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$380,000 is middle class on Long Island, NY

Financial benchmarks in this area can differ radically from those in places where more people are struggling to put food on the table. Many of Nassau's affluent families think of themselves as practically middle class, saying that property values and taxes are so high that $380,000 does not go very far.

"On Long Island, it's barely a living," said Steven R. Schlesinger, a lawyer and professional poker player. "In Plano, it's a living."

The cutoff for the 1 percent varies depending on how income is calculated. On the low end, an analysis of census data puts the cutoff at $380,000 for a household and provides a wealth of demographic characteristics that were used in this article. On the high end, the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances, which uses a broader measure of income that includes capital gains, yielded a cutoff of $690,000 in 2007, the most recent year of data available. The Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan group, makes projections based on Internal Revenue Service data and adjusts for people who do not file taxes. It puts the cutoff at $530,000 per tax return in 2011. Even by that gauge, though, $380,000 would still put a family well above the 95th percentile. There is little current data that would allow a measurement of the 1 percent by wealth.

There is something to that. Aspen's 1 percent is very different from Akron's. In some areas there are so many 1 percenters that the whole income hierarchy can shift. It may take $380,000 to be in the national 1 percent, but it takes $900,000 to be among the top 1 percent of earners in Stamford, Conn. Compared with that, the price of admission to the 1 percent in Clarksville, Tenn., is a bargain at $200,000. Of course, the cutoff is only one measure, and perhaps not the most telling one. The average income of the 1 percent, according to the Tax Policy Center, is $1.5 million, and the superrich -- the 120,000 tax filers that make up the top tenth of this group -- earned an estimated average of $6.8 million in 2011.

The gap between rich and poor also varies widely. The 1 percent in Manhattan makes $790,000 or more, or 12 times the borough's median income. In Macon, Ga., the 1 percent is far less lofty. The cutoff there is $270,000, roughly six times the median income.

Among the Wealthiest One Percent, Many Variations
Published: January 14, 2012
While the 1 percent has become a catch-all to describe the very wealthy, the members of this group are diverse, especially in where they live, what they believe politically and just how rich they are.


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