What Does it Mean to Be 'Rich' in America?

The tax code says it's $250,000. What do you say?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

U.S. President Barack Obama holds a backyard discussion at the home of John and Nicole Armstrong to discuss with their neighbors Recovery Act investments on September 13, 2010 in Fairfax, Virginia. (Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool/Getty Images/Getty)

Washington correspondent Todd Zwillich breaks down the politics behind the Bush-era tax cuts, made during a time of budget surplus, and the proposals to allow the cuts to expire on individuals making more than $250,000 a year. Are there political agendas here? Also, chief economist for the Concord Coalition, Diane Lim Rogers, discusses the economics of this debate. Will this benefit middle class America and, in turn, stimulate the economy or will it negatively affect small business owners that are in the $250,000 income bracket that will lose their tax break?

We asked our listeners: What does it mean to be rich these days anyway? The tax code says it's $250,000 a year. How much do YOU think you have to earn to be considered rich?


Here are some responses we've been getting via text message (find out how to send us texts here):

Just what we needed! The change that we we believed in is the change we got.
—New York, NY

I would say $100k a year

End it already and let's move forward. It really doesn't matter what "rich" means. What matters is getting out of the red ink. I mean..$300 for 8th grade sports?
—Pontiac, MI 

Another 70k
—Miguel, Hialeah, FL

Another 50/100 thou would be great! Not rich, still way under half million, but would allow savings & happy extras. Personally, I don't see MY taxes at work for ME: kid free, car free, pay own med insurance etc.
—New York, NY

I have no idea what "rich" is anymore. I think it has more to do with access & security than income.
—Pontiac, MI

Think the definition of rich should be revised downward to $150,000.
—Geneva, NY

$52k more wld help me cover my current expenses and plan ahead. That amount wouldn't bring me over 100k either. I live a simple life.
—Tamara, Baltimore, MD

More than 500k yr
—Denver, CO

I think 250k is not rich. I support president obama but he needs to increase the threshold to 500k.
—Winchester, MA

—Providence, RI

I say the estate tax needs to be revisited. How is it justifiable that wealth should be redistributed after someone works to build savings throughout their life
—Key West, FL

Hahahahaha! Not even in Idaho anymore. In my next life I wanna be a congressman! "What? Me worry?" Let's get real!
—New York, NY

$150 k:)
—Denver, CO.

I say all taxpayers need a brake.No taxes for 1 year will revive the broken economy.
—Allan, Woonsocket, RI

I say if you own a second home, boat, or drive a mercedes. A 100k or so ought to get you all three depending on where you live.
—Miguel, Hialeah, FL

Thats about right. A person can survive on $100,000. Everything over that is excess.
—Tamara, Baltimore, MD


Diane Lim and Todd Zwillich

Produced by:

Kal Elsebai

Comments [10]


Rich in America means that you are related to or good friends with a Republican Politician.

Dec. 28 2010 02:40 PM
Steven from Brooklyn from New York

Rich is a mindset not a fixed point. As a previous comment posted most want to be 20% richer. In New York $250,000 does not go as far as in other places. In addition I have 1 child in medical school, 1 child in a private college and an elderly mother living with me. I can not cover all that plus real estate taxes on $250,000. In New York $250,000 is only about $125,000 AFTER TAXES.
To be rich you need to have the ability to get what you want without having to think about it.
Today, that is likely over $1 million.

Sep. 15 2010 12:48 PM
Hugh Appet

Why is it so hard for many people to grasp that only about 1.5% of households, not even individuals, actually make $250,000/year or more? Another point in the discussion about letting Bush's tax cuts for them expire is that the top brackets have benefited the most from both the Reagan and Bush Tax cuts. And while we listen to conservatives talk about the current deficit as if we never had one before, who will remind them that both Reagan, Bush Sr and Bush Jr increased the national debt with their deficits 10 fold? And continuing Bush's tax cuts will ADD to that same deficit.

I am also tired of hearing the jobs argument. Even when people put their life savings into a business, almost all of them BORROW money to start or expand a business. And you don't hire someone to get a tax break. You hire someone because you need a job done. If your business is half the size it was two years ago, I doubt you are going to hire more people unless your business starts growing again.

Sep. 14 2010 12:23 PM
Holly U. from SC

The comments I heard on the radio and on here are making me laugh and/or cry. While I realize that costs of living vary widely in our country, the amounts heard are for our family akin to winning the lottery.
I have read that $45-75K a year is the threshold for comfort and happiness does not increase beyond that amount. I totally believe that. Our traditional family of five lives on about $32K a year. Live sensibly and within your means goes a long way towards being happy at any level. Getting to that level where a family does not have to worry about providing shelter, food, and medical care is key. And around here, that's around $50K I'd say.
Another study I read recently states that everyeone at every income level feels that another 20% in income would make them feel comfortable. "Lifestyle creep" is for real. :)

Sep. 14 2010 09:57 AM
Donna from Colorado

The government's own inflation calculator shows that $250,000 isn't what is used to be. Compared to $250,000 in Reagan's time, it would be almost $600,000 in today's dollars. What's rich? When you don't notice the taxes being siphoned down the government toilet paying for show-up bureaucratic jobs and useless programs. And 250000 is barely there, when half of it is taken away in taxes. http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl

Sep. 14 2010 09:12 AM
dbmetzger from upper west side

Obama Versus the GOP on Tax Cuts
President Barack Obama wants voters to make a choice in November between his policy on tax cuts for the middle class and the Republican party's plan to cut taxes for income earners at all levels. http://www.newslook.com/videos/249809-obama-versus-the-gop-on-tax-cuts?autoplay=true

Sep. 14 2010 08:21 AM

While it's true the US is bankrupt, and we continue to lose world dominance in so many areas - We still lead in the number of super-rich we can support. I think we should stop taxing those who make over $250,000 altogether so that we can at least lead the world in something.

Sep. 14 2010 07:19 AM
Josh from Brooklyn

Two points about Obama's plan are being missed or deliberately distorted.

1. It is not whether he is cutting or raising taxes, but which taxes he is cutting. By not extending the tax break to the rich, businesses will have their taxes cut, which should lead to lower prices and increased employment.

2. Those in the upper brackets still will see the $20,000 savings on their income up to $250,000. For me, that is a significant amount of money.

Sep. 14 2010 07:16 AM

Maybe not rich, but comfortable. My husband and I bring in around 75,000 TOGETHER! thats with 2 kids and sending some to help family abroad. We def. struggle. But paradise is all in your perception. down size the "stuff " and really live "life"

Sep. 14 2010 06:26 AM
Beverly McGrath from Westchester, New York

$250,000 is not rich, but it's enough to be comfortable with 2 kids in a modest home and take maybe a vacation each year, save for college, and buy an ok car. But, it's not rich where I live. And, I don't make nearly that much. Only $150,000 and it's a real struggle.

Sep. 13 2010 09:53 PM

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