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How Much Money Do You Need To Make To Be Among The Top 1%, 5% Or 10% Based On Income? The Answer Is Less Than You’d Expect


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Income thresholds in the U.S. for the top 10%, 5% and 1% of earners in 2023 reveal a surprising reality. Entering these high-earning brackets may be more achievable than many assume based on data from an Economic Policy Institute 2021 study.

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The Top 10% Bracket: A Closer Reach Than Expected

Often perceived as a segment dominated by the ultra-wealthy, the top 10% of earners in the United States is more achievable than one might think. For individual earners, the entry point into this group begins at $135,605. This figure may seem high, but it’s within reach for professionals in various fields, particularly those with advanced degrees or in senior positions.

For households, the threshold is slightly higher, starting at $191,406. This increase reflects the combined incomes of families, which often include dual earners. The top 10% is a diverse group, encompassing a wide range of professions, from engineers and lawyers to successful entrepreneurs and high-level managers. It’s a testament to the opportunities that exist for upward mobility in various sectors of the American economy.

The Top 5%: A Steeper Climb

The average income for the top 5% jumps to $335,891, a significant increase from the top 10% bracket. This rise of around $19,000 from the previous year indicates an upward trend in earnings among the higher income brackets.

This income bracket includes a more exclusive set of earners, often those who have reached the pinnacle of their careers or run successful businesses.

Achieving this level of income typically involves years of experience, significant professional accomplishments or ownership of a thriving business. The composition of this group is more homogeneous, with a higher representation of people in executive roles, specialized medical professionals or those with substantial investment income.

The Pinnacle: The Top 1%

Entering the top 1% of earners requires an average annual income of $819,324. In the highest echelon — the top 0.1% — the average income is $3.3 million. The rapid wage growth for these groups is noteworthy. In 2021, annual wages rose fastest for the top 1% (up 9.4%) and the top 0.1% (up 18.5%), while those in the bottom 90% saw a slight decrease in real earnings.

The top 1% is not just a financial status but a marker of significant economic power and influence. Members of this group often have access to resources and opportunities beyond the average American. They are typically involved in making substantial business, investment and philanthropic decisions that can have wide-reaching effects on the economy and society.

State-by-State Variations

Income thresholds for top earners vary considerably across states. For instance, in Massachusetts, an income of at least $810,256 is needed to be in the top 1%, while in Mississippi, $254,362 suffices. This disparity reflects the cost of living, job opportunities and other regional factors.

Understanding Annual Wages Of Top Earners analyzed data from the Social Security Administration to present a detailed report on the annual wages of the country’s highest earners:

Top 0.1%: $3,212,486

Top 1%: $823,763

Top 5%: $342,987

Top 10%: $173,176

These figures illustrate the rapid wealth accumulation among higher earners compared to the modest growth for the bottom 90%, where wages grew only 28% between 1979 and 2018.

Average and Median Incomes In The United States

The average salary for a full-time worker in the U.S. is $76,554 per year, while the median wage is $56,473​​.

The median household income in the U.S. is approximately $208,803​​.

The annual mean wage for a full-time wage or salary worker in the U.S. is $53,490, or $1,028 per week based on a 40-hour work week.

The median individual income in the U.S. is $50,000, and the average individual income is $69,029.61 in 2023​​.

Billionaires In The U.S.

As of 2023, there are 759 billionaires living in the U.S., residing in 43 states. More than half are concentrated in four states: California, New York, Florida and Texas. California leads with the most ultra-wealthy residents, according to CEOWorld Magazine.

Boosting Income To Join The Top Earners

Investments in stocks, shares and funds, guided by a financial adviser, can significantly enhance annual income. Financial advisers can also provide valuable advice on wealth management, tax planning and retirement strategies, helping people maximize their earnings and financial security.

A Perspective On Wealth

Understanding these income thresholds offers a perspective on what it means to be among the top earners in the U.S. It’s important to recognize that while financial success is an admirable goal, it’s just one aspect of a fulfilling life. Wealth can provide comfort and security, but it’s the balance between financial success, personal well-being and societal contribution that often leads to true fulfillment.

Read Next:

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How to turn a $100,000 investment into $1 Million — and retire a millionaire.

Jeannine has written about personal finance and investment for the past 13 years at a variety of publications including Zacks, The Nest, and eHow. She is not a licensed financial advisor and the content herein is for information purposes only and is not, and does not constitute or intend to constitute, investment advice or any investment service. While Jeannine believes that the information contained herein is reliable and derived from reliable sources, there is no representation, warranty or undertaking, stated or implied, as to the accuracy or completeness of the information.

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