I’ve finally read a post on another blog which uses the term the rich in a way that I believe to be accurate and the blog is, of all places, Firedoglake. Ian Welsh writes:
Most rich people get most of their money from investments – also known as unearned income.
That is exactly right but, unfortunately, Ian doesn’t continue his analysis to tell us how many households fit that description.
It isn’t the top quintile, the top 20% of households. That’s people making $97,000 or more and most people making $97,000 or thereabouts are professionals and managers who live off their salary or wages just like most people who earn half that much annually. There are even a few blue collar workers who make $97,000 a year.
It isn’t the top 1% of households. That’s people making $315,000 or more. Many doctors of medicine, some lawyers, and even some government workers make this amount. For example, the Chicago Chief of Police makes about that much. According to Chicago Magaqzine, the CEO of WTTW, the Chicago Public Television station makes that much, as does the president of the Art Institute of Chicago and Michelle Obama, in her job as Vice president for community and external affairs, University of Chicago Hospitals.
To be in that rarified zone you’ve got to be in the top .1% of income earners, somebody like a professional athlete or a top executive in a Fortune 500 company, and there are about 150,000 of them all told. Many income earners in this group are Wall Street professional, yes, the same people who earned billions in commissions by packaging and selling subprime mortgages. And people in that income bracket are doing very, very well, indeed, doing better all the time.
One of these days I’ll write that post explaining how specific government policies and practices put in place over the last 50 years or so and technological advances have worked synergistically to make this so.
Note that I’m not disagreeing with Ian on this: I don’t think we should be making policies that primarily benefit people in that income bracket but I think that we need to be very careful if we readjust our policies so that our targets aren’t the vast majority of Americans who are making much,much less.
One final word of caution: The rich, by my judgment, are those who are in the top 1% of income earners and who derive the preponderance of their incomes through unearned income. We certainly wouldn’t want to characterize somebody who made, say, less than $35,000 a year, his or her entire income, from unearned income as rich. It’s both how much you make and how you make it. I haven’t been able to nail down the exact number of people who fit this description but I suspect it’s very, very few.