Rich People Who Don't Think They're
August 15, 2001
Someone I know -- who shall
remain anonymous to protect the guilty, as well as to avoid open warfare
between us -- left me speechless the other day. That's not, as
visitors to this website may have already surmised, an easy thing to do.
This person (whom I'll call
by the false name Don) had flown out to California from New York with one of
his children. He used frequent flyer miles to upgrade both their
tickets from coach to first class.
Don was quite impressed with
first class -- the space, the food, the choice of movies, the attentiveness
of the flight attendants. Fine. Don usually, like most of us,
travels in the cramped, noisy and altogether unpleasant quarters of coach.
Then Don started to tell me
how he had felt a bit ill at ease to be sitting in first class with his
child. As Don relates it, whenever he boards a plane bound for coach
in the rear, and walks through the first class section and sees the people
sitting there, he always mutters to himself something about all the
"rich" people enjoying such comfort. Now that he and his
child were sitting there, he was worried other coach passengers passing
through would think the same thing about him and his child.
After a moment or two of
speechlessness, I quipped that perhaps Don and his kid could have worn
buttons that read "Frequent Flyer Update" or some such slogan that
would clearly distinguish them from the truly rich people in that first
Now why was I
speechless? Because I know Don's household income has to be at least
500K a year, and other than a mortgage, the family does not have any
Let's see, the median family
income in this country (that income which half the people earn more than and
half the people earn less than) is $49,497.
So Don earns at least 10 times more than half the country. Seems
pretty rich to me.
Well, maybe you're not rich
until you're in the top 5-10%. According to the Census Bureau, to be
in the top 5% of families by income you have to make at least $155,040.
Don more than triples that.
Well, maybe you have to be in
the top 1% to be rich? The cut-off point for that is an adjusted gross
income of $269,496.
I'm pretty sure Don makes this cut-off point, unless he has deductions to
adjusted gross income totaling nearly 50% of his gross income, which is
All this is to say, Don is
"rich" by any definition of the word. Maybe not Gates-level
super-rich, but still rich enough for it to have left me speechless when Don
made his comments about sitting in first class.
Until those who are rich like
Don -- who make more money than 99% of the rest of the country --
acknowledge that they are rich and that the amount of money they earn and
the wealth they possess is part of the problem, there's no hope of stopping
and reversing the rising level of income inequality and economic injustice
in this country.