By Jeff Mullin
The new year is only in its fifth day, but it already has been remarkable.
Before the new year is even a week old, we have a solution to the nation’s burgeoning budget deficit.
At least we have a solution, according to those taking part in a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll released earlier this week.
The majority of Americans responding say the solution to balancing the federal budget is to tax the rich. Sixty-one percent of respondents, in fact, say raising taxes on the rich is the way to go.
Sounds great. But who determines who qualifies as rich?
Despite the optimism a new year brings, Americans as a whole aren’t feeling too positive these days.
A Bloomberg poll released last month showed 51 percent of respondents said they were worse off now than two years ago.
These people certainly wouldn’t describe themselves as rich. Neither would those who are considered elderly (the discussion of what constitutes elderly is a topic for another day).
So who is rich, anyway? According to the Obama administration, couples annually earning more than $250,000 and individuals earning $200,000 or more are wealthy. That is approximately 2.5 percent of the population.
But wealthy, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder. A recent Los Angeles Times article quoted Ricky Metz, a hairdresser in New York City, who along with her attorney husband earns $310,000 per year.
“I know, I know I shouldn’t whine, but in New York unless you’re a millionaire you don’t feel rich. We feel middle-class,” she said.
The concept of wealth could depend in part on geography. A salary of more than $300,000 certainly would go farther in Enid than it would in Manhattan, where it might cost $500 a month or more just to park your car.
In much of the world the vast majority of Americans, even those in lower income brackets, would be considered fabulously wealthy.
In Afghanistan, CNN detailed the struggles of Marjan, who spends hours picking through garbage heaps in Kabul for bits of trash her family can burn as fuel for cooking, as well as a measure of warmth against the harsh winter winds.
Marjan is 5 years old. Last winter Marjan’s baby brother died from the cold. Her mother set fire to the garbage Marjan gathered and placed the baby near it for warmth. The fire went out and the baby froze to death.
Marjan never has been to school, but dreams of being a teacher. Her supper consists of weak tea and a couple of scraps of bread. She loves to play with dolls, but instead spends her days trying to help keep her family alive.
Are you rich? If you have food, a roof over your head and warm clothes, I would wager young Marjan would consider you, to quote lyrics from the song “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” as rich as Rockefeller.
According to 2008 Census figures, the median U.S. household income was $52,000.
That would put that median U.S. family in the top .97 percent of the richest people in the world, according to the website globalrichlist.com.