Who are the 'new rich'?

The 'new rich' may pose the biggest barrier to reducing the nation's income inequality. While the growing numbers of the US poor have been well documented, AP survey data detail the flip side of the record income gap: the rise of the 'new rich.'

Elaine Thompson/AP
James Lott stands outside the Wal-Mart store where he works as a pharmacist in Bonney Lake, Wash., Nov. 21, 2013. Mr. Lott adds significantly to his six-figure job salary by day-trading stocks. It's not just the wealthiest 1 percent: Fully 20 percent of US adults become rich for parts of their lives, wielding outsized influence on America's economy and politics.

A look at America's "new rich," a rising demographic group, according to survey data provided to The Associated Press:

—The group is made up largely of older professionals, working married couples and more educated singles, those with household income of $250,000 or more at some point during their working lives. That puts them, if sometimes temporarily, in the top 2 percent of earners. They are 21 percent of U.S. adults ages 25-60, a proportion that has more than doubled since 1979.

—They differ from the super-rich because of their sense of economic fragility. Having reached the top 2 percent of income earners for a year or more of their lives, in some cases they will later fall below it. Those above them on the economic ladder often are more secure, with long-held family assets.

—The new rich are important in part because they spend only about 60 percent of their before-tax income, making them prime marketing targets. Companies increasingly turn to them to boost revenue with a range of new "mass luxury" products and services. Economists say they'll be important to the U.S. economic recovery as middle class Americans below them in income continue to struggle.

—Although socially liberal on issues such as abortion and gay rights, the new rich are more fiscally conservative than other Americans and less likely to support safety-net programs to help the disadvantaged.

— While 21 percent of working-age adults will achieve affluence for parts of their lives, they are substantially outnumbered by Americans who are financially struggling. Some 54 percent of working-age Americans will experience near-poverty — defined as 150 percent of the poverty line — for portions of their lives, hurt by the loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs.

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