“I’m a millionaire and I certainly don’t feel rich.” This is a quote from “Chris from Bend, OR,” a caller to an NPR episode, “Lifestyles of the Recently Rich and Famous,” covering Robert Frank’s new book, “Richistan: A Journey through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich.”

Frank’s book is about the super-rich in the United States and he claims they are so different from the rest of the populace that they essentially live in another country, which he dubs “Richistan.” Frank follows up the above quote saying, “A lot of people say that wealth today doesn’t start until at least ten million dollars.”

I confess to being stunned when I heard these quotes. Here’s Chris, extremely wealthy by national standards (U.S. median: $93,100 in 2004), feeling middle class and perhaps inadequate (or at least something less than rich). Truth be told, even though my household income is above the 2005 national median of $46,326 (due largely to the fact that both Lori and I work full time), we have been able to generate way, way, way less than that kind of wealth. In fact, like this guy, I have to remind myself how well 0ff we are relative to the rest of the population (even though our wealth is below the national median). And yet, here he is, feeling somehow put out.

In fact, Frank goes on to say that, regardless of wealth level, the people he interviewed always felt they needed twice as much as they had in order to feel comfortable. I guess that, even when it comes to material resources, perception matters. I wonder what the consequences of this might be for the perception of poverty?

On another note, the caller goes on to say, “I live in a very modest neighborhood. . . . My house is 3,000 square feet, or 2,900, which isn’t huge.” This quote got me wondering whether or not his claim was true. It turns out that his house is above average, but not exceedingly so. According to the U.S. Census report, “Median and Average Square Feet of Floor Area in New One-Family Houses Completed by Location” [pdf], the median square footage in 2006 was 2,248 (the mean was 2,469). One amazing stat in that report is that the median has risen from 1,529 in 1973. Houses are getting bigger and bigger, but apparently a house that is almost twice the 1973 median is no longer enough.

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