That's Rich

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

Is this rich? Or do you need a plane?

hide captionIs this rich? Or do you need a plane?

Source: StevenM 61

Remember that game, M.A.S.H., which was supposed to determine — among other things — your financial future? I always thought that it was funny that somehow the difference between mansions, houses, and apartments were enough to determine wealth. You could live in a dilapidated mansion or a Park Avenue apartment, right? Well, when Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama bickered over whether or not someone making more than $97,000 a year is middle class or... well... just plain wealthy, it got us — and others — thinking. What is rich? When do you feel like you've moved beyond middle class? Does it take a private plane, or just a little equity in your M, A, S, or H?

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Arguments over the income level to define what it means to be "rich" are only meaningful on a regional basis. Having the discussion at the national level does not make any sense due to the huge disparity in the cost of housing, salaries and living expenses on a regional basis.

For example, the median housing price in the San Francisco Bay Area exceeds $600,000 for a single family home. Compare this to many areas of the country where that would buy a family an estate.

It seems to me that this discussion is only valid if you break it down to regional or metropolitan areas.

Sent by Dennis Milosky | 2:12 PM | 11-26-2007

Hello,

Perhaps this will come up later. I think it's worth noting that a $100,000 salary in St. Louis, where I grew up, is not the same as a $100,000 salary in San Francisco, where I live now. When talking about national percentages of how many people earn above a certain amount, I think it's important to note there can be major lifestyle differences even though IRS statistics group people together.

Thank you,

Aaron Rosenthal
San Francisco

Sent by Aaron | 2:15 PM | 11-26-2007

I'm listening online in Brazil. I just got back from a run through a neighborhood where anyone making 97,000 would be considered extremely wealthy. As a teacher, I dont make much by American standards, but I try to remind myself that with my education, American passport, oportunities and support system- I am in fact wealthy.

Sent by Nelson Dewey | 2:17 PM | 11-26-2007

What is Rich?
Rich is being able to breath easy because you can put money into a 401k, afford insurance, provide opportunities for education. Rich is being able to afford the 'healthier choice' - whereas...you don't have to work as much so you can go to the gym, afford a massage, pay for health supplements for yourself and your children and buy healthier food. Rich is being able to breath easier...literally because you can afford the co-pay this week to go to the doctor. Rich means opportunities.

The poor are alwasy in a catch 22. They always have pay to survive. There is rarely an extra.

On the other hand..... some of the poorest people I know are the happiest, most humble and generous. They aren't on anti-depressants. They are fatter...but can laugh about it.

Sent by Kim Domacilio | 2:20 PM | 11-26-2007

Two aspects of being "rich" is knowing how much is enough and what it takes to be truly happy.

Sent by Greg Larson | 2:21 PM | 11-26-2007

Anything under a million-a-year take home is merely well-off; I'm stinky rich....pass the caviar Bill, and fill the solid gold tub with champagne...Time for a bath.

Sent by Belinda Gates | 2:21 PM | 11-26-2007

As much as I respect the fact that many people making more than 97000 a year might still need to monitor their spending, they are still upper middle class or higher. It is certainly more expensive to live in nicer neighborhoods and buy nicer products, but those communities and commodities exist because they buy them! I am sure they would feel more rich if they spent at the level of someone in the 50000 dollar range.

Sent by Adrienne Tozier de la Poterie | 2:22 PM | 11-26-2007

I only make 30,000-50,000 per year, but having bought my home at an early age, and avoiding debt like the plague. I feel rich, compared to the rest of the poulation on the planet. To me, rich, is knowing where your' next meal is coming from.

Sent by kevin kibbe | 2:23 PM | 11-26-2007

Is $97,000 middle class? Hmmm. Seems that depends on how many are in my family and if both spouses work. Having had a taxable income in 2006 was less than $10,000 because I am in my late 50's and have too much education and it took me three years to find work, yes $97,000 is rich to me.

People complain because they can't have the McMansion or the big SUV or the latest useless fashion or the best private schools but hell, having the rent or mortgage paid and food to eat and utilities, that is all anyone should have to have with a little left over for enjoyment.

I know people who have joint incomes of close to $100,000 in income, a house, two cars and they feel poor. That would be palatial to me.

Sent by Leta A. Dally | 2:24 PM | 11-26-2007

you are rich when you don't know the names of the house staff

Sent by James Laurie | 2:24 PM | 11-26-2007

"rich" would be having enough money to buy health insurance so I could leave my husband.

Sent by cara | 2:24 PM | 11-26-2007

I feel thatyour "class" is more about the amount of money you make, versus where you live. Ultimately, If you're making $1,000,000 and choose to buy a 10 million dollar house, you're still rich even though you may be cash poor.

Sent by Zac | 2:25 PM | 11-26-2007

I have noticed that many of my truly "rich" friends - however you define it - have less stuff and live more modestly than friends of mine who have less money: the less rich ones simply buy on credit and live beyond their means. Others sit on millions and spend prudently. So it's hard to tell who has what (try as we might!) with so much borrowing going on.

Sent by Elizabeth | 2:26 PM | 11-26-2007

In Walden, Thoreau said:
"...Many a forenoon have I stolen away, preferring to spend thus the most valued part of the day; for I was rich, if not in money, in sunny hours and summer days, and spent them lavishly..."

Sent by Dick Leone | 2:26 PM | 11-26-2007

Do you add fixed benefit retirement plan income, social security income and other income streams to net worth? If yes how do you capitalized it and give it a NPV number?

Sent by Joe | 2:26 PM | 11-26-2007

Who are you kidding? Being rich is not a "state of mind", it is how much you have in your bank account. The majority of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, have to save for weeks or months to purchase any item over 1000 dollars and are working more than one job per house hold! Rich is having more, alot more money at the end of the month than went out in bills. let's not complicate the issue. For those who have a 4000 sq.ft home, three cars and a pool and are still in dept at the end of the month, you are rich to be able to afford all that in the first place, but simply stupid for putting yourself in an excessive lifestyle that causes so much dept.

Sent by john | 2:27 PM | 11-26-2007

Great one Neil!!
Only the "brightest' among us think that all rich people are Republicans...
That wouldn't be a little bit of bias there, would it?

Sent by Robert | 2:27 PM | 11-26-2007

Our family is upper-middle-class but feel rich. We travel, we own our home, we live within our means. What keeps us from really being rich? The need for health insurance. I have a history of breast cancer and, so, we have become "health-insurance slaves" (as opposed to "wage slaves"), tied to the company until we can find another solution. Interesting that if we lived in almost any other industrialized country, we wouldn't face this problem.

Sent by Laura | 2:27 PM | 11-26-2007

As a graduate student soon to enter the real world, I know I will feel "wealthy" when i no longer have to worry about debt, including credit cards, car and student loans.

Sent by Ruth Meberg Stine | 2:27 PM | 11-26-2007

You know people seem to keep saying that its a class or state of mind...but I am often lucky to make 15K a year many years I make less and though I feel that I live a rich life I struggle in a rural New Mexican town to get buy for myself and my young daughter...for this reason I cannt help but think that this self defining of the rich as middle class is only a product of our society's inablity to accept its role in over consumption and its affects on the rest of the country and world.

Sent by sarah | 2:28 PM | 11-26-2007

I've read Mr. Frank's book, and I think iit's sopmewhat odd that he defines "wealthy" as applying only to the top 1% of America's rich. Certainly, those are the inhabitants of what he calls "middle Richistan," but what of those who are "merely" in the to 5% or 10% of wealth? Perhaps we should be thinking in terms of "the rich" and "the obscenely rich."

As a divorced 45 year old with a student loan burden that I'm unlikely to pay off before I retire (if I can ever retire), I find the entire conversation interesting but only remotely related to my life--something like particle physics, perhaps.

Sent by Marty, Boise ID | 2:28 PM | 11-26-2007

10 years ago I was preparing to go to college and I had the opportunity to see my family's income. My family of four was living comfortably on $25,000. We owned our own house, my mom bought a pretty new, used car that year, I was going to college, etc.

Now, I live in the Lake Tahoe area (3 hours from where I grew up). In order to afford an entry level, fixer-upper house I would need to make $180,000. Talk about a big difference. Being rich definitely depends on where you live.

Sent by GM | 2:29 PM | 11-26-2007

To feel "wealthy", I would need to have enough savings, or income from other sources, that losing my job would not require substantial reductions in my standard of living. Of course, since I only make $25,000 a year, that standard is a lot lower than one that most people would consider "wealthy".

Sent by Kristin Herke | 2:29 PM | 11-26-2007

my husband and I make a little over 250,000 a year. Aren't we middle class too!

Bonny in NC

Sent by bonny | 2:29 PM | 11-26-2007

I think there are two ways to be rich having net worth of $1 mil or making an income of $150k. It is offensive to me to think that someone who could sell all their stuff and have $1 million dollars is not rich.

Sent by JP (Minnesota) | 2:29 PM | 11-26-2007

I find it hilarious that people making $100,000 or more claim they don't have enough money to make their ends meet. What it means is you shop too much and by unnecessarily expensive things.

Sent by Yolanda | 2:29 PM | 11-26-2007

So there are these two guys from Chelm talking about social values and wealth. The first guy says who do you think is the richest guy in the world and the other guy says he thinks it's Rothschild. Guy one says he is pretty wealthy all right but if he had Rothschild's money he would be richer than Rothschild. That's crazy the other guy says, how do you figure that?

So the guy says that's easy if I had all his money, I'd do a little teaching on the side.

Sent by George Fredlund | 2:29 PM | 11-26-2007

You don't have to be rich to be my girl, you don't have to be cool to rule my world, there's no particular type that I'm compatible with; I just want your extra time and your Kiss.

Sent by Mo | 2:29 PM | 11-26-2007

I would venture to say that it is naive to think that ideas of wealth do not differ among different groups in this country. There is a reason why sayings such as "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer" exist. Particularly in African American communities, but more broadly as well there is an overall lack of education when it comes to financial management. Those that are educated about money, preserve their money and have a more regenerative and lasting view of what it is to be wealthy, those that are not are the people who think that wealth is defined by what car you drive and what name brands you wear etc???

On another note, while I agree with the Michelle that the use of the term "lower class" to describe most African Americans' position on the financial totem pole is particularly pernicious at best, she should know just as well that equating that term to the oft-misused and ambiguous term "ghetto" is equally dangerous.

Sent by Tayo Famakinwa | 2:30 PM | 11-26-2007

I think someone's idea of being wealthy has a possibility of changing over time. Right now if look at someone making $150,000 a year I would say that person is rich, but I think if I were to get to that income level I wouldn't consider myself to be rich. I wonder if a lot of people who have a substantial amount of money really actually think of themsleves as being wealthy or "rich"?

Sent by Joe Werner | 2:30 PM | 11-26-2007

97k IS NOT that RICH as of $$$. Especially when business is volitile, dad owns small firm and mom stays home with baby. Taxes always hit you year later, esp. if you're independent contractor and then the year's financials change for the worse. I feel we are middle class with approx 100K. Staying home with kids doesn't pay dollars nor go into soc. sec. for SAHM's. With no health insurance, we are not rich---as of dollars. Living is getting more expensive and the line b/w lower/middle/upper class is changing; and the gap is getting wider.
We as Americans are not rich or wealthy here (in the USA) b/c we have no certain guarantees anymore--health care, mom's paid money by gov to have kids-like they do in the EU, soc. sec., etc etc,.... and we will have much higher gas prices for sure. (I am a SAHM-but attorney by profession)

Sent by mpm | 2:30 PM | 11-26-2007

A rich life is when one knows how to balance their inner world of thoughts and emotions with their outer world of physical priorities.

Sent by Rich Welt - Author of Your Doorway To A Rich Life | 2:30 PM | 11-26-2007

I was absolutely appalled about how your guest commented on the fact that race and class don't have anything to do with the perception of wealth. How can you say that? I think someone who grew up in a ghetto for example, would think earning $32,000 a year would be rich because they are able to pay their bills on time I enjoy certain small comforts like going to see a movie. The caller that called indirectly after this said that she was from a upper middle class background and I could tell that she completely different idea of wealth than someone like me who comes from a poor minority single-parent family.

Sent by Eileen Baca | 2:31 PM | 11-26-2007

Access to Health Care without bureaucratic limits! That's what I need in order to feel rich.

Sent by Kevin | 2:31 PM | 11-26-2007

Only people who HAVE money can talk about how money doesn't buy happiness. For most of us more money would solve most of our problems--health care, housing, employment, education, transportation. Obviously money doesn't buy love, but you're a lot more lovable when you aren't freaked out about all those other things.

Sent by Lisa Roth | 2:32 PM | 11-26-2007

A good bit is up on MotherJones.com about this with a nice chart.
http://www.motherjones.com/mojoblog/archives/2007/11/6284_obama_vs_clinto.html

here is the link to the chart
http://www.motherjones.com/mojoblog/socialsec-chart.jpg

Sent by Declan | 2:32 PM | 11-26-2007

The level of rich has to be defined by your income over your costs. Many can be rich at that 35,000$ level depending on how they spend, while others that have the big house or big family might have a minimum of $100,000 or more just to make the margins.

I'm still in school, and I don't think I could be rich until I make around $75,000/yr. Why? I'm in aviation, as a pilot, and my first year income will be around 19,000 to 26,000$. However, I'll be leaving school with around 140,000$ worth of debt. Each year I make less than about $50,000, my debt will grow, so I need to exceed that to pay off what I owe and start saving. My years of riches won't be for a long time.

Sent by Evan | 2:32 PM | 11-26-2007

Ahhh! Money! A constant argument in my house. My husband is an ultimate consumer and he always wants the best and that usually translates into the most expensive. I define wealth and having money left over after you pay your bills, fund your ira, and have an emergency fund with 3 months of income. We are in a constant struggle to make ends meet and we make over $100k per year, it's very sad.

Sent by Michelle | 2:33 PM | 11-26-2007

I was just wondering if anyone else heard of "Spend nothing" day as posted on NY times this last Friday. There was also mention of MTV and the media reluctance on airing propaganda anti consumerism. What does that tell us about our definition of "rich" when so many people are stuffering with foreclosures and debt.

Sent by Andre | 2:33 PM | 11-26-2007

The guest on the show (Frank) defined "wealthy" as the top 1%. By that method, is "poor" the bottom 1%? Then "middle class" is the remaining 98%? His reasoning is screwed up.

Sent by lmk | 2:34 PM | 11-26-2007

My husband and I live in the Northeast. We make over $200K annually and would not consider ourselves to be in the top 6% of wealthy because we can barely make ends meet! In order to purchase a house in this area it costs a median of about $400K. We have two cars that need to be replaced immediately (10 and 18 years old) and cannot afford to replace them with USED cars! We barely make enough to cover child care, health care, groceries and taxes. We do not go on vacations and go out to eat roughly 4 times a year! How can we be considered among the top 6% of earners? And what does that say about our country?

Sent by jenni | 2:34 PM | 11-26-2007

I'm a Law enforcement officer in Little Rock, AR. My salary is @ 45k per year and I consider myself very rich. I have much more money than I need because I live well within my means. I take vacations and I have time to pursue my interests. my house is small and my vehicles are old. It all works well and I could'nt be more happy. Thanx for the topic, Neal.

Sent by Marc S. Colins | 2:34 PM | 11-26-2007

Eight years ago I was a waitress and barely-scraping-by single mom of two. I went to law school and after graduation went to work for a top national law firm. Law school had an eighty thousand dollar price tag and despite having around a 100k salary (in KC, Mo), I'm still broke. My oldest son is now college shopping and we're not sure how we'll pay for it. College tuition is exploding and it seems we would be in a better position for grants and low interest loans if I didn't go to law school. My son could get into a to a top school but is afraid to end up burdened with too much college debt. My concern is that when evaluating a family's financial picture, the government's view is too narrow. Will tuition continue to rise for baby-boomer grandchildren? Once they comprise a voting constituency will the tuition stop rising? Does one have to be homeless or a millionaire to go to Harvard?

Sent by Amy | 2:35 PM | 11-26-2007

My definition of wealth? If you can buy more than the bare minimum, then you are not poor. If you can buy things that you don't even use, then you are rich. The middle class are those people who can afford what they need, and can also buy things that they want that go beyond the bare minimum, but have to be selective in what they purchase and careful how they spend their money. They don't get everything they want, but they get most of the things they want the most. The *very* rich can buy whatever they want whenever the impulse hits them, and end up needing big houses just to hold all the stuff they never use.

Another area the rich and middle-class differ is their kids' education. The middle-class scrimp and save and go without in order to send their kids to college. The rich can send their kids to the university of their choice without any major impact on their own quality of life. The *very* rich can let their kids *not* go to college and don't have to worry about what will happen to them because of it.

Another way to look at it is, you are rich if you have significantly more than the people around you...A middle-class income who chooses to live in a smaller home and drive a small car instead of an SUV is still rich compared to their neighbors who stretch their income to the limit in order to afford the small home and small car.

I think your guest who defined the rich as the top 1% is confusing the rich and the very rich.

Sent by Perdita Granger | 2:36 PM | 11-26-2007

A lovely book for children written in the early 1970's by Jean Craighead George, Julie of the Wolves, described the traditional Inuit peoples' definition of "Wealth." It is this:

To be wealthy is to be intelligent, courageous, and loving."

What do you think of that definition?

Sent by Beverly, from New Hampshire | 2:36 PM | 11-26-2007

The definition of rich may be fluid but tax policies are not. In my opinion, we need a consumption based tax, if you spend like the rich, then you can be taxed like the rich.

Sent by jonathan bonds | 2:36 PM | 11-26-2007

Earning an annual salary of $37K makes an average american richer than more than 80% of the world's population. Most of the world live off of less than US$1 a day - as americans we are selfish and selfcenterd

Sent by Mrs Holman | 2:37 PM | 11-26-2007

We have always thought that our parents gave us the means to wealth, if not monetary wealth. They gave us a respect for education, the habits of speaking well and eating healthfully and the experience of doing work in our home. We also learned to respect others and to practice kindness. These qualities can never be lost in the market or burned in a fire. Our parents have given us advantages others may never know.

Sent by Margaret Maupin | 2:38 PM | 11-26-2007

We are continuously conditioned to spend which raises our nation's trade deficit. This has the effect of slowly diminish our buying power and selling the security of our collective futures to productive nations like China, Taiwan and India. We are trading our financial future for every boat load of junk that makes its way into Wal Mart.

Sent by Carlton from Sacramento | 2:38 PM | 11-26-2007

Please talk about DEBT!! It's what keeps a lot of people from thinking they have enough -- they have loan and credit card payments in addition to buying food, gas, and paying the rent and the bills.

Sent by Diane R. Fleming | 2:38 PM | 11-26-2007

Rich is : Being married to the same loving man for 52 years, having children who love one another, grandchildren and 1 great grandchild. Being faithful to one's principles. Being free from debt by being careful consumers.

Sent by Bobbie Boyer | 2:39 PM | 11-26-2007

My husband and I have food to eat, clean water, 2 cars, the things that Michelle Singletary mentioned, but she failed to mention that you can have all those things and then a health care issue can come up, and if your health insurance does not cover you - are you still "rich"?

Sent by cathleen | 2:41 PM | 11-26-2007

The tipping point for my wife and me was the day we were able to stop defining our lifestyle in terms of necessity and begin seeing things in terms of possibility. Our first major investment? Education. It was education that lifted us out of poverty, and over the last half-decade education has effectively quadrupled our income. Do we live in Richistan? Not yet.

Sent by Dale M. Wells | 2:42 PM | 11-26-2007

Last night I downloaded a PBS special that was aired in the late 90's called [hosted by Scott Simon] Affluenza. This "disease" as it is called in the show seems to truly be an almost epidemic ill in American society. I recommend it to anyone who wants to take a good look in the material mirror.

Sent by Matt | 2:42 PM | 11-26-2007

I received an anonymous quote yesterday... "Measure wealth not by the things you have, but by the things you have for which you would not take money."

Sent by Donna McIntosh | 2:43 PM | 11-26-2007

An earlier caller who "grew up rich but lost everything" and now does 'just fine' claimed that everyone in America can get what they want - they just have to look for it.... She is completely overlooking the difference between wealth and income. Even if someone loses everything through a marriage that goes bankrupt, if they have family money from parents, that helped someone regain footing. The missing information in that particular "America is equal opportunity" myth is that the playing field is not level to begin with. "Formerly" wealthy people often have "invisible" safety nets that others do not.

Sent by SUE | 2:44 PM | 11-26-2007

If you can count your money, you are poor. If you don't have a ranch the size of Massachusetts in Brazil, you are poor.
If you don't have a bathroom you can play baseball in, you are poor. If you cannot put the U.S. federal debt on your Visa card, you are poor. If you think money will buy you happiness, you are poor. If you don't agree with me, you are poor.

Sent by eddie | 2:47 PM | 11-26-2007

Forrest Gumps mother said, "You only need so much to live on, the rest is for show." My husband "63" and I "60" paid cash for our house. 1900 SF Brick on 8 A and a Workshop. We paid cash for each of our three vehicles. We carry no debt, but are not showy. He is simi-retired and I have a regular job to have health insurance. We have approx $250,000 in stock market investments. If I need something, I buy it. Much of our family consider us rich. I do not. That money is for the future.

I consider it Low Class to get yourself in debt, High Class to have no debt and Middle Class to have just a little debt. If you do not own the coat you are wearing, you are not wealthy.

Many of the younger members of our family have to have everything now. None are willing to wait and save for it.

Sent by Carol from Oklahoma | 2:52 PM | 11-26-2007

To those who are singing "I got plenty of nothin, and nothin's plenty for me," you're repeating a line that is very useful to the wealthy in justifying their privilege. Though it may be true that money doesn't buy happiness, concentrating wealth in a few hands can cause the have-nots great misery. It would be nice if wealth didn't matter and we all lived simply -- but we don't all live simply, and some people's excess is bought by the toil of others, and at the expense of the planet.

Sent by janet | 2:52 PM | 11-26-2007

I am dismayed by the callers who claim that class is a "state of mind" and that you can be whatever you want to be. Conan
is completely uncritical about these American Dreamers. Sociologically, we know that there is very little upward mobility and that children end up very close to where their parents are class-wise. We also know that there is something called cultural capital which is very important for success and that those with more money and education tend to have more of it. I am disappointed by the perpetuation of myth in today's program

Sent by diane | 2:55 PM | 11-26-2007

It's not how much you make, it's how much you keep and how much it buys. We need to start looking at all income in after-tax terms. Something like the Fair Tax (FairTax.org) would add a lot of transparency to personal finance by eliminating complicated income and embedded taxes that affect different people differently. When you start talking about wealthy people, fewer and fewer of them earn wages that are easily tracked by the IRS. Most of them produce their wealth by being business owners and investors. Also, given the fact the US Dollar has declined substantially, we have all taken a 20% pay cut and had 20% of our savings stolen by wasteful government spending and our tolerance for it.

Sent by Dave Henning, Chandler, AZ | 3:06 PM | 11-26-2007

My comment is not exactly about whether someone is rich, but about how taxes and social security should be decided based on income. It makes sense to me to use a mathematical curve which determines a person's tax liability based upon their exact income with adjustments made for children. This would tax everyone fairly causing no temptation to under-report or otherwise limit their income to stay just below a certain tax bracket. No adjustments should be made for geographic or other considerations which people choose themselves. This only exacerbates the excess inflation caused by city-living and other self-imposed financial hardships. (I live near a city, by the way). Thanks for hearing my thoughts.

Sent by Natalie Gillihan | 3:10 PM | 11-26-2007

I guess I now see why most American's consider themselves middle class rather than upper or lower. The diversity of level of income from these comments is amazing. It is disappointing to see that someone making less than 25K a year can feel rich or at least fulfilled with their life, but someone making over 100K a year feels inadequate.

p.s. I have heard of Buy Nothing Day! and that's exactly what I did this past Friday :-)

I also sent a 'unhappy customer' to MTV and others about their reluctance to advertise for the BND.

Sent by Paula Bryant - Metro Detroit | 3:11 PM | 11-26-2007

Andre: Regarding "Buy Nothing" Day. Google it! This is a worldwide movement that seems to be gaining ground in some demographics. We'd all be richer if we had more "Buy Nothing" days! And the world would be a better place.

Sent by Laura | 3:14 PM | 11-26-2007

Instead of talking about what's rich, how about distribution of wealth? Buying or inheritance power alone does not determine wealth, but the measurement of how many of the world's resources you are monopolizing.

The richest 1% of Americans are monopolizing an incredible share of the world's resources, which does create scarcity for the rest of us -- although we may not feel it the way third-world inhabitants do. What we are just beginning to feel is lack of healthcare, a weaker dollar (what you earn doesn't buy as much), and more expensive gas.

The game the rich are playing right now is making money as we understand it obsolete. The relationship between our work and their digital zeroes is widening. They are controlling wealth now by passing and enforcing laws -- what will happen when they are controlling wealth by issuing fiats defining reality? What will happen when they tell you you must work for them just to have food and healthcare? The all-sacred "market" right now is a slave to the "good ol' boys" system -- changing federal restrictions to favor your industry is not playing fair.

A discussion of what's rich should also be about what is a good human life. As many commenters have pointed out, the quantity of dollars or possessions you have doesn't necessarily equal a good human life -- but a feeling of belonging to a society, a feeling of general fairness, that is part of a good human life, and that is what we are losing as the gap between rich and poor widens, and the middle class starts to sink. When you work as hard as you can but you still cannot get access to adequate housing, food, and medical care, you feel the unfairness of a life in which resources are disproportionately controlled by the few.

Sent by Rachel N H | 3:26 PM | 11-26-2007

Rachel and Sue are exactly correct.

We would add to it the rich get away with screwing over those of us not in thier leagues. They can afford the attorney; the court delays to deny you a speedy civil trial (or criminal trial); they can then get off with a fine / probation or community service while the rest of us would have go to jail or get a riduclous verdict. That is why there was such an uproar over Paris Hilton.

Hilary Clinton; Barack O Bama and the many other policitans have no idea of what the reality of being poor is. None of them have to live on SSDI or food stamps ( which havent been increased and its also only for so lnog that you can receive it) with little health coverage of medicare or medicaid. Please dont tell us they understand by going to work at a soup kitchen during Thanksgiving or Christmas either when this is what alot of people including us go through daily.

The standard of living in this country is being eroded by illegals who do work that would pay more if they werent here to do it. The standard of living is being eroded by a federal reserve that allows all these financial institutions , etc to make huge returns with bad banking practises which causes people to lose thier homes with ridiculous interest rates that they cant afford for a mortgage rate; etc.

Bush cut taxes on the rich but its the poor who have to pay sky rocketing petrol prices; food ; heating etc out of smaller and smaller incomes so they will never get ahead and then they can lose their homes; 401 k etc by lax business and banking practises of the rich friends of Bush.

Thats why we all need to be policiticans so we can control the rules, regulations and the wealth!!!

Sent by jm | 3:50 PM | 11-26-2007

It takes more than an education to become rich. It takes AMBITION and SELF-CONTROL! You have to be willing to do without it NOW, so you can have BETTER, LATER!

Regardless of where that happens to be.
If housing costs more than it's worth, MOVE!

I feel this is the biggest part of what's wrong with our nation today. The ENVIOUS (rich, poor, and lazy) are always trying to get another government program (retirement, healthcare, housing, daycare, farm subsidies ..... etc.) to help themselves, and I have to help pay for it!

Make something of yourself! Live within your means. Don't buy what you don't NEED! Do you NEED that Starbucks? Those GAP jeans?

Sent by Harold | 4:29 PM | 11-26-2007

It always amazes me that people think the wealthy are all Republicans.

I looked on the web in 2004 and found that the 7 richest states (by income) all went for Kerry and the 16 poorest all went for Bush.

Also, one of the biggest mistakes is measuring wealth in terms of income. Net worth is far more relevant, particularly in today's volatile economy.

Sent by Dave H., Chandler, AZ | 7:44 PM | 11-26-2007

I could not agree more with
"diane | 2:55 PM ET | 11-26-2007"

Just because someone splurges at a hotel, or uses a decent china set every morning on a 35k salary in middletown-nebraskatuky and feels proper or special has nothing to do with the definition of upper class.

The individual with 100million invested in a dominating coffee franchise has a sphere of influence (families and workers depending on them). Its this influence that is going to define the status and class in the relative sphere.

Honestly, who among you CARES what Sir C. Monty Burns would eat, dress, or "feels" socialy on the inside, when he could be the one you have to reason with to get a raise? That position of power means something and i believe that is a big part of tis status/class debate.

This "upper class" person with 1 bad choice can break a market, restructure many families and even knock out a neighborhood.

so all of you who think your wealthy/rich/upper-class because u can afford some health care for kids... think what happens when that health care Co was to just sell itself to Microsoft.

Those are big differences here.

And like pretty much everything its a sliding scale of gray.

Sent by Tod | 8:11 PM | 11-26-2007

After the November 15th Democratic debate, when Hillary made that comment about an individual making $97k/yr being middle class, there was a bit of a discussion in the comment section of my blog post on the debate regarding what *is* middle class and what *is* rich, which sounded a lot like the discussion I heard here! I personally have no debt, own my own home and car outright... although I am currently unemployed and preparing to start a job overseas earning $500/mo. I do not feel "poor" at all... although I certainly don't feel "wealthy." My life is definitely rich though!

Sent by Jane | 10:50 PM | 11-26-2007

My father tells me quite often that our family has the potential of some day getting something from some land we once owned in the past. He dreams of it. He said that before his mother passed,she told him that she left him a little something
so he will never have to worry again, that your sons will not have to work as hard as you and I did in the fields. I don't think he or others understand me. when I tell him that the wealth of family friends and happiness are worth more than any fortune that was, or may come. We always going to work harder for more and more, and more. People are as rich as they feel they are.I am very rich and live comfortably on 30thousnad a year in Los Angeles.

Sent by Carpenter | 12:33 AM | 11-27-2007

I wept listening to your broadcast this evening, and finally had to shut you off. As a single mother, with an MFA, living in Los Angeles, who earned around $35,000 last year, who do you think I am? What on earth happened to the "Middle Class" in this country?! My little son and I can barely scrape by in our one-bedroom apartment, scrimping and doing without while we watch our peers indulging in cable TV, dinners out and a few new outfits each year.

Your gleefull adulation of the lifestyles of the so-called middle-class raises my ire and distress; I refer your listeners to:

http://sustainability.publicradio.org/consumerconsequences/consumerConsequences.html

to see how the lifestyles which all us Americans aspire to will affect the globe we live on. My meager, modest, recycling lifestyle earns me a whopping 6.5 planet score; what are the global wages of our million "millionaire" role models, and how do we justify idolizing them?

Sent by Erika Grisham | 12:45 AM | 11-27-2007

I have been thinking a lot about your program yesterday about wealth. As a teacher, I don't ahve enough money to spend on vacation or a new car or . By the end of the month, I have paid all of my bills, but if I need anything extra like a coat for my kids I have to charge it. However, I really do feel rich! I have everything I need, a car that runs, a house (a straw-bale low energy- it may be smalll, but it keeps us safe, warmm and cool), food at every meal, money for my children to do sports, health insurance, and enough gas money to get work. I see poverty at my school everyday - people just getting by to eat. This is why I am rich. I get really upset to hear that the person you talked about who owned a large boat felt poor because he needed a larger boat. It is time for these people to wake up and see what poor really is. If they could share their wealth instead of destroying our enviornmeant consuming unneeded material items, maybe America would be a better place. I am so thankful for my salary - even if I have to buy all my clothes at the thift store, I know I am luckier than most people on this earth. My family is cared for. Thank you for this story

Sent by Gina Tookey | 10:00 AM | 11-27-2007

I am not a millionaire, but I consider myself to be very wealthy. True wealth means being thankful that you are able to give generously to those who are less fortunate, and still not wishing that you were making more money than you do.

Sent by Mark | 10:02 AM | 11-27-2007

It amazes me the people who think their in the middle class. im not, never have been working class at best,code for lower class i guess or blue collar

Sent by Delores J Kramer | 10:46 AM | 11-27-2007

Heh. I love people who say "being rich is having a loving family." These people have clearly not struggled in a while.

If I choose to buy a house that costs $700,000 because it has fancy hardwood floors, granite countertops, an expensive tub, stone tiled bathrooms, large bedrooms, and all-stainless top-of-the-line appliances, then I clearly am not "scraping by to pay my rent." Choosing to pay more for commodities and luxury items does not mean your base cost of living is higher and making $100k a year is not suddenly living poor. If you choose to buy a $50k car instead of a $15-$20k car, then you're choosing to pay more for a luxury item.

A person making $100k a year is making about $8300 a month. If you choose to have a house payment that's $2k, have a $4k car payment, and the rest of your food and bills amount to the last $2k, that's your choice.

I had a roommate once who complained that he had no money. He made about $30k (more than I at the time). But he drove a large, expensive car, owned too much house, and went out and partied all the time.

Yes, spending power is often relative to regional areas, but it's also relative to the choices you make. If you demand to eat expensive food, drive expensive cars, and wear expensive clothes, your spending power may be less than someone who makes much less but spends more thriftily. But that doesn't mean that you making $100k is not as rich as I making $30k.

Of course, we no longer even have a basic concept of what luxury is. Premade food of any kind is a luxury. Having anyone else do anything for you as a service is a luxury. Ice cream is a luxury. Cell phones are a luxury. Television is a luxury. Air conditioning is a luxury. Hell, people at the basest poverty in this country even have luxury items. If you consume luxury items on a daily basis, you are not poor, you probably aren't even middle class. The choices you have made have changed your spending power.

Sent by pw | 10:52 AM | 11-27-2007

Instead of a definition of "rich", it may be wiser to determine the relationship between standard-of-living and wealth on a per capita basis.
Governments calculate standard-of-living per capita by taking the Gross Domestic Product and dividing it by the population which in our case puts the United States among the richest nations in the world, but the data does not account for consumer credit and savings.
If we were to take this data and deduct consumer credit and add in savings on a per capita basis, needless-to-say our relationship between standard-of-living and wealth per capita would not look so good!

Sent by Rich Marino | 12:00 PM | 11-27-2007

To quote a longtime friend of mine;
"There is no shame in being poor.
(It's just damned inconvenient!)"

Rich, Wealth, Success are VERY different things and must be taken in the appropriate context.

Rich (.vs poor) - This is a lifestyle (not a dollar amount)
Wealth (.vs poverty) - This IS a dollar amount (not an absolute figure, but it can be quantified)
Success (.vs failure) - Only YOU can determine this! And only for yourself!

However, I stand by my earlier comments:
[see Harold | 4:29 PM ET | 11-26-2007]

Sent by Harold | 12:53 PM | 11-28-2007

I think being "rich" is earning a dollar more than you spend. You can sleep easy, and don't worry about money.

And like many others have said, in certain ranges people have a lot more control over the amount they spend, you can be rich or poor earning $100k, depending on the expenses you choose.

On the other hand, someone living in NYC making $20k (as MANY people do) is poor no matter how you slice it, they have to watch every single dollar, which is a daily stress.

Sent by Shannon Leckey | 2:07 PM | 12-5-2007

I can't clearly define "rich" any more than Hillary or Obama can define "middle class", but I don't think "rich" can be defined solely by the number of dollars one earns or possesses. I also don't believe anyone can claim to have moved beyond "middle class" until they amass enough wealth to be considered "powerful". Want to know who the "rich" are? The ones who run our country and those who back them. Want to know who the "middle class" and "poor" are? Look around you.

Just Call Me Kathy
livingmiddleclasspoor.blogspot.com

Sent by Just Call Me Kathy | 3:32 PM | 12-10-2007

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