Who Are the One Percent?

Money, Politics, Taxes

“We are the 99 percent” became a rallying cry across the country last fall. Republican presidential candidates decry “class warfare” and President Obama tries to position himself as a defender of the middle class. The “one percent” became the enemy for a growing percentage of Americans, calling up images of Wall Street bankers with drivers ferrying them from opulent Manhattan offices to posh country estates.

Who are the 1%?

This may be the case for the top of the top one percenters. But not all. Nationwide, the top one percent of earners are identified by the Tax Policy Center as those with a household income of more than $530,000 per year. Their average income is $1.5 million, and richest of the rich — the 120,000 tax filers that make up the top tenth of this group — put away an estimated average income of $6.8 million in 2011. But what happens when we break it down geographically?

Using University of Minnesota Population Center data, this New York Times interactive map makes it easier to envision who the one percent really are in your neighborhood and across the country. In Flint, Michigan, a city hard hit economically for years before the recession became national news, an income over about $179,000 puts you in the top one percent of earners. That wouldn’t even crack the top quarter in Stamford, Connecticut, where you’d have to take in over $900,000 a year to be in the highest percentile. In New York City and northeastern New Jersey you have to put away upwards of $600,000 every year.

Facts and Figures

To better understand who makes up the top 1%, Gallup combined findings from 61 of its nationwide surveys conducted between January 2009 and November 2011. These surveys present a picture of the demographics of the one percent more complete than the black-and-white picture drawn by news reports, comedians, and protesters over the past few months.

The one percent is overwhelmingly white, at 82 percent. They are twice as likely to be married as the population at large — 75 percent versus 51 percent of the general population — and half of the richest American households include minor children. They are most likely to live on the East and West Coasts of the country, with only 14 percent in the Midwest.

What Do the One Percent Do?

The one percent, granted, don’t drive taxis or flip burgers. But they do work, and they work a lot; three times more likely than the 99 percent to work more than 50 hours a week. They are also more likely to be self-employed. Married one percenters are just as likely as other couples to have two incomes, but men are the big breadwinners, earning 75 percent of the money, compared with 64 percent of the income in other households.

Education and Politics

One-third of the wealthiest people in the country identify as Republicans, but more call themselves independents, at 41 percent. More than half, however, say they “lean” Republican regardless of affiliation.

The biggest difference between the one percent and the ninety-nine, after income, is education. Nearly three-quarters of the wealthiest Americans graduated from college, compared to less than one-third of those in the lower 99 percentiles. Almost half went on for post-graduate education, versus 16 percent of the general population. In one of every four married couples in the one percent, both partners have advanced degrees.