How Affluent Americans Feel About Income Inequality And Wealth Concentration

Income inequality and wealth concentration have grown consistently since the 1980s, but today play a growing role in American discourse. Occupy Wall Street. Mitt Romney. A millionaire tax. The Buffet rule. Returning growth in some luxury markets. Goldman Sachs resignation letters. The list goes on. 

We set out to explore opinions of Affluent Americans about these trends, and added a series of relevant questions to our February online survey of 1,017 adults living in households with at least $100,000 in annual household income. In some ways, the survey is a paradoxical, self-reflective exercise for them – affluent individuals describing how they feel about their growing collective affluence, but at a time when few feel particularly affluent as individuals.

The results are clear: for affluent Americans, issues of income inequality and wealth concentration are familiar, important, and quite polarizing.  

Key take-aways include… 



Familiarity with the issue is widespread: when asked about the issue of gaps between the wealthy, middle class and poor, 85% of Affluents described themselves as at least somewhat familiar with the issue, and 45% are extremely or very familiar. 

The issue is widely considered important as well: 75% consider the issue at least somewhat important, and 39% consider it an extremely or very important issue.  

Most Affluents support higher taxes: 58% favor higher federal income tax rates on higher-income Americans. However, polarization is stark and growing: 84% of Democrats are now in favor, compared to just 29% of Republicans. 

A substantial but shrinking minority support Occupy Wall Street: 39% agree with the opinions of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, down from 49% since October 2011. Among Democrats, 68% agree, compared to just 9% of Republicans. 

Affluents are split on government involvement: Our December survey found that 28% want government to have a major role in the issue, and another 23% prefer a minor government role; in contrast, 41% want little or no government involvement. 

Given that income inequality and wealth concentration have grown steadily for three decades, some might argue that these issues are long overdue in playing a central role in American discourse. Despite that history, these issues now clearly shape Affluent mindsets, and influence how they think about fundamental elements of life and society such as success, taxation, equality, meritocracy, and the role of government in wealth distribution. 

4 comments about "How Affluent Americans Feel About Income Inequality And Wealth Concentration ".
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  1. Thomas Deierlein from TD Foundation, March 21, 2012 at 9:45 a.m.

    Fascinating study.

    But...How can somone conclude "Affluents are split on government involvement...23% prefer a minor government role; in contrast, 41% want little or no government involvement."
    Conclusion is not "split" IMHO the conclusion is 64% of affluent Americans want little to no govt involvement. I would like to see the survey question - "minor" and "little" are similar words/choices.

    Also - Why is $100K now considered affluent when the even the govt uses $250K - that may be skewing these findings significantly?

  2. Joel Snyder from Valpak of San Francisco, March 21, 2012 at 11:45 a.m.

    We have always been a land of "haves" and "have-nots". The later trying to get more from the former and the former trying to get more out of the later. However, if the protesters really want to make a difference, it isnt about redistribution of wealth or government influence. It is more about redistribution of labor and taking over a market. Find opportunities to serve and the rewards will come from those needing services and those with resources.
    Frankly, I agree with the above comment and the bar needs to be raised closer to $500,000. $100k in this economy is barely surviving and NOT affluent...just ask MY auto mechanic!

  3. Stephen Kraus from Next Level Sciences, March 22, 2012 at 3:19 p.m.

    Thanks everybody for their comments and questions.

    To clarify, we define "Affluent" as individuals living in households with at least $100K+ in annual household income. That's about 58.5 million people -- about 21% of the population that holds 70% of the net worth and earns 60% of the income. But as you rightly point out, that hardly puts one on "easy street" these days. And in places like New York (or where I live, San Francisco), it's 35-40% of the population.

    We do also examine those with $250K+ HHI -- about 2-3% of the population, and the start of the "core" market for luxury. They skew more conservative and less enthuasistic about taxes on higher-income Americans. Next month we plan to have a report with a deeper examination of the $250K+ HHI group.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 1, 2012 at 7:18 p.m.

    The return of the feudal system looms large. BTW, that 15% of the "affluents" who are not even aware of the issue....who are they and why wouldn't they be aware of it ? Too far removed up the ivory tower ? Another reason ? Really ?

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