How Many People Spend Time in the Top 20 Percent of Earners in the US?

It is estimated that 73% of Americans will be among the top 20 percent of earners in the US for at least one year of their lives. This figure was determined by analyzing Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax data from 1997 through 2007. Although nearly three-fourths of Americans will have household income in the top 20% at some point, those earning rates are constantly changing; only 2% will maintain that status for at least 10 years. This shifting of earnings in US households is thought to be caused by factors such as earning bonuses, changing jobs, leaving the workforce and business performance.

More about income in the US:

  • About 0.6% of Americans will be in the top 1% of earners for 10 consecutive years.

  • The number of Americans who end up in the top 20% of earners at least one time in their lives doubled from 1979 through 2013.

  • More than half of all Americans will be near the poverty level at least one time during their working years.

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Discussion Comments


Some of us just stay in poverty. I can't miss what I never knew or had!


Does this only include wages?


I would have appreciated knowing what the dollar amount was for the "top earner" threshold. It would have made the article more relevant to my life.

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