When you think of the top 1% of American earners, the first people who might come to mind are likely well-known investors and entrepreneurs like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.
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These billionaires make so much money they hardly know what to do with it. Even if they gave away $20 a second, they’d be at it for 578 days.
And that’s just to get rid of the first $1 billion.
But it might surprise you to learn that those ultra-wealthy Americans make up just 0.001% of the population. You only really need a fraction of their wealth to fall into the top 10%, 5% or even 1% of American earners.
The top 10%
Landing in the top 10% is a fairly attainable goal for upwardly mobile Americans. A study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that the average earnings of those in the top 10% were roughly $173,000 in 2020.
As the lastest available data reflects the household’s top wage earner, you’re looking at quite a jump from Americans in the first 90%, who according to the EPI earned an average of $40,000 in 2020.
There’s also a significant jump between the bottom and the top of 10% earners. Those in the bottom half made about $133,500 in 2020, where those in the top half pulled in $223,000.
There is another side to this, though. Studies also show that while it may take less to fall into a top percent bracket, wage gaps overall are only getting worse, especially as they fail to keep up with inflation — making advancing your family’s status less attainable for middle-class hopefuls these days.
From the top 5% to the top 1%
Salaries start to jump significantly the closer you get to the top 1%. You’ll start to see dramatic shifts in the top 5%, where the EPI found the average earners significantly increased to $343,000 in 2020, up from $324,000 the year before.
While that’s certainly a lot, there’s a growing trend of even more cash flowing to — flooding even — those at the top of the heap.
What about, say, the top 1%?
Their wages jumped an astounding 20% between 2009 and 2019, and they pulled down $824,000 in 2020, up 7% from the previous year. That well beat out inflation over the same period, which clocked in at 1.4%.
Bear in mind that cost-of-living numbers mean the top 5% and 1% pan out differently depending on where you hang your silk hat. According to a 2022 study by SmartAsset, the top 1% in Connecticut makes about $896,490, whereas in Tennessee you’d only need around half that much ($492,583).
While the income of the top 1% varies, Forbes reported in 2022 that the bracket's minimum net worth is much higher — a cool $11.1 million.
Read more: Rich young Americans have lost confidence in the stock market — and are betting on these 3 assets instead.
Where does this leave the average American?
Pew Research Center statistics show that for middle class Americans, average incomes jumped from $74,000 in 2010 to about $78,500 in 2016. Today, that figure sits at $90,000.
And sadly, that larger number doesn’t have as much buying power as the 2010 figure did at the time.
There’s one metric, though, where top percentages of another sort are attainable for all: that is, how your income stacks up against job satisfaction and happiness at home.
Sure, it won’t necessarily buy you a yacht (or even a rowboat). But finding a way to balance the two is likely a more direct path to "true" wealth.
Get expert financial advice
Setting yourself up for a comfortable retirement is nerve-racking — no matter how much you make. That's especially true with inflation still hot and potential recession peeking around the corner.
One solution to help you sleep better: Find a financial adviser who can help navigate your finances and make sure your assets are safeguarded.
Researching and calling multiple financial planners can be a time-consuming hassle, but there are ways you can easily browse vetted advisers that fit your needs. Booking a consultation is free and only takes a few minutes.
If you're unsure how to safeguard your savings during a recession, it’s better to find answers sooner than later, while time is still on your side.
This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.