It's not only one percenters that Americans consider rich.
More than half of those recently polled by Gallup said an income of no more than $150,000 would qualify that person as rich. When asked how much money per year would be necessary for them to consider themselves "rich," 53 percent mentioned an income of $150,000 or less, and 71 percent said an income of $300,000 would be enough.
Wealth marketing HNW Inc. considers an income of more than $350,000 per year enough to push someone into the one percent. But they also say most one percenters aren't aware of their exceptional status.
That may be because of extreme levels of income inequality among the richest of Americans. Steeper inequality exists among those in the top tenth of the income scale than elsewhere in the income spectrum, leading to a comparative sense of poorness for many wealthy Americans, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center cited by The New York Times.
Overall income inequality has spiked over the past three decades. While incomes of the poorest Americans grew by only 20 percent between 1979 and 2007, the incomes of the top one percent skyrocketed by 275 percent, according to a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office.
"We have now returned to Gilded Age levels of inequality," Josh Bivens, an economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, said in response to the CBO report.
A study by Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at the University of California at Berkeley, found that as of 2007, the top ten percent of American workers earned 49.7 percent of all wages, a level he said is "higher than any other year since 1917." That could be bad for the economy as a whole. A September report by the International Monetary Fund pinpointed a relationship between higher levels of income inequality and weaker economic growth.
Partly because the wealthy keep so much of their wealth in stocks, a third of one percenters fell back into the 99 percent during the financial crisis and subsequent recession, according to a recent Federal Reserve report. Robert Frank, a senior writer at the Wall Street Journal, predicts that the wealthiest Americans will be very defensive in their investments next year, leading to less job creation.
It's not that all millionaires oppose paying higher taxes. Indeed, a recent survey found the majority of millionaires surveyed would be willing to hand over a higher share of their income to the government.
"The wealthiest can afford to pay more in taxes. That's a part of the deal. That makes sense. I don't know anyone that doesn't agree with that," Ruth Porat, Morgan Stanley's chief financial officer, said on Saturday. "The wealth disparity between the lowest and the highest continues to expand, and that's inappropriate."