October 10th, 2011
07:01 PM ET

Letters to the President: #994 'Redefining Rich'

Reporter's Note: The president and his fellow Democrats have a lot of support among voters for this idea of taxing the rich. But as I note in today’s letter, defining who is rich may present the first real challenge.

Dear Mr. President,

Rich is a tricky word, isn’t it? We can all pretty much agree that Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are rich. Or at least, let’s put it this way: If I ride through Taco Bell with them late one night, I won’t be grabbing for my wallet too fast. However, when we work our way down the food chain, it gets murkier.

I say this, because after months of you talking about any family making over $250,000 a year as rich, now some Congressional Dems want to redefine rich as those making more than a million a year. Their reason? The definition of rich is not the same from town to town.

It takes much more money to live in big urban centers than it does in many smaller communities. Housing, utilities, food, medical care, and transportation are all much more expensive in cities, so people who live there know that their dollars won’t go nearly as far as they might elsewhere. Accordingly, wages that might make you rich in Manhattan, Kansas, can leave you squarely in the middle class in Manhattan, New York.

And then there are our perceptions.

When I started working, I made around $14,000 a year and I thought I was the Sultan of Brunei. (Actually, I had not even heard of him then, but you get my point.) I could pay all my bills. I enjoyed a few treats, like a Clapton concert or a meal out now and then, and after a few years, I had even saved enough for a stereo. I had no complaints, and yet at that point in my life, anyone who made…oh say..$30,000 a year was rich, or at least getting rich a lot faster than I was.

Today, however, I look back and wonder how I got by at all. I imagine that I need so much more than I did back then, and I see money in such different ways. So my definition of rich has changed.

Anyway, good luck sorting out a definition of rich that will work for your party and whatever legislation will finally emerge from the Hill. Suffice to say, it will make someone unhappy, because I’ve found the definition of rich is often “anyone who makes more than me.”

Are you watching Monday Night football? You know that your Bears are on! Give a ring if you want me to swing over.


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Filed under: Letters to the President • Opinion • President Barack Obama • T1 • Tom Foreman
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