Rich or Comfortable?

What would you have to make to be a one-percenter—that is, to have an income in the upper one percent of the population—in the U.S., Singapore, China, Brazil, England or Australia? The answer, of course, differs in every country. At the bottom of the scale, someone earning $81,000 a year in India is in the upper one percent, while in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, you’d need to earn $891,000.

The one-percenter threshold for each country, from lowest to highest, looks like this (all figures translated into U.S. dollars adjusted for purchasing power parity):

India: $81,000/yr
China: $105,000/yr
South Africa: $162,000/yr
Brazil: $169,000/yr
Canada: $190,000/yr
France: $215,000/yr
Australia: $239,000/yr
United Kingdom: $290,000/yr
United States: $478,000/yr
Singapore: $694,000/yr
United Arab Emirates: $891,000/yr

An article in Bloomberg also notes that different markets vary widely in terms of common expenses. For instance, to own one of the top 1% most expensive homes in Monaco, you would have to shell out $26.4 million, far above number two on the list, Singapore, at $6.8 million. In the United States, Los Angeles and New York share the title of most expensive 1% homes at $3.8 million, while the cost in Cape Town, South Africa and Mumbai, India for a one-percenter home is just $600,000. If the one-percenters wanted to hire a live-in nanny, the average cost in Los Angeles would be $83,200, well above the $41,000 cost in New York, or $40,000 in Beijing, London and Vancouver. The average cost for a live-in nanny in Paris is $48,000.

The interesting thing about these numbers is that most of our tax policy assumes that one-percenters are truly rich—and while people earning these numbers in these various countries are certainly comfortable, would you call them “rich?” It might be more helpful if tax policy changed the definition of “rich” to the upper one-tenth of one percent, or even one-hundredth.

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