What Does It Mean to Be “Wealthy” in the Bay Area?

Hint: it's not a small number

A view of the Transamerica Pyramid and Downtown San Francisco
A view of the Transamerica Pyramid and Downtown San Francisco
Jared Erondu/Unsplash

Certain parts of the United States have a high cost of living — and then there’s the Bay Area. San Francisco is considered to be the most expensive city to live in in the country, with neighboring Oakland and San Jose not far behind. That substantial cost of living has had an impact on the region’s culture, and it’s prompted heated debates over the tech boom’s effects on all walks of life. The aforementioned boom has even continued through the pandemic.

Considering a place with such a high cost of living can lead to other questions — including what constitutes “wealthy” in a city where the cost of living is dramatically higher than much of the rest of the country. A new SFGATE article by Tessa McLean uses data from this year’s Charles Schwab Modern Wealth Survey to offer a comprehensive answer to that question. The answer says a lot about the Bay Area, its boom and the way we perceive wealth and affluence.

According to the article, a Bay Area resident with a net worth of $3.8 million is considered “wealthy.” That’s down from $4.5 million the previous year. Being considered “financially happy” is a bit more of a (relative) bargain — a net worth of $1.8 million will get you that distinction, down from $2.1 million in 2020.

For those seeking a point of comparison, the same Charles Schwab survey also contains data for a number of other cities, including New York. To be “wealthy” there, in 2021 terms, can be yours for a net worth of $2.9 million, while a net worth of $1.6 million merits the “financially happy” tag. It’s a revealing data point — and this may well be the only time you’ll hear living in New York discussed as a relative bargain.

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