Who is the 1 percent? Location is everything for income comparisons
What does it take to be part of the top 1 percent, the upper echelon of wage earners who Occupy Wall Street demonstrators say should be paying a bigger share of taxes? A new report by Sentier Research says the answer depends on where you live.
In Louisiana, an annual household income of $344,000 would have put your family in the top 1 percent in 2010. But in Connecticut, the state with the highest cutoff to join the elite, it takes almost twice as much: $651,000.
By contrast, in West Virginia, the state with the lowest cutoff, a family income of $265,000 is sufficient.
The information was put together by Sentier, a Maryland-based research group, from data derived from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.
For metro New Orleans, the top 1 percent of wage earners reports $367,000 or more in family income, compared with $412,346 in Atlanta and $429,000 in Houston. In Fort Walton Beach, Fla., the recession and real estate collapse mean it's easier to make it to the top these days. In 2010, it required a household income of $271,000, 36 percent less than it did in 2007, when $424,910 was the threshold, according to the Sentier research.
In Stamford, Conn., just north of New York, the cutoff for the top 1 percent was a family income of $906,000.
The tax burden for the wealthiest Americans has become a central issue in the 2012 presidential campaign. While Occupy Wall Street has targeted the top 1 percent, President Barack Obama and many congressional Democrats have called for a minimum 30 percent tax bracket for Americans earning more than $1 million so that, as the president says, a billionaire like Warren Buffet doesn't pay a lower tax rate than his secretary.
Republicans, including the party's leading presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, describe the fuss about top earners as class warfare, and they argue that raising taxes on the wealthy would lead to fewer jobs.
The Sentier Research Report, released this week, also found that real median annual household income for the United States decreased by 3.5 percent between 2007 and 2010 -- from $53,168 to $51,287.
But there were exceptions. Louisiana gained 1.6 percent, and Lafayette had the biggest increase of all metropolitan areas, a 12.2 percent jump in median income from 2007-2010.
For the New Orleans metro area, median income dropped 5.3 percent, from $47,433 in 2007 to $44,927 in 2010, perhaps reflecting a stabilization of incomes after increases following Hurricane Katrina caused by labor shortages and a huge demand for construction work.
Gordon Green, who helped lead the research team for Sentier, said the data demonstrate the impact of the recession, which officially began in December 2007.
"What emerges is a fascinating portrait that shows while much of the nation experienced dire economic circumstances during this time period, there were selected pockets of income growth and prosperity," Green said.
Bruce Alpert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.450.1406.
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