A few days ago The Seattle Times ran an interesting article on living in New York City. It profiled a couple who make well over what the new tax bill considers "wealthy" ($250,000/year) but who are still having trouble making ends meet. In their case, "ends" includes schooling for two kids, mortgage payments on a condominium on the East Side, college funds, and expensive orthodontia. These people think of themselves as middle class, not rich.
This is on my mind because I have -- finally! -- sold my house in Rochester, NY. Well, maybe I've sold it. It's a contingency sale and my buyer must find a buyer for her house or the whole thing could collapse. Prices in Rochester, even without a recession, are much lower than in NYC or Seattle, which underlines the fact that money is a relative, not an absolute. Sociologists say that people tend to think they're well-off or not well-off NOT because of their actual salaries or bank accounts, but because of comparisons with other people they know. Change your social circle and you change your view of your financial state.
But there are some actual facts about money, and here they are:
The average American income, based on the calculations of the US census bureau in 2005 (the most recent numbers available), is $43,362 for people above 25.
The median American income is $32,140. Half of working individuals make more, half less.
2.5% of Americans earn more than $250,000/year.
AND: Every study done about happiness comes up with the same relationship of happiness to money: Above a certain modest level (enough to pay basic bills), they do not correlate significantly. The rich are neither happier (one American myth) than the rest of us, nor more miserable (a different American myth).
I did not get as much money as I wanted for my house, not even as much as I paid for it eight years ago. But I got enough to do what I want, which is live in Seattle. It IS all relative.