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The upper middle class sandwich

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David Brooks got a lot of mostly deserved flak for his latest adventures in culinary ethnography, but Richard Reeves’ argument about opportunity hoarding by the “upper middle class” deserves attention. I’ve never liked the phrase “upper middle class,” because it’s a classic weasel term. For instance it’s subject to almost endless elasticity, as it’s used by people who have a lot of servants, but somehow still consider themselves in some sense part of the actual middle class. A better term, I think, is “lower upper class,” which describes people who are sort of rich but not, to echo the inimitable Swifty Lazar, currently in possession of fuck you money.

Where does the lower upper class start? This is by nature a question that will have a fuzzy answer, depending on lots of categories (Income isn’t the same as wealth; cultural capital is real, etc.). Reeves suggests in his NYT piece that the top 20% of household incomes represents a useful general category, but let’s look at some numbers:

Cut points for household income percentiles, USA 2015, in current dollars, rounded to nearest thousand

80th 117,000
85th 135,500
90th 162,000
95th 215,000
99th 400,000
99.9th 1,117,000

I suppose you can make an argument for the rough floor of the lower upper class anywhere in this range, but I would put it somewhere between the 90th and 95th percentiles, more or less, subject of course to lots of caveats about the differences between Manhattan NY and Manhattan KS and so forth.

Anyway this post is intended as a platform for opinions/discussion of the question, rather than providing an answer to it.

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