Monday, July 13, 2009

Not Quite as Many Mass Millions

Probably the most overused phrase in our current lexicon is "in this economy" or some derivative thereof. In fact, I've wondered lately whether the phrase "in this economy" could let a sentence serve as an excuse for just about anything. It's probably most effective when tacked onto the end of a thought and followed by a dramatic pause and a French-style shrug:

"Gee, boss, I'm sorry I'm late for work, but you know, in this economy..."

"Gosh, dear, I'm really sorry I forgot to take out the trash last night. It's just that, well, in this economy..."

"Well, officer, I know I was going 85 in a 30, but, hey, in this economy..."

"We really hate to lay you off like this, but in this economy..."

Wait... Never mind that last one. It might be legit. Your mileage with the others, as always, may vary.

But despite this economy, there are still people out there who aren't too worried about money. Those people are millionaires (or billionaires, I suppose), and there are, apparently, fewer of them in the US than there used to be.

Some company called Phoenix Marketing International told us this week that the number of millionaires in the US has dropped by 14 percent over the last two years. Just for the record, here's how Phoenix Marketing International defines a millionaire:

Phoenix defines a millionaire household as one with $1 million or more in investable or liquid assets (excluding sponsored retirement plans and real estate).

Excluding sponsored retirement plans and real estate? So, all of those "millionaires" who lost 40 percent of their 401k funds in 2008 and whose houses are now worth half of what they were (supposedly) worth a year ago weren't even millionaires in Phoenix's estimation to begin with? We're talking about real rich people actually losing actual money here? Gosh, this economy really is worse than I thought.

Anyway, what's really interesting about Phoenix's study is that it ranks states by percentage of residents who are millionaires. I'm not a statistician (although the only frequent commenter on this blog is...), but that seems like a solid enough way to determine which states have the wealthiest citizenry. And from what I can tell, government work pays (and rich people run the country--as if we didn't know that already). Check out the top five states in the rankings (which open, annoyingly, in a PDF file--oh, and you'll have to scroll to the bottom to see 2008 vs. 2009). The analysis that follows the rankings here is mine, not Phoenix's, and therefore is probably completely invalid:

1. Hawaii. This makes sense. Probably not many of the millionaires on the islands are native Hawaiians; my guess is that most of them are landlubbers who have made good and gone to retire in paradise. I don't blame them--and I wouldn't blame the locals for resenting them.

2. Maryland. Remember what I said about government work (read: lobbying and so forth) paying well and rich people running the country? Well, here you go. Much of Maryland is a DC suburb (and lovely, by the way).

3. New Jersey. Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi, you can stop poor-mouthing now--Jersey is wealthy territory, not a working-class haven full of noble strugglers. Well, OK, much of Jersey is still a hole, but there are plenty of New Yorkers who have retreated to the (surprisingly nice, once you get out of Newark) Garden State for a little space and relatively fresher air. They're bringing up the average.

4. Connecticut. Two towns: Westport and Greenwich. Again, refugee New Yorkers (or, at least, people who work in the city) flee here. I guess somebody's still making money on Wall Street.

5. Virginia. See Maryland. And Virginia is also lovely.

Massachusetts, my current home state, finished sixth, giving up place No. 5 to Virginia for 2009. Texas, my original home state, finished way down in 28th. (DC itself was 10th--see?--and New York, home to America's most massive and diverse city, finished 12th. California, a state that's now broke, finished in the top 10 at No. 9.)

What's interesting to me is that, even after the decline of the old Eastern establishment, the development of Silicon Valley and the mass migration of well-off East Coasters to the warm lands of the desert and the beaches of the Pacific, the Northeast still mostly out-riches the West. (Boo-yeah! I think... Actually, on second thought...)

The reason for that is probably simple and obvious: states like California, Texas and Arizona (No. 20) are home to a lot of immigrants, many of whom are from Mexico and most of whom are not worth anywhere near seven figures. Up here way north of the border, the old families and the still largely homogeneous (and, frankly, sometimes kind of dull) population still bring up the average. (New Hampshire finished No. 8. That has to say something. Maybe it says that not many people live there.)

Of course, for the average, unquestionably non-millionaire person like me, these rankings have no bearing on anything. In fact, I'd be interested to see an overlay of states with the highest percentage of millionaires versus states with the highest cost of living. My guess is that there would be something of a correlation.

Having 5.5 percent of the population of Massachusetts in the millionaire category certainly isn't helping me afford a house--or anything else, for that matter. In fact, I'd probably be much better off in a state with a relatively poorer population. But I'll stay in Mass for now. I do like it here, after all--and besides, I couldn't afford to move right now even if I wanted to. You know how it this economy.

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