The nation is in turmoil, guys. We're poor. In an effort to resolve this, a tax policy on families making over $250,000 a year is being hotly debated. Some say that amount of money is CRAZY PANTS and anyone making that should set sail on their fancy jet from their third luxury home straight back to reality, where a country of starving children needs pennies for grain. Others, however, argue $250,000 isn't much. To urban homeowners who already face increased federal and state tax on top of municipal tax, higher sales tax and childcare costs, that number is whittled to middle class in a heartbeat. I'm in the second camp. I'm not saying $250,000 a year is poor by any stretch (not that I make that per se*, just argument's sake), but the reality is that income to a city family lacking other support can translate to a modest home, one car and road trip style vacations. It's certainly not jetting off to France or collecting pure bred horses that dance in silly costumes.
A more accurate picture of wealth lies in nuance.
It's a little narrow that everything from taxes to sliding scale tuition is judged on income when so many factors contribute to wealth, such as family support, inheritance, circumstance and location. In the case of my husband and me we don't have any support from our kids' grandparents. We sent ourselves to college, come up with our own down payments and have to hire childcare for any moment we are away. Are we hurting? Should you cry for us or sign us up for Welfare when we are fortunate enough to have a roof over our heads and medical insurance? Of course not. (Also, try to hold back your jealousy over my Target wardrobe.)
My point isn't to garner sympathy for any particular income bracket. We lean liberal and support Obamacare. We do agree with taxing the wealthy to make a better life for everyone. I'm just saying an arbitrary number is a narrow view of what wealth is. What if they change it to $150,000? What if they pick $85,000? Do your feelings change? I can think of plenty of people who would kill for an $80k-a-year job and others who think any household with two people making $50k each are swimming in dough ripe for taxing.
Unless you have extended family support on top of a high income, $250,000 isn't jet-set luxurious, especially if one is saving for retirement and college while paying off old student loans. Add caring for an ill family member into the mix or other hardships and that "wealthy" paycheck is gone like any other. I have known doctors with roommates. Yeah, a doctor salary is sweet cheeks . . . after you pay off a $200,000 student loan.
So what is the right number? I don't believe there is a right number to determine who is wealthy. I know people who make far less than $250,000, but whose parents paid for their education, gave them down payments for their first homes and care for their children while they work. That translates to a lifestyle encroaching on the "magic number" territory. What about a Loving Family Tax for people who live at home until they can save up a downpayment on a house? I'm kidding, but I will remind the room I was on my ass at 17 so we don't all start on the same foot.
It's all relative anyway. $250,000 salary jobs are usually only available in major cities where important work is being done. If you follow the rule of thumb that your house should cost twice your annual income, guess what? There isn't a single home for sale in Lincoln Park, the family-friendliest proximal neighborhood to downtown Chicago, for under $500,000. Not one.
Is the solution for everyone to move out of the city and into the 'burbs? Oh, because there's no problem unloading a house these days. Sarcasm! Besides, a move to the suburbs requires a hefty commute, usually necessitates a second vehicle, and costs an already time-taxed breadwinner even more precious moments from his or her family.
Also to consider are people who live in smaller cities earning salaries commensurate with the cost of living in their areas, but who would garner a $250,000 salary in a major city. Should people earning $150,000 in Indianapolis be subject to the new tax? What about those who make $40,000 in Allen, South Dakota?
I think a more accurate picture of wealth is looking at net worth, family size, zip code and extenuating circumstances. Of course that would mean considering nuance and it's much easier to judge people on their income. Quarter mil! Everybody scream!
*My annual income would buy a year's supply of crackers