What Does it Take to be Wealthy in America?
The goalposts of wealth are always shifting due to inflation and other factors.
For example, someone with a net worth of $1 million several decades ago would have been considered very wealthy. According to recent survey results, however, $1 million is only enough to feel “financially comfortable” today.
In this infographic, we’ve visualized several money milestones to give you a better idea of what it really takes to be wealthy in America.
Net Worth Milestones
This table lists the data used in the above infographic.
It covers data on what it takes to get into the top one percent for wealth in key states, along with broader survey results about what net worth thresholds must be crossed in order to be considered “comfortable financially” or even “wealthy”.
|Milestone||Source||As of Date||Net Worth (USD)|
|What it takes to be in California’s top 1%||Windfall||2020||$6.8M|
|What it takes to be in America’s top 1%||Knight Frank||2021||$4.4M|
|What it takes to be in New York’s top 1%||Windfall||2020||$4.2M|
|What it takes to be wealthy in America||Charles Schwab survey||2022||$2.2M|
|What it takes to be in the UK’s top 1%||Knight Frank||2021||$1.8M|
|What it takes to be financially comfortable in America||Charles Schwab survey||2022||$774,000|
|What it takes to be in Mississippi’s top 1%||Windfall||2020||$766,000|
|The average American’s net worth (median)||Federal Reserve||2019||$122,000|
According to Charles Schwab’s Modern Wealth Survey, a net worth of $774,000 is needed to feel “financially comfortable”, while $2.2 million is needed to be considered “wealthy”.
Both of these milestones are far greater than the average (median) American’s wealth, which according to the Federal Reserve, was $122,000 in 2019.
Joining the One Percent
Research by Knight Frank determined that in order to be a member of America’s one percent, one would need a net worth of $4.4 million. This is very high compared to other developed countries such as Japan ($1.5 million), the UK ($1.8 million), and Australia ($2.8 million).
The difference is partly due to America’s large population of ultra high net worth individuals, which includes the country’s 724 billionaires. See below for a list of the top five countries by number of billionaires.
|Country||Number of Billionaires|
|🇨🇳 China (inc. Hong Kong & Macau)||698|
Source: World Population Review (As of 2021)
Focusing again on the U.S., we can also see large discrepancies at the individual state level. Entry into California’s one percent requires a net worth of $6.8 million, which is 62% higher than the national average.
California is famously home to many of the world’s richest people, including Google co-founder Larry Page, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Being a one percenter in Mississippi, on the other hand, requires $766,000. That’s 83% lower than the national average, and just a tad lower than the amount needed to be “financially comfortable” by the average American. This is partially due to Mississippi’s poverty rate of 19.6%, which according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is the highest in the country.
Mapped: What You Need to Earn to Own a Home in 50 American Cities
What does it take to own a home in the U.S. in 2023? Here’s a look at the salary needed for home ownership in the top 50 metro areas.
What You Need to Earn to Own a Home in 50 American Cities
Once a fundamental part of the American dream, the ability to own a home is drifting farther and farther away for many Americans.
Between skyrocketing prices, stagnating wages, and now rising interest rates, the deck seems to be increasingly stacked against home ownership.
Using May 2023 data tabulated by Home Sweet Home, we map out the annual salary needed to afford a 30-year mortgage (at 6.37%) to buy a home in America’s 50 most populous metropolitan areas.
The monthly minimum mortgage payment includes taxes and insurance as well, and is capped at roughly one-third of the income. This analysis also assumes that the homeowner will put down a 20% down payment.
The Least and Most Affordable American Cities to Own a Home
At the top of the list, and at the very west of the country, San Jose is the least affordable city to own a home for the average American.
One would have to earn at least $374,000 a year to afford a $1.6 million dollar home in the city.
To put those numbers into perspective, the median American annual income is $75,000, about one-fifth what’s required to buy a home in San Jose.
Here’s a look at the annual earnings needed to afford a home in all 50 largest cities in the U.S., ranked from least to most affordable.
|Rank||Metro Area||State||Median Home Price||Annual Salary|
|7||New York City||New York||$577,300||$160,233|
|15||Salt Lake City||Utah||$522,700||$122,717|
Other Californian cities, San Francisco (ranked 2nd), San Diego (3rd), and Los Angeles (4th) all require an annual income of at least $180,000 to attempt home ownership within their metropolitan boundaries.
Boston (ranked 6th) and New York (ranked 7th) represent unaffordability on the East Coast, both requiring at least $160,000 a year to buy homes there.
It’s not just the coasts that are expensive however. To buy a home in Denver (ranked 8th) and Salt Lake City (15th) means earning more than $120,000 a year.
However, cities in the Midwest and South, like Pittsburgh, Detroit, Oklahoma City, and Louisville, are far more affordable, requiring less than $63,000 a year to buy a home.
Interest Rates Rock Home Ownership Chances
Aside from the obvious price differences in housing markets, a key factor that has elevated income requirements across the board is the rapid rise in interest rates in the last year. In fact the average 30-year mortgage has pushed past 7%, the highest it’s been since the 2000s.
This means that while the median price of a house in San Jose has actually come down between 2022 and 2023, the minimum monthly payment has increased from $7,717 to $8,720 this year.
|Rank||Metro Area||State||Median Home Price||Monthly Payment|
|7||New York City||New York||$577,300||$3,739|
|15||Salt Lake City||Utah||$522,700||$2,863|
So to afford a median-priced home in the country, an American needs to earn closer to $100,000 a year, up from $75,500 in 2022. And even then, they would be priced out of owning a home in nearly half of the 50 largest cities in the country.
As a result Americans may yet further delay home ownership. Renting is now a far more attractive option, thanks to the biggest difference between rent and mortgages in over 50 years.
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