Forget the wealthiest 1%.
According to an analysis of data from The Associated Press, it’s the influence of the top 2% of earners that will have the biggest impact on the economy in the coming years. A full 1 in 5 Americans fall into this category (a household income of at least $250,000) at some point in their lives.
The growing demographic, which largely consists of working couples, highly educated singles and older professionals, now encompasses about 25 million households across the country—and makes up almost 40% of total consumer spending in the U.S.
They’ve also caught the eye of marketers and businesses: “Mass luxury” products catering to this demo (think airport VIP lanes, organic groceries and premium coffee at Starbucks) have flooded the market in recent years.
But this group is different from the traditionally rich: In the past, the wealthy were largely concentrated in the Northeast; the new rich are found in large cities and suburbs from coast to coast. And perhaps most significantly, their affluence can be short-lived. In many cases, despite hitting the 2% mark at one point, they often end up dipping below that salary level later in life—which means they may lean toward being fiscally conservative.
To be fair, even when they do fall below $250,000 in household income, they still tend to hold salaries in the $100,000-plus range. And their experience with reaching the 2% high-point still has an impact on their views on wealth.
“For many in this group, the American dream is not dead,” Mark Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told The Associated Press. “They have reached affluence for parts of their lives and see it as very attainable, even if the dream has become more elusive for everyone else.”