Bay Area levels in much of the metro area.

Rich to me means you just don't worry about money anymore. Not in the "how are we going to finance the beach house this year" way, but the complete security in knowing that you will never go broke or slip into the bottom rungs of society because of some major life set back like job loss, a medical emergency, etc.

I sort of agree with this, but medical emergencies can be so eye-poppingly expensive it does push the bar for rich up quite a bit. Someone who has millions saved doesn't have to worry about bills, job loss, etc. But a medical problem can easily eat up millions.
posted by thefoxgod at 1:21 PM on August 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


it's also the case that many of these people have, for example, four kids going to expensive private schools and/or colleges, several cars, an expensive home in the 'burbs plus a summer house, and they're socking away a lot of money into retirement savings. So it's not like they're taking vacations to exotic locations, wearing high-end clothes, going to expensive restaurants and engaging in the other things the popular imagination associates with "being rich."

Nah, they do; they just do somewhat less of it than the ones without kids. Admittedly the ones I'm familiar with are less likely, as New Yorkers, to have the expense of several cars.
posted by praemunire at 1:46 PM on August 1, 2019


Jeepers. I would consider myself quite comfortable but apparently, according to the website, I'm not.

Checking in from the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward urban designation and definitely not rich. I found the conflation of San Francisco with two other areas across the Bay Bridge to be curious -- the money practically sloshes through the streets in SF, and many neighborhoods here in the 510 are certainly not seeing that sort of casual liquidity.

But maybe not all the "being rich" is what it's cracked up to be over here either. The house across the street from me has been on the market for an eye-popping $1.4 mil, allegedly went off at a sales price of $1.8 mil, but is back on again today. The buyer couldn't put down earnest money or line up enough financing, despite being buy-a-million-dollar-house rich on paper.
posted by sobell at 2:31 PM on August 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


If your kid has to go to the ER and stay overnight for one night, how much does that fuck you on a scale from 0-2. 0? Congrats, you're rich in 2019 USA.
posted by j_curiouser at 2:32 PM on August 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward urban designation and definitely not rich. I found the conflation of San Francisco with two other areas across the Bay Bridge

It did that with Chicago, too. The only option was Chicago-Naperville-Elgin-Illinois-Indiana-Wisconsin, which is. . . not helpful. Certainly, parts of DuPage county (Naperville,, Illinois) and NW Indiana (on the commuter rail) make sense. And some of Elgin is in Cook county (like Chicago) but it seemed overly-broad strokes, especially when you look at DuPage County alone compared to Cook County (both Chicago and suburban Cook).
posted by crush at 2:47 PM on August 1, 2019


Well yesterday I was trying to figure out if my parents would be on the hook for my federal student loans if I died, so no
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 3:37 PM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Huh. I recently(ish) turned 35, which magically catapults me from "the depraved youth" to "might as well be a Boomer" in the NYT's weird dichotomy of people. For fun, I toggled it to "18-34" (oh for the sweet halcyon days of 2018), and the gap in earnings between those age groups is staggering. Like, catapults-me-up-30-percentage-points staggering. Part of that differential is that seniority in your field confers a bigger paycheck, but in no sane world should it more than double the thresholds of 80/90th percentiles.

If you assume an average of 3% raises in income per year*, the typical income would double in 24 years. The age difference in between the two brackets is 17 to 30 years (low end and high end). The implications of saying this level of increase is insane is basically arguing for pretty tightly constricted income from the day you enter the workforce to the day you retire.

The difference should be more extreme for the 90% end if you think about the wealth distribution curves, though probably too much detail to go into here.

Since I imagine it'll come up: This needs to be 3% in real, above inflation, income, or around 5% these days. That's certainly more than people I know get in a "typical" year but definitely typical when you throw in boosts that come with job moves and promotion raise every so often.

I do realize people in crap jobs get less than that their entire career, but I'd argue the problem is they are getting shafted in the increases, not that the people getting 3% are hogging the resources.

posted by mark k at 6:11 PM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


A counterpoint website: Living on Almost Nothing in America (that's "less than $2/day cash almost nothing")

If you have Amazon Prime you can acquire the Kindle book "$2 A Day" for free.
posted by bendy at 7:19 PM on August 1, 2019


if my parents would be on the hook for my federal student loans if I died

No. Death cancels federal student loans.
posted by praemunire at 7:54 PM on August 1, 2019


Are there ANY loans -- student, Federal, state, or otherwise -- that allow non-co-signing relatives or third parties to be pursued in the event of the death of the borrower?
posted by uberchet at 6:52 AM on August 2, 2019


I knew the geographical bit of it would be nearly useless when it came up as "St. Louis Mo-Ill" area

We have neighborhoods with a median income of $170K, and neighborhoods with a median income of $17K.

Anyway, I was shocked to discover I'm not rich and that water is wet.
posted by Foosnark at 7:36 AM on August 2, 2019


For private student loans, as with just about any debt, the loans survive as a claim against the estate (contrasted to, as I said above, federal student loans, where they cease to exist). This would not mean liability for non-cosigners, even if they are heirs. The usual problems arise with co-signers; for a while there, private student lenders were exercising a clause in the loans that permitted acceleration of the entire debt upon the death of one of the co-signers.
posted by praemunire at 8:51 AM on August 2, 2019


I'm surprised this doesn't ask if you have kids. $60,000 a year goes a lot farther for a childless couple than it does for a single mom with two kids. This was brought home for me in a recent conversation with my co-workers over how much money we make. I'm perfectly comfortable, but they're struggling, and this is why. Daycare by itself is outrageously expensive, much less all the other costs that go along with raising kids.
posted by zeusianfog at 10:40 AM on August 2, 2019 [5 favorites]


$60,000 a year goes a lot farther for a childless couple than it does for a single mom with two kids.

It definitely does, but when you're using this to more look at "who is affluent" than "who is poor", you're largely looking at a population of people who did make some kind of choice about having those children. I do think this falls apart at lower incomes, mind, but middle-class people and above do absolutely make a lifestyle choice in having children, and it's not like the money just gets set on fire; at the end of the day, they've got the kids they chose to have instead of other things. The money isn't doing more; it's just doing different things. Household size is certainly a thing that should factor into who's below the poverty line, but if my non-hypothetical coworker chose to have five kids and I didn't, I would not say that I am more affluent than he is just because I am more able to eat at restaurants.
posted by Sequence at 11:11 AM on August 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


Not more affluent, exactly, but almost certainly more secure. It's simple math that on a day to day basis it takes more money to keep seven people alive than two, even without considering the horrific cost of child care and a college education. Feeding, clothing, and housing additional people costs more money. It's a choice to have children or not, of course, but that doesn't change the financial reality that results from the decision.
posted by something something at 11:21 AM on August 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


They posted an update addressing the some of the same points we highlighted here...

"When we looked at income ranks recently, many people were surprised (and some annoyed) that our calculator told them they were “rich.” Even though their incomes were high, many argued that after paying their mortgage, student loans and child care and other expenses, they had little left over.

They have a point. Can you really feel rich if your income, however large, barely covers your expenses? Perhaps wealth (the net total of all your assets minus your liabilities) is a better measure."

posted by larthegreat at 12:48 PM on August 12, 2019


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