Walter White's cash: From high school teacher to meth kingpin

Bryan Cranston as Walter White in "Breaking Bad."

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.

Income Upshot:
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.

About the author

Chau Tu is the former assistant web producer for Marketplace.

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