How rich is "rich"? Most Americans believe the top 1 percent earn $1 million and up. But it's a whole lot less.
The Occupy Wall Street movement popularized the phrase, “the 1 percent.” But a new survey shows most people don’t really have a clue what that means, beyond “pretty rich, right?” and “That ain’t me.”
According to a survey this month by 463 Communications, a majority of Americans think the threshold for being in the 1 percent is an annual income of $1 million. But according to the most recent IRS figures (2009), it’s about one-third of that.
The IRS says to be in the top 1 percent, you have to earn only $343,927. That means “the 1 percent” covers about 1.4 million American households.
Below are the 11 services named by the 463 survey as perks most likely enjoyed by the 1 percent. While they’re probably right when it comes to the highest earners in this exclusive club, those barely qualifying would probably struggle just as much as the 99 percent to pick up the full tab.
1. Gardeners (78 percent)
There’s no national study we could find that lists gardener fees, although anecdotal evidence seems to indicate you can get a yard service for around $120 a month: easily affordable for anyone in the 1 percent club. But if you’re talking full-time gardener, that’s another matter.
Since the largest portion of “the 1 percent” live in New York, let’s take a look…
According to Salary.com, 9 out of 10 senior groundskeepers in New York City make under $55,000 a year, with a median salary of almost $41,000. And that doesn’t include gardening supplies and health benefits. Nobody making $343,927 annually is likely to dole out that kind of dough.
2. Housekeepers (77 percent)
For ease of comparison, let’s stick with the Big Apple. NYMaids.com offers service starting at $94 per three-hour session, probably running more than $30,000 a year for near-daily service. (Holidays and Sundays cost 35 percent more.) So a few hours a week? Definitely affordable for the smallest earners in the 1 percent. Full-time? No way.
3. At least two homes (73 percent)
CNBC’s list of Best Cities to Buy a Vacation Home says the median home price is $340,400 in Los Angeles, $177,700 in West Palm Beach (Florida), and $134,200 in Las Vegas. Filmmaker Michael Moore’s vacation home in Michigan – yes, Michigan – is reportedly worth about $2 million.
So, depending on the house and location, most 1 percenters probably can afford a second home.
4. Annual vacations abroad (67 percent)
Presumably, vacationing in your second home gets boring. So rich people might want to see somewhere new – and sometimes they take a lot of friends.
In 2009, Oprah took over a corner of Barcelona with 1,700 of her closest friends (OK, employees) for three days and had a party that included “concerts and performances by flamenco dancers.” Then they all went on a 10-day cruise to Italy, Turkey, Greece, and Malta – at an estimated cost of $5,400 per person, or about $9.2 million total.
5. Personal assistant (66 percent)
The median salary for a senior administrative assistant in New York City is about $53,000. But prices vary nationwide. A company called Your Personal Assistants, LLC in Tennessee offers packages from three hours for $71, while My Personal Assistant in Dallas starts at $118 for the same thing. Other fees (like mileage) not included.
And what does a personal assistant do? Everything from making appointments to doing laundry to picking up the kids. And then there’s cooking, cleaning, and event planning. Is it worth it? The Los Angeles Times asked that same question a few years ago, when a reporter – definitely not a 1 percenter – tried it out.Verdict: not really.
6. Personal chef (59 percent)
At Los Angeles company The Slipper and Rose, “services fees begin at $250,” but for that, a personal chef will help plan and prepare five meals for four – including doing the shopping, cooking, storage, labeling, and cleanup. Chef Daniel Lagana in Austin, Texas, offers a similar service with a little more flexibility: Prices range from $140 to $280 for one to four people, each getting five meals from “3 entrees with 6 sides, plus soup or salad.”
These two were randomly picked through PersonalChef.com and the United States Personal Chef Association, but if their prices are anything close to the average, you’re looking at somewhere between $12 and $14 per meal – and up to $15,000 to have your weekday meals covered all year.
7. Luxury seats at games and events (63 percent)
Super Bowl tickets this year dropped as low as $1,600, but prices were more than 10 times that for the good seats – up to “$16,480 for a lower-level seat at the 40-yard line along the Giants’ sideline,” according to TicketNews.
Luxury suites can be much pricier – more than some homes. MetLife Stadium, home of the Super Bowl champs, has snazzy suites for up to 30 for prices ranging from $165,000 to $340,000, according to The Sports Business Journal.
Of course, nothing screams luxury like a private show. According to The New York Times, a 45-minute personal concert five years ago from Nelly Furtado cost the late Libyan Colonel Muammar Gaddafi $1 million. (Furtado donated that cool million to charity once the shows became public knowledge last year.)
8. Private jets (60 percent)
If you want to rent one, anecdotal evidence suggests it can cost from $3,000 to $5,000 an hour for a plane capable of seating 10.
Buying? Judge Judy owns a private jet, but then, she makes $45 million a year. Last year, The Wall Street Journal concluded that with prices in the millions, nobody in the lower range of the 1 percent club could possibly afford one. Then there are operating costs: between $500,000 and $1 million a year, because jet fuel is more expensive than what goes in cars.
9. First-class flights (63 percent)
With prices like that, it’s perhaps understandable if the 1 percenters opt to fly commercial. But they can still have some privacy: $15,000 will get them round-trip passage in a private room on board Singapore Air’s A380s, with full-size beds, “three-feet wide armchairs” and “a multimedia center with integrated 23-inch TV.”
10. Low taxes (61 percent)
Actually, even a majority of 1 percenters agree on this one: 68 percent of millionaires support higher taxes on themselves, according to The Wall Street Journal. (It’s not clear how many of the 57 members of Congress in the top 1 percent agree.)
IRS data say that the top 1 percent account for 17 percent of American income, but they pay almost 37 percent of federal taxes. Whether that’s a fair share depends on your politics, but income isn’t the same as wealth, of course – 1 percenters accounted for almost 35 percent of American net worth in 2009, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
11. Easy jobs (68 percent)
Many people in “the 1 percent” have ordinary jobs. The New York Times has a confusing but highly detailed interactive graphic on what jobs the top 1 percent have. A simpler but older academic estimate of the top one percent’s occupations suggests most of them are business managers and executives at non-financial companies (30 percent), doctors and medical professionals (14 percent), lawyers (8 percent), and engineers (4 percent).