How Much Income Puts You in the Top 1%, 5%, 10%?


The economic disparity continues to make the news. In October of 2018, the Economic Policy Institute published a study showing that the top 1% reached the highest wages ever in 2017. But when you read all those stories about the 1% – or even the top 5% or 10% – how much money do you need to pull in to be in one of those groups? Here’s the answer. 

The newest figures were drawn from Social Security Administration data, allowing EPI researchers to estimate wage trends in more precise segments and to measure trends. The latest data show that the rich definitely are getting richer faster than the rest of the population. Wages grew 3.7% for the top 1%, but only 1% for the bottom 90% of the population. Note that these data are about wages, not income as a whole; they do not include investment income, for example, which is not part of Social Security data.

In the years since the Great Recession, the bottom 90% saw annual wage growth of just 5.4%; by contrast, the wages of the top 0.1% grew 29.8%.

Among the top 5% of earners, wages grew 4.5% since 2007, the year before the Great Recession. For the top 1%, who experienced large wage drops in that period, they grew just 0.4%. However – taking the longer view – one-percenters now earn 157.3% more than they made in 1979, compared to 22.2% for the bottom 90%. 


The amount you need to earn to be in the top 0.1% of the population.

How Much Do You Need?

The top 5% of earners had average annual wages of $299,810 in 2017, according to the Social Security data. That’s more than five times the 2017 average wages of $53,474. Overall, this group lays claim to a 28.1% share of wages in the U.S. 

To be certified as a one-percenter, you’ll need to earn $718,766. One-percenters have a 13.4% share of wages. 

If you want to cross the top 10% mark, you’ll still need a six-figure income but the numbers aren’t quite as high. Wages for the top 90% to 95% group are $118,400, according to the EPI analysis. 

The top 0.1% saw growth of 8%, faster than any other group, and reflective of the 17.6% spike in CEO compensation at big firms.

Here are the details, from the EPI study:

The Bottom Line

Globally, income disparity is the starkest when you look at how the distribution of wages has changed since 1979. As the EPI reports: “The bottom 90 percent earned 69.8 percent of all earnings in 1979 but just 60.9 percent in 2017. In contrast, the top 1.0 percent increased its share of earnings from 7.3 percent in 1979 to 13.4 percent in 2017, a near doubling. The growth of wages for the top 0.1 percent is the major dynamic driving the top 1.0 percent earnings as the top 0.1 percent more than tripled its earnings share from 1.6 percent in 1979 to 5.2 percent in 2017.”

How much do you need to earn to be in the top 0.1%? A hefty $2,757,000. Note that this is still 4% less than what the group earned in 2007, but it’s the second highest the 0.1-percenters have ever made. 

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