60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll: Wealth

April's poll explores the wealth of difference between the top-one percent of the richest Americans and the rest of the country

Welcome to the 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll for April 2017. There is a wealth of difference between the top-one percent of the richest Americans and the rest of the country and this month’s poll will explore some of those differences. Some studies have shown that the wealthiest one percent of people in the United States not only have more money than the bottom 90 percent but the disparity is growing. It is no small irony that a large number of underemployed “forgotten Americans” voted for President Trump, one of the super wealthy, to help restore and create more and better jobs for them. Many of those jobs continue to be both created and destroyed by our dynamic economy and yet there remains a deep and abiding desire in so many Americans to find their own version of wealth in dignified and meaningful work. In their circles the American Dream is defined as having a job that enables you to provide well for your family. Lots of wealthy people are still respected for their hard work and philanthropy and many Americans continue to work hard in the hope of achieving their own definition of wealth someday. This month’s featured question is: “If you were suddenly given a million dollars that you had to spend within a week, what’s the first thing you would do with the money”? Fun question...and we look forward to your answer. Now our results...  

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When it comes to choosing what they would rather have more of, six out of 10 Americans said “show me the money” and 38 percent said “time is of the essence.” Who doesn’t want more spare time but most people do not have the luxury of selecting that at the expense of working for a living. This may be slowly changing as today’s younger workers seem to value a more balanced life/work approach than their predecessors. Paradoxically, as hard working people get older they often regret their choice or as the old saying goes, no one ever said on their deathbed, “I wish I had worked more”.

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From the list of factors provided, 31 percent of Americans said that their own character has had the greatest impact on their current financial situation followed by their family’s history and values 23 percent, the policies of the government 21 percent and the free-market economic system 16 percent. A family’s history and values has a lot to do with how a person is formed and the policies of our government within the free-market economy has always had a knack for picking winners and losers, but in the land of freedom and opportunity nothing can surpass MLK’s dream of an America where everyone’s success is made possible by the “content of their character.”

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Seven out of 10 Americans think that wealthy people are no more or less likely to be as honest and trustworthy as everyone else. Twenty-one percent think they are less likely to be honest and five percent said they are more likely to be trustworthy. There are many factors that can contribute to people becoming wealthy and a strong majority of Americans including 84 percent making over a hundred thousand dollars do not think a person’s wealth or lack thereof necessarily dictates how honest a person is. In a sense they are “colorblind” on the color is green.

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By a 2-to-1 margin, a majority of Americans think that children who inherit great wealth are more likely to lack ambition and make bad choices and the minority feel that they are more likely to lead full and productive lives. There is no one size fits all to how inheriting money can affect people. Many wealthy families have plenty of examples they can point to both good and bad.  

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Which hardship would best help a wealthy person to experience empathy for someone less fortunate? Forty-one percent of Americans said being homeless, 38 percent chose being hungry, 14 percent said not being able to get medical care and only two percent said not having clean clothes. Many people don’t need to experience being in desperate need to empathize with those who are, but doing so would have to make anyone more appreciative of those things that many of us take for granted. Looking at it from both sides of the socioeconomic spectrum, 46 percent of those making less than 25K said not having a home would help a wealthy person to better understand the plight of those less fortunate and 46 percent of those making over 100K said not having enough food would increase their empathy.

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Seven in 10 Americans think that if all things are equal, a struggling single parent who is used to working two low-wage jobs would make a better employee than an ambitious Ivy Leaguer with a freshly minted degree (19 percent). There is a natural logic behind this choice since a hard working single parent ostensibly has a lot more on the line than a kid fresh out of college. But people should not sell those young graduates short without acknowledging that there are very few free rides left out there and that these schools now turn out a broadly diverse group of students that in many cases have overcome long odds and have worked very hard to achieve what they have.

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If they were suddenly given a million dollars that they had to spend within a week, one fourth of Americans said the first thing that they would do would be to pay off debts, loans and mortgages. Another quarter of Americans would donate some of the money and help their families and friends out, 16 percent said they would buy a house, nine percent said invest in a business and six percent said give to their church. As always we got some very entertaining individual responses to our featured question. Some folks said they would buy things like a salt water aquarium, an RV,  “a car that runs”, and finally one person said they would “faint.”That last one might be talking about what would happen after seeing the amount of taxes taken from this windfall.  

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60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll: Wealth by News Team on Scribd