Thursday, September 27, 2012

Observations on the Elite One Percent

This weekend I am attending a wedding, black tie optional, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston. We do not live in or near Boston, and so a hotel room was in order. The invitation provided two hotels in addition to the Four Seasons. We immediately eliminated the wedding venue because it was close to $500 a night – and that was a special deal.

This started me wondering. Who stays in these hotels? Who can afford them? How many people pay out of their pocket? A lot of guests are on expense accounts with employer’s footing the bill. What about everyone else?

Then my mind wandered to thoughts of the one percent. $500 a night is probably not a big deal for them.

Who are the 1%?

I do not believe I have ever met one of these individuals. I do not have any friends who were born into or inherited great wealth. I have friends who have done very well over the years, but none have clawed their way into the top group.

How many of us rub shoulders with the 1%? I grew up on Long Island, New York, attending schools built in an iconic middle class development – Levittown. No one was rich. No one came close. A couple of girls at college had money provided by doting, prosperous, but not wealthy, parents. The rest of us scrambled for pizza money.

I worked at a Displaced Homemaker’s Center in the 1970s. Most of the women came from middle class homes, but following divorce struggled to maintain a middle class existence. I later taught at a business school. Most of the adult students were poor single mothers trying to support themselves and their kids. My circle of acquaintances increased when I went to work for a financial services firm. Many clients were well-off, but none were in the top 1%.

So how much money does the top 1% make? To qualify for this elite group a household’s AGI (adjusted gross income) was at least $343,927 in 2009 (latest comprehensive data available). But that is only the beginning. Their pre-tax income was $1,219,700. Sounds a lot richer, doesn’t it? The average 1% household paid $353,000 in taxes.

There is the top 1% in income, and there is the top 1% in net worth. Federal data indicate the top 1% in net worth possess at least $8.4 million in assets. Most people in this category have a lot of investments, whether stocks, bonds, commodities such as gold, real estate, and all kinds of financial instruments accountants and advisers buy in the name of protecting monetary funds, growing wealth, avoiding taxes, and earning themselves a hefty fee. Federal data show that 50% of the 1% meet both criteria; top 1% in income and net worth. These are the super-rich.

We know the wealthy are out there. We see actors, actresses and other entertainment moguls, sports stars and royalty splashed across the pages of People and Us magazines. We turn on the TV and see their homes and lifestyles on shows such as Real Housewives.

During the 1930s Great Depression everyone was poor, or so most people thought. Families, their relatives and neighbors struggled. We now know there were rich people because we have all seen the show and/or movie Annie. People were not bombarded with the world of the rich daily, forced to compare their lives with the lifestyles of movie stars, business entrepreneurs, crooks and royalty.

The Four Seasons is in a neighborhood surrounded by other pricey hotels, classy restaurants and upscale shopping such as Hermes, Ralph Lauren, Neiman Marcus, antique shops and art galleries. It is a fun place to sightsee, I must admit.

By the way, since I do not own a black tie, I am wearing the long black dress I wore to my son’s wedding 10 ½ years ago. It still fits! And, although you cannot put a price on it, that is worth a lot.

One last note to members of the 1% who may be reading this. In the interests of the 99%, I would be privileged, pleased and thrilled to shadow you for one, two, three days or more to get a peek into your life. Do you ever vacuum your house? Clean the toilets? Empty the dishwasher or wash any dishes? Do laundry? Shop for groceries? Inquiring minds want to know... 


  1. I think I might know a couple of 1% people. They are down to earth folks. I also know some big spenders who aren't 1% people. They are not very down to earth.

  2. Had to laugh at the comment about the hotel price per night. When we recently went down to Baton Rouge, we spent the first night at a Hampton Inn because we came in late and didn't want to bother anyone. We were afraid that there wouldn't be any rooms available because it was a foot ball weekend. So when we arrived, we just said that we needed a room if one was available? It was. And it was a 'very nice room'. Turned out that it was 180.00/night. THAT was a surprise! And that may not be a lot for some of you, but it was unexpected for us.

  3. Hotel prices are outrageous in the cities. We've always made a decent living but still balk at paying 160.00 for a bed and clean towels basically.
    There better be a darn good continental breakfast for that price.

  4. I don't believe I know anyone in the 1%, but I cannot imagine anyone who could afford to pay someone to clean toilets would clean their own. Who knows, though. If you get answers, let us know.

  5. Ha ha, the answer to your questions at the end of this post is no, no and no. No the top one percent do not vacuum or clean their toilets. Well, I am just guessing since I don't know them. They hire people to do that is my guess.
    $500 per night for a hotel room, yikes.