This weekend, TV viewers will be on edge, awaiting the final fortunes of AMC's drama "Breaking Bad" and anti-hero Walter White.
We've been playing around with our Wealth & Poverty Desk's new data visualization tool Income Upshot, which uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau, marketing firms, academic researchers and other sources to explore what someone's income can tell us about their lifestyle and consumer behavior. Basically, we're looking into the relationship between what we earn and how we live, work and play.
And that got us thinking about Walter White, and how the entire premise of the show -- set to air its series finale this Sunday -- is based on the concept of money.
White begins to make and deal meth as a means for providing money for his family if he were to die from cancer, money he apparently wasn't receiving enough of as a high school chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, N.M.
How people at different incomes live, work and play. A new data interactive from Marketplace's Wealth & Poverty Desk. Try the interactive.
So let's do the numbers on Walter White: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, White would have been making a mean income of $57,710 as a general high school teacher in the U.S.
In a highly tense moment during this season, he stated his address is 308 Negra Arroyo Lane, but that's all made up. Turns out, the White residence shown on the show is a real house in Albuquerque, and it's located in the 87111 zip code.
Run that through our Income Upshot tool and we'll see that:
- White is making $4,313 below the median level income of $62,023 of his neighbors in Albuquerque, but he's also just about the mid-range for the rest of the country.
- People at this income range tend to married, own their homes and are more likely to own dogs.
- They prefer beer -- Schraderbrau, anyone?
But as we've gone on in the series, of course, White starts raking in the meth money. (Minor spoilers ahead, for those not caught up on season 5)
He reveals that he's been able to stash away about $80 million in straight cash. So run that calculation through Income Upshot, and as a meth dealer:
- He's making more than 96 percent of the U.S. He's also likely to be married, own his home and dogs as pets.
- People in that income range tend to choose wine ... But it does seem Heisenberg is more a whiskey man.
- Luxury cars are, obviously, the most common auto buy for people in this bracket. Heisenberg obviously went a bit more sporty, with his black Chrysler 300C SRT8, which retails for $49,450.
And who knows where White stands now, between Uncle Jack's gang and his own lone barrel and just basically every crazy thing that could happen this Sunday.
But while you wait for the series finale, why not check your own status?
Plug in your income and zip code into Income Upshot and let us know your results.
How did the creators of Breaking Bad get millions of fans to stick by a meth-cooking drug lord season after season? The crafty use of an old editing technique in the pilot let us see the world through Walt's eyes, a film psychologist says, making it easier to excuse his immoral choices later on.
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When most Americans buy houses, they borrow money -- in the form of a mortgage. And so they pay attention to rates and prices.
This week, Case-Shiller -- a closely watched index of the housing market -- came out with its regular survey of 20 cities. Prices are up in all of them; plus, we're seeing a rise in mortgage rates. But does that mean it is the right time to buy?
"Home prices are up about 12 percent in a year," points out Ilyce Glink, a personal finance expert and author. "That, if they were stocks, would still be a mind-blowing rise. But for houses, which never usually move faster than just over the rate of inflation -- to have a 12 percent rise in a year is absolutely astonishing."
But another piece of the news was that the prices rose slower in July than in the previous month. That's good news, according to Glink. "The fact that it's now slowing a bit I think is actually a very good thing for the housing market, because if you kept going up at 12 percent a year, pretty soon nobody would be able to afford a house."
One place in the country where home prices have been rising in particular is in the San Francisco Bay Area -- with prices going up more than 20 percent. One of our listeners, 28-year-old Calvin, is looking to possibly buy a home with his soon-to-be wife. Both are finishing up medical residencies, and thankfully have very little debt. In the coming years, their income will climb a lot as they become full doctors. But they wonder how much they should save for a down payment versus saving for retirement.
Glink's advice to Calvin is to start taking some of that money and steering it towards the home down payment, especially since the couple is so young and has already been putting money towards retirement. "Since you live in a very high-cost area, which isn't getting any cheaper -- there was barely a dip in the home prices in the San Francisco area -- I think what you ought to do is start directing some more money into this down payment."
She adds that in the coming years, getting a good interest rate on higher priced homes is going to get more and more difficult.