That’s rich

THAT’S RICH…. The debate was especially common during the 2008 presidential campaign — then-candidate Barack Obama said he’d allow Bush-era tax breaks to expire on schedule for those households making more than $250,000 a year. The response from Republicans and much of the media was that an income of $250,000 isn’t a lot of money.

As the debate over tax policy takes center stage, we’re hearing the same kind of talk. So once again, Daniel Gross does what’s necessary and explains that “people who make $250,000 or more a year can afford a tax hike.”

Based on the average American household income, those making $250,000 are bringing home five times the median, which puts them in the top 2% of all earners.

There are, of course, regional differences — $250,000 in a major metropolitan area is different from a small, rural town. But “even if you look at the wealthiest metropolitan areas — Washington ($85,236), San Francisco ($76,068), Boston ($70,334), and New York ($63,957) — a quarter of a million dollars a year dwarfs the median income.”

In a few ZIP codes and neighborhoods, to be sure, brandishing a $250,000 salary is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. There are significant numbers of rich people — including a healthy contingent of filthy rich people — in places like New York City and San Francisco. If you want to live in a neighborhood where starter homes cost $1 million, and you want to send your kids to private schools, and you want to go on great vacations and have a beach house, then $250,000 likely won’t cut it. When the investment banker down the street just got a $2 million bonus, the knowledge that you’re doing better than 98 percent of your fellow Americans is little solace.

But the places where $250,000 stretches you are few and far between: some of the swankier East Coast and Chicago suburbs, several neighborhoods in Manhattan, chunks of the California coast. Even in the most exclusive communities where the wealthy congregate, $250,000 is still pretty good coin. Consider this: In late 2008 Forbes ranked America’s 25 wealthiest neighborhoods. In all of them, someone making $250,000 a year would probably not be able to afford his dream house. But in all of them, someone making $250,000 would be doing better than most of his neighbors.

Let’s also not forget a little something called “marginal tax rates.” A household bringing $300,000 a year will still get a tax break on most of that income (everything up to $250,000). So those towards the bottom end of the wealthiest 2% — let’s call them the “modestly rich” Americans — aren’t exactly going to get slammed with a massive new tax burden.

Something to keep in mind as the debate proceeds.