The 100K Club

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The ‘100K Club’ – public retirees with pensions over $100,000 – are a growing group

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Back in 2005, just 1,841 retirees pulled down more than $100,000 a year in pension checks from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

A decade later, membership in the so-called $100K Club had swelled by nearly 20,000 souls.

CalPERS data provided to the conservative-leaning group Transparent California, and analyzed by the Register, found that 21,652 public retirees received annual benefits of more than $100,000 in 2020.

That’s a jump of 28 percent in just two years – which might seem jarring at first blush, but actually represents a slowdown in the club’s explosive growth of late. Between 2005 and 2009, membership in CalPERS’ $100K Club tripled. Then, between 2009 and 2020, it nearly tripled again, largely a function of higher working salaries and more generous retirement formulas.

Orange County landed just one retired worker on the Top 25 statewide: Dave Ream, longtime Santa Ana city manager, at $263,202. Los Angeles-area cities, special districts and universities dominated the Top 25.

Tracking this number is a controversial endeavor.

“What makes the ‘$100,000 Club’ some magic number denoting abuse other than the claims of anti-pension zealots?” said Dave Low, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, a coalition of 1.6 million public workers and retirees.

“The classifications in the ‘club’ are doctors, lawyers, hospital administrators, city managers, superintendents, college chancellors and presidents, etc., who are often earning far less than their counterparts in the private sector,” Low said.

The average CalPERS pension is less than one-third of that, said Amy Morgan, spokeswoman for CalPERS.

But advocates for major public pension reform cite the $100K Club boom as evidence that the system – which guarantees payouts for life, regardless of whether CalPERS has enough money – is unsustainable over the long haul and must be revamped to protect taxpayers, who are ultimately on the hook.

“What this information does is remove the shroud that defines public pensions and lets people see what things cost,” said Robert Fellner, research director for Transparent California.

“Contrary to the incredibly misleading averages they cite – which include people who worked for just a couple of years but still get a pension, which pulls down the average – you see the benefits are rich when you look at the folks who worked a full career. There aren’t people who work a full career and get the average pension.”

Our spin through the data shows that the average pension for retirees with 25 or more years of service – roughly one-third of the people in the system – was $55,189.

CalPERS has pointed out that the $100K Club has remained relatively stable at 2 percent to 3 percent of the total pool of retirees through the years. In 2020, we calculated the club at 2.9 percent of all retirees; for 2020, we calculated it at 3.5 percent.

“Measuring the percentage increase is an absurd measure, as the number was low and continues to be so as part of the overall workforce,” said Steven Maviglio, spokesman for Californians for Retirement Security. “Of the top earners, these employees tend to be upper management or public safety workers who have put substantial hours of OT on the job – and have no Social Security.”

Unlike in the private sector, about 29 percent of CalPERS retirees don’t get Social Security benefits, said Morgan, CalPERS’ spokeswoman, so their CalPERS pension may be their sole source of retirement income.

Though pension reforms for new hires enacted in 2020 will eventually make it much harder to crack the $100K Club – even for upper management – it will take decades before those new hires retire, and the effects are seen.

That means membership in the club will keep growing, “if for no other reason (than) because salaries will go up over time,” Low said.

Transparent California found that, in all, 1,495 Orange County retirees collected benefits worth at least $100,000, an 11 percent increase from last year.

The list is dominated at the top by city managers, but public safety officers largely round it out.

In California, public pension promises are considered etched in stone and cannot be altered, at least not outside of federal bankruptcy court.

Most cities and special districts in Orange County – and statewide – contract with CalPERS to run their retirement systems. It covers all state workers as well. CalPERS is the largest public retirement system in the world and largely viewed as a bellwether and a trendsetter.

Climbing unfunded liabilities, weak investment earnings and expectations for less-robust earnings over the next 30 years are fueling cries for reform.

“The next governor will have a big job on his/her hands,” said state Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, long a pension-reform warrior. “And if the nation enters its next recession, the situation will get even bleaker.”

TOP 25 PUBLIC RETIREES IN CALIFORNIA*

The 100K Club

I’m mounting a major push to promote this idea. The idea is that if you’re a developer or a publisher who has sold at least 100,000 units on Steam you get the right to join the 100K club.

What is the significance of the 100K club ? Two fold –

1) Members of the 100K club don’t pay the $100 dollar fee for uploading a game to Steam (which since their products will have already made on average about $300,000 for Steam and realistically at least $30,000 is not the biggest issue)
2) Steam will allocate a section of its site for members of the 100K club to do whatever they want with it. I’d envision definitely reports, features, trailers, and gameplay videos (or links to them) for upcoming games. Maybe their own discussion forums. Could be a double edged sword for Rockstar and Bethesda, less so for developers who have a generally better relationship with their public. They could have competitions. Maybe organise tournaments for multiplayer games.

Normal Steam rules as to content will apply – which I can’t see most developers and publishers breaking.

There will however be two new but very important rules: –

1) Members of the 100K club can’t use the pages to promote any product that will not be available on Steam – although it will be available for film companies to promote new movies if the films will be available on Steam as soon as they are available for home purchase in any format.
2) They can’t promote non Steam sales or Steam competitors on their site.

So what are the many advantages of this brilliant idea: –

1) Status. Being a member of the 100k club will mean something in the industry. It means that you’re a significant part of the industry – someone to be taken seriously.
2) The cost to Steam is very small. A few terrabytes of additional memory storage and some basic architecture that one skilled programmer could probably put together in under a week.
3) It will create the equivalent of a ten lane highway directly between the publishers and developers and the gaming customers. Steam customers will be able to log on as members of these sites (the owners will have moderator powers to ban them for being disruptive as on the main forums) which will allow publishers and developers to email them direct. Gamers will be able to get updates about upcoming releases without having to scour the internet. And when the games come to be released and sold ? Steam has the 30% toll bar in the middle.
4) It should be hugely popular with most developers and publishers who no longer will have to chase their customers through advertising but their customers will come to them.
5) For Steam this is free additional content. In the same way that a new Star Wars trailer is a news event in itself Rockstar releasing the first trailer for GTA VI on its Steam club pages will bring in millions of people just to see it. It provides a myriad of new reasons for people to come to the Steam website with virtually no cost to Steam.
6) It’s the equivalent of a group hug with Steam, publishers and developers and gamers all feeling the love.
7) It will become a major incentive to sell at least 100,000 of product on Steam.

I’m so excited about the possibilities for the 100K club. I think most of the big developers and publishers will do something reasonably good with the possibilities the 100K club gives. But bearing in mind that we will be dealing with some of the most creative people on the planet I think some publishers may use the facility to do something genuinely brilliant.

Can’t wait. Please get this organised. And don’t listen to the nay sayers. The awards were a good idea weren’t they – and will be even better when you give the community categories that they really care about ?

The $100K Club: America’s Highest-Earning Cities

How big would your paycheck need to be to make you feel secure these days — or maybe even a bit wealthy?

In most places, it’s probably far larger than the U.S. median household income of $52,250 a year, which was echoed by a widely circulated Pew Research Center study.

Pew researchers tried to capture how Americans define upper-middle or upper class. They found that 40% of respondents who put themselves in the higher classes had an annual household income of $100,000 or more. Likewise, U.S. Census Bureau data show that households earning over $100,000 represent the top 20 percent of all earners in America.

Where’s the money?

So where do all of these high earners live? In the urban powerhouses of New York, Los Angeles or Chicago? Or scattered across the highest-cost-of-living states like Alaska, California or Hawaii?

When NerdWallet analyzed census income data for 1,601 U.S. cities, we found 57 cities where over 50% of households have incomes at or above $100,000. These cities were clustered in suburban communities in Washington, California, Texas and Tennessee.

Key findings

Suburbia rules. Communities with a majority of high earners are concentrated on the periphery of large cities.

Wealth in the West. Over half of the cities on our top 20 list can be found along the Pacific Coast, and most are in California.

Boom times. Cities near Silicon Valley and Dallas also stand out as high-income spots, perhaps owing to the strength of their local economies. Dallas is projecting a $53 billion increase in personal incomes from 2020 to 2020.

For similar studies and more, visit NerdWallet Cities.

How does your family’s paycheck compare? See our full-list below:

Cities with the highest percentage of households earning over $100K

1. Sammamish, Washington

This Seattle-area suburb claims the top spot in the “$100K Club” with 73.7% of its households earning $100,000 or more. Wages among Sammamish residents are bolstered by nearby employers that include Microsoft, Boeing and Amazon. According to Glassdoor, the salary for a software development engineer at Microsoft averages $104,000 a year.

2. La Cañada Flintridge, California

This small Southern California community is on our list for the 73.4% of residents who make over $100,000 a year. And incomes continue to climb beyond that with 41.5% of La Cañada Flintridge residents making $200,000 or more. It’s far more expensive to live here, with home values over $1.4 million, according to Zillow, than in Washington’s Sammamish, where the average home value is $682,100. La Cañada Flintridge’s income levels are driven by Caltech, a private research university that’s also the home of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and over 5,000 employees.

3. University Park, Texas

Bordered by Dallas on all four sides, this affluent community boasts an easy commute and close proximity to Southern Methodist University. Here, residents commute 16.3 minutes on average, far below the national average of 25.7 minutes. This convenience coupled with small-town charm makes University Park an attractive community for residents who can afford the median home price of $1,415,000.

4. Saratoga, California

Located at the western boundary of Silicon Valley between the Santa Cruz Mountains and San Jose, Saratoga offers a unique mix: tech jobs, suburban convenience and open spaces, such as Big Basin and Castle Rock state parks. Here, 44.6% of residents make over $200,000 a year.

5. Southlake, Texas

High earners in Southlake are the majority of residents: 71.2% of households make over $100,000 a year. Homebuyers seek out Southlake for its plentiful shopping opportunities and high-performing public schools, with an eight-time state champion high school football team.

6. Colleyville, Texas

Like Southlake, Colleyville is a suburb in the massive Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. Here, more than 67% of households earn over $100,000 a year. Colleyville’s affluence is supported by a strong emphasis on economic development, including the still-growing 12,847-square-foot Colleyville Stampede Shopping Center.

7. Los Altos, California

Los Altos made our list with 66.6% of households there earning over $100,000 a year, which is impressive for a town whose largest employer is the school district. Residents here who work at places like Google and LinkedIn in nearby cities vault this community to the top of any highest-earning list. Its small downtown hosts a popular farmers market and a yearly art and wine festival that is among the largest summer events in the San Francisco Bay Area.

8. Manhattan Beach, California

Manhattan Beach, a picturesque beach town southwest of Los Angeles, has experienced rising home values, with beachfront properties routinely selling for over $10 million. In Manhattan Beach, 65% of households earn $100,000 or more a year.

9. Brentwood, Tennessee

Brentwood stands out on our list as affordable in comparison with others in the $100K Club — with average home values at $552,400, this city’s housing costs are among the lowest on our list, according to Zillow. The combination of a lower cost of living and high-income households creates an excellent quality of life in this Nashville suburb. Although the city is mostly residential with only 5% of land zoned for commercial use, several companies, including the Tractor Supply Co., have made Brentwood home.

10. Lake Forest, Illinois

In this Chicago suburb with enviable access to the shores of Lake Michigan, 51.1% of households earn over $150,000 a year, and homes are valued at $832,50o. It is considered among the most affluent places in America with an average income of $147,162 a year, according to census data.

Here’s where the $100K club lives

Use your cursor to hover over each place, then click for more information.

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