I recently came across an old CBS poll that defined middle class as those with incomes of $30,000 to $75,000.
But only 44% of those with incomes in this range describe themselves as middle class. In fact, this poll (and others) indicate that nearly everyone with incomes from $30,000 to $200,000 think of themselves as middle class and that range represents about 75% of all families, with fewer than 5% earning more.
Actually, according to the most recent IRS data (from 2005) the top 1% of income earners were those with an annual adjusted gross income of $365,000 and higher. I think most of us would define this as rich.
The top 5% of income earners were those having an adjusted gross income of $145,000 and higher. The top 10% earned income over $103,000.
The top 25% had income of over $62,000 and the top 50% earned $31,000 and higher.
According to these stats, if you break people into only 2 groups, those who make $31,000 and above would be 'rich' while those making less than $31,000 would be poor. But if you were to use these figures to determine the 'middle,' you'd probably pick $62,000 as the top end (as 25% make that much or more) and $31,000 as the low end (as 50% make less than that amount).
In Toledo, according to the latest Census data, the median income is $32,546, with half earning more and half earning less than that amount. This link shows the average wage for occupations in the Toledo Metropolitan Statistical Area (which includes Fulton, Lucas, Ottawa and Wood Counties) - and a vast majority of them are above the $31,000 figure.
According to this UAW link, in 2006, a typical assembler would earn $57,845 per year and a typical skilled trades worker would earn $67,226 per year (both without overtime).
If we look at $62,000 as the dividing line between middle class and 'rich,' the UAW skilled trades workers are rich. If a typical assembler were to work 100 hours of overtime (about 12 eight-hour days), they'd reach that $62,000 mark, putting them into the rich category as well.
Teachers would reach the 'rich' threshhold, depending upon degree attained, after about 21 years. Lead Workers in the City of Toledo AFSCME Local 3711, D-F classifications, make enough to qualify as 'rich,' as do AFSCME 2058 groups 14 and 15 and Teamsters Local 20 groups 14 and 15 (base salaries 2002).
And if both husband and wife worked in any of these jobs, their family would be in the top 10% of all wages earners, definitely putting them into the 'rich' category.
But I'd bet that if you asked any of these people how they'd define themselves, they wouldn't say they were rich - or in the top 25% to 10% of all wage earners in the nation.
And that's part of the problem. When politicians and others talk about the 'rich,' we all think about those making tons of money - certainly those in the top 1% of wage earners making above $365,000 per year. We certainly don't think about our neighbors who both have worked at the local union factory for the last 15-20 years. Or even ourselves, for that matter, if we make combined incomes above $62,000 a year.
And that's what they count on. If such speakers were required to define 'rich,' they'd have to give an earnings figure and that would immediately result in a realization that they were talking about most married or two-income families.
So the next time you hear some politician mention 'the rich,' ask them to define it in terms of annual income and if they don't, watch your wallet.