When you hear the phrase “life-changing amount of money,” what is the number that comes to your mind? According to one 2019 poll, the average American named $19,800 as the amount that would change their life—but for millennials, it was just $5,000. On the other hand, in April 2021, an unnamed tech millionaire wrote in New York magazine: “I thought that I’d make a little bit from an IPO, maybe $200,000. You don’t think much about $200,000; it’s not life-changing.”
It was rage-bait, of course, aimed at people for whom $200,000 would be extremely life-changing, thank you very much. But it effectively highlighted the massive economic divides in the United States between people for whom less than $20,000 would be the definition of life-changing and those for whom 10 times as much would be met with a shrug. Both those sets of people are very real in this country. And the economic divide is significantly a racial one: In 2019, white families’ median wealth was $188,200, while for Black and Latino families the equivalent numbers were $24,100 and $36,100.
What about you? What is the amount of money that would change your life, and what would you do with it? Pay off student or medical debt? Buy a home? Save so you wouldn’t have to go into medical debt or your kid wouldn’t have to take on student debt in future? What broad economic and social forces do you see at work in the wealth you do or don’t have and the amounts of money that would or wouldn’t be life-changing for you?