Very happy days are here for some Californians as the state's post-recessionary economy produces a bumper crop of new millionaires.
The number of people who reported earning more than $1 million rose a startling 66 percent between 1994 and 1996, according to new state tax records obtained by the Los Angeles Times. Not only are there more million-plus earners, but the Californians in that cushy category were getting richer, with their average income rising from $2.64 million to $3.14 million."It really was amazing to us," said Ted Gibson, chief economist at the state Department of Finance, recalling his staff's first reaction to the trend.
Stock options, capital gains from Wall Street and a boom in the high-tech, entertainment and biotech industries are fueling the income climb, he and other experts said.
"As the economy in California has moved out of recession, it's been pulling everybody along. And at the high-income levels, a lot of people are getting rich very fast," said an analyst at the Franchise Tax Board who asked not to be identified.
The number of tax filers with adjusted gross incomes in the $1 million-plus category rose from about 9,000 in 1994 to 15,000 in 1996.
Although figures for 1997 and early 1998 are not yet available, a gush of extra tax revenues signals that the strong upward trend for the wealthy continued. Financial planners trying to invest the new gains and high-end real estate brokers agree that times have rarely been better for the very top slice of society.
"It's not surprising to me," Santa Monica-based financial planner Brent Kessler said of the tax figures. He recalled three clients, all in their 30s and 40s, who became millionaires when their small entertainment-related companies were bought out by larger corporations in recent years. One woman received $8 million and she previously "never made over $100,000 in her life," said Kessler, president of Abacus Financial Planning.
The $1 million-plus tax return filer constituted a mere one-tenth of 1 percent of the 12.17 million tax returns in 1996. The vast majority of Californians - about 93 percent - reported adjusted incomes below $100,000. About a third of all the households, by far the biggest group, were in the $20,000 to $50,000 range.