Money

What do you have to earn to be rich? UK pol gives a number and sparks a controversy

British Labour Party politician John McDonnell ignited a debate on Twitter this week when he defined the rich as those earning above 70,000 British pounds a year. That's equivalent to 89,000 U.S. dollars.

When describing his idea of a "fair taxation system" to BBC Radio 4, McDonnell said it would see "the corporations and the rich pay their way more." He then more specifically defined "the rich" with a figure: "The rich will be above £70,000 to £80,000 a year — and that's roughly defined as what people feel is an earning whereby people feel they can pay more."

His remarks sparked colorful commentary on Twitter. Not surprisingly, people have varying opinions on how much you have to earn to be rich:

The Guardian points out that statistics appear to support McDonnell's definition: "The reality is that relatively few people earn more than £70,000 a year. Data from HMRC shows that just over five percent of taxpayers earned at least this amount in 2014-15."

The numbers look a bit different in the U.S. An annual household income of $89,000 (£70,000) places you in the top 25 percent of American earners, according to an interactive map in The New York Times. To be among the top five percent nationwide, you need to pull in $188,000.

That begs the question, what does it mean to be considered rich?

In a 2016 report, Pew Research Center took a crack at defining upper class by income, so that adults whose annual household income is more than double the national median ($55,775 in 2016), after incomes have been adjusted for household size, qualify. Smaller households require less to support the same lifestyle as larger households, Pew notes.

As the chart shows, a single person needs to earn a minimum of $72,126 to qualify as upper class, while a household of five needs to earn $161,277:

Who is 'middle income' and 'upper income' in 2014?

Others find the idea of richness more difficult to define. During the Occupy Wall Street movement and the discussions of income inequality that followed, "the one percent" became shorthand for wealth: As the Economic Policy Institute reports, "in 2013 the top 1 percent of families nationally made 25.3 times as much as the bottom 99 percent."

To be in the one percent in America overall, "a family needs an income of $389,436." In affluent metropolitan areas, however, the threshold is much higher. In New York City, for example, you need an annual income of $672,795 to be in the one percent.

Meanwhile, according to Skandia International's Wealth Sentiment Monitor of people around the world, "the average amount needed to feel wealthy was $1.8 million" and most Americans "say they need $1 million or more."

How much do you think you must earn or have to be rich?

Don't miss: Here's how much you have to earn to be considered upper class