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President Donald Trump waves flanked by First Lady Melania Trump as they board an airplane in Biarritz, France on August 26, 2019. A McDonald's worker sweeps the sidewalk outside the restaurant. (Photos: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images and Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Survey Shows Richest 1% Not Necessarily Happier, But All That Money Has Convinced Them the 'American Dream' Is Real

The number of rich respondents who reported dissatisfaction with their lives was "statistically indistinguishable from zero," while nearly 40% of low-income people said they struggle to pay their bills.

Julia Conley

A new survey sheds fresh light on the wide gulf in how the richest and low-income families in the U.S. view their own life experiences and satisfaction with a full 97% of the wealthy saying the so-called "American Dream" is working for them.

Standard polling typically does not gather much data on the views of the richest 1% of Americans—those who earn at least $500,000 per year—because there are so few of them, so researchers at NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health over-sampled wealthy respondents in a new study to get a sense of their ideology.

"People have a lot of views about what the experiences of the most successful people in America are. But we've never been, in most cases, able to look at them," Robert Blendon of the Harvard Chan School told NPR.

The wealthy respondents displayed "near-universal life satisfaction" according to the Washington Post, with 90% of people polled saying they were "completely" or "very" satisfied with their lives and 97% saying they believed they are either living the American Dream or are well on their way to achieving it.

Those results differed drastically from those for middle-income households, which make between $35,000 and $99,000 per year, and low-income people, who earn $35,000 or less.

Less than half of the poorest respondents expressed satisfaction with their lives, and two-thirds of middle-income people said the same.

The number of rich people who expressed overall "dissatisfaction" was "statistically indistinguishable from zero," according to Christopher Ingraham at the Post.

The poll differentiated between "happiness" and "life satisfaction." As Ingraham noted, research in recent years has shown that "happiness" correlates with income only up to about $75,000, with earners growing no happier after they earn more than that.

"The new survey's first-of-its kind data on the 1% shows that life satisfaction continues to rise with income through at least the $500,000-a-year threshold," Ingraham wrote. "The rich might not be any happier than the rest of us on a day-to-day basis, in other words, but they are an awful lot more self-satisfied."

A number of factors show why low-income Americans report far lower rates of satisfaction with their lives; nearly 40% of respondents in this group said they have trouble paying their bills and about a third of them said they struggle to afford groceries.

Wealthy respondents appeared to concern themselves little with the everyday struggles of those with far fewer resources. More than half of the richest people said they did not believe it should be a priority for lawmakers to reduce income inequality.

"I am completely shocked that rich people don't see income inequality as a problem," S.E. Smith, deputy editor of Talk Poverty, tweeted sarcastically.

Only 50% of Republicans in the 1% told the researchers they believed the U.S. government should make it a top priority to guarantee healthcare to all Americans, a step that would reduce the financial burden on low-income households, while 48% of low-income Republicans said this should be a priority. About 90% of Democrats across income levels said policymakers should prioritize healthcare for Americans.

Also on Thursday, a separate study from Emory University showed that while rich Americans largely do not concern themselves with what changes can be made to help those with less, one relatively small step could have a profound effect on low-income workers.

After reviewing increases in the minimum wage at the state level between 1990 and 2005, researchers found that raising the minimum wage above $7.25 per hour—the federal rate—by just $1 could reduce suicides by 27,000.

Increasing the wage by $2 could save 57,000 lives, according to the report.


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