Who Is the 1%? Well, Mostly Americans

Libby Kane

Americans have it good.

Lately, it hasn’t felt that way, what with dismal employment rates and the protestations of the 99%. But on a global scale, the United States has more than its share of fortunate citizens.

In fact, about half the world’s 1% live in the U.S.

It’s All Relative

According to the calculations of World Bank economist Branko Milanovic, to be in the global 1% means bringing home $34,000 per person, per year after taxes. Therefore, a family of four enters the 1% once its members bring home $136,000 per year.

Check out the infographic below, from Milanovic’s book The Haves and the Have-Nots, courtesy of CNN Money: Of the 60 million members of the global 1%, 29 million of them live in the U.S. Interestingly, only a statistically insignificant portion live in some of the world’s quickest-growing economies like China and India. This is because these emerging economies, whose citizens are acquiring wealth rapidly, started so far below the economies of developed countries that they still have a ways to go to enter the world’s richest.

How far below? Well, the global middle class lives on a median income of $1,225 per person, per year. That means a middle-class family of four brings home about $4,900 per year. CNN Money puts things in perspective:  ”Even the poorest 5% of Americans are better off financially than two-thirds of the entire world.”

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  • sp

    as you say, everything is relative. a dollar in the U.S. will get me a trinket at the dollar store or a piece of gum, but the same dollar in my home country would have gotten me milk, eggs, bread, butter. so this comparison is interesting to keep things in perspective, but the poor in the U.S. may have more money, but live in worse conditions and lack more than those in other countries with less cash, but more relative wealth.

    • Anonymous

      The point of the article isn’t about exchange rates. World Bank economist Branko Milanovic put everything in USD to normalize the data (otherwise, the stronger Euro or Pound or Australian Dollar would sway the numbers in that direction). The point is this: American median annual income is around $27,000. Global median income is $1,225. Even taking into account cost-of-living differences, Americans have a very good quality of life.

  • Oshunswriting

    This article is not considering the cost of living. I am an immigrant who has lived in numerous countries, but I can tell you that just in the US, I could earn 25k in a remote area in WV and I appear like I am living on less, but the cost of living for me is likely to parallel or be better than someone living in New York City, earning 40k with 10 roommates (exaggeration). Another question is, how are we calculating the top 1%? If you obviously try to average from 1st world economic powers and 2nd and 3rd world countries, ofcourse it will APPEAR as if America is well off.  But in regards to Americans dominating the top 1%, would still not be a surprise, regardless of how you calculated it. Just providing a friendly practical critique.