getting rich

By Amy Fontinelle, Investopedia

Getting rich: Do you hope to be rich someday? The U.S. had 11.8 million households that were millionaires in 2018 or about 3% of Americans. In the same year, 607 Americans were billionaires — that’s about one in 538,715 of the population.

Given these numbers, how good do you think your odds are that you could be getting rich? Let’s look at the percentages of other commonly examined phenomena for comparison. 

Being struck by lightning

Your chances of being an American billionaire are similar to your chances of getting struck by lightning. The National Weather Service estimates that the odds of an American being struck by lightning in a given year are approximately one in 1.2 million, and the odds of being struck if you live to be 80 are one in 15,300.

Winning the lottery

Your chances of winning the lottery really depend on which lottery you’re talking about and what you mean by winning. For example, if you play the multi-state Mega Millions lottery, you would win anywhere from $2 to $250,000 in a non-jackpot prize, or you would win a jackpot prize of upwards of $1.5 billion — you could also win nothing, of course, which is the most common outcome.

Mega Millions states that your odds of winning a jackpot prize are 1 in 302,575,350. Your odds of winning any prize are one-in-24. The odds of winning a $10,000 prize are one in 931,001. The largest jackpot Mega Millions has awarded was $1.54 billion in 2018.

Becoming a homeowner

The numbers fluctuate somewhat each year, but in general, 60% to 70% of U.S. homes are owner-occupied, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. People in the Midwest and South are more likely to own their residences than those living in the West or Northeast. This is not surprising, given the higher real estate prices in the latter two regions.

It seems that becoming a homeowner is an attainable goal for most people, especially considering that not all of the people who rent actually want to become homeowners.

Earning a six-figure income

According to the Current Population Survey’s Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 17.2 million people earned a six-figure income in 2014. That means roughly 5.4% of Americans earned six figures in 2014.

Now, if you consider households, your chances of having a six-figure income rise nicely. Nearly 30% of households had a six-figure income in 2017, up from 25.7% in 2013.

However, being middle class, or making over $90,000, doesn’t mean as much as it once did. A 2019 YouGov poll reports that despite 13% of Americans make over $90,000, only 44% of respondents to the survey said someone making that much money was considered “rich.” But 56% of survey takers said that making $100,000 a year was considered rich.

What are the odds?

The idea that your “chances” of getting rich can be quantified is a fallacy based on the idea that there is a finite amount of wealth in the world. Actually, there is no cap on the number of people that can become millionaires or billionaires. The more good ideas that are implemented and made successful by creative and hardworking people and that are facilitated by a favorable regulatory climate and tax regime, the greater the percentage of wealthy people we can have in the U.S. and in the world.

In fact, if you live in the U.S., Japan, Germany, or China, you already have a better chance than most people at becoming wealthy. The annual World Wealth Report put together by Capgemini and Merrill Lynch defines high net worth individuals (HNWIs) as “those having investable assets of the U.S. $1 million or more, excluding primary residence, collectibles, consumables, and consumer durables.”

According to the 2019 report, in 2018, Asia-Pacific is the single-largest home to HNWIs, with 6.1 million. North America has 5.7 million HNWIs as of 2018. The U.S. is the world’s leader when it comes to billionaire population, with 5.3 million HNWIs. Japan comes in second with 3.2 million.

The bottom line

Still, even if only a small percentage of people are what we now consider extremely wealthy, this doesn’t mean that you can’t live a financially comfortable and even financially successful life. 


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Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC (LRPC) is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based independent, objective Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) providing investment advisory, fiduciary compliance, employee education, provider management and plan design services to employer retirement plan sponsors. The firm specializes in Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) strategies for retirement plans and is a pioneer in the field. LRPC currently has contracts in place to provide consulting services on nearly a half billion dollars in plan assets. For more information, please contact Robert C. Lawton at (414) 828-4015 or or visit the firm’s website at Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser.

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