New Jersey governor and potential 2016 presidential candidate Chris Christie would like you to know that he's an average Joe, just like you! "I don't consider myself a wealthy man," he said in New Hampshire on Friday.
He went on: "Listen, wealth is defined in a whole bunch of different ways and in the end Mary Pat and I have worked really hard, we have done well over the course of our lives, but, you know, we have four children to raise and a lot of things to do."
Christie is right about one thing -- there are plenty of ways to define wealth. Problem is, Christie neatly fits the definition of "rich" by pretty much all of them.
News outlets have already made hay of the fact that Christie sails past the top 1 percent threshold when it comes to income. He and his wife Mary Pat reported $699,000 in income on their 2013 tax return. According to calculations by the Economic Policy Institute, an income of $385,000 puts you in the national 1 percent. You'd need to make $539,000 to qualify for New Jersey's 1 percent club -- Christie fits the bill in either case.
Given that the national median household income was $52,000 in 2013, that means Christie makes more in a single year than the average family will earn in well over a decade. Still, he protests: he and his wife are "not wealthy by current standards," he told the editorial board of a New Hampshire newspaper last week. "We don't have nearly that much money."
Now, it's true that your lifestyle has a tendency to expand in proportion to your income. Christie has bills to pay -- he's spending $120,000 a year to send his kids to Princeton and Notre Dame, he says. There are plenty of people with six-figure incomes who live paycheck-to-paycheck, although it can be a challenge to feel any sympathy for them when plenty of other folks can't find jobs at all.
But let's take Christie at his word, and assume that he's burning through that $699,000 just as fast as he's making it. We might then get a more accurate picture of his financial situation by looking at his net worth: his assets, including cash and property, minus his debts -- mortgages and the like.
In 2009, Christie estimated his net worth to be $3.8 million dollars in response to a request from the Newark Star-Ledger. Let's assume that his investments have done okay since then and round it to an even $4 million. Again, no matter how you measure it, that amount of wealth is well within the top 1 percent nationally.
A Pew Research Center analysis of Census data found that you'd need $2.4 million to be in the top 1 percent of wealthy households. A different estimate by Emmanuel Saez of Berkeley set the cutoff at $3.9 million. Either way, Christie's finances fit the bill.
By contrast, the median household has about $71,000 in wealth, according to Pew's analysis. That means that the Christies are more than 50 times as wealthy as the average Americans.
Now, there's nothing wrong with being fabulously rich -- it's basically a requirement for entering national politics these days.
But if you make more than 10 times as much as the average American and you're currently sitting on assets worth more than the average American will make in a lifetime, it might be best to go easy on the everyman shtick -- a lesson Hillary Clinton already learned the hard way.