Are you pretending to be middle class?

by L

Stop Pretending You’re Not Rich

Are we Totebaggers rich?

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228 thoughts on “Are you pretending to be middle class?

  1. I just noticed the author mostly uses “upper middle class” and not “rich”. I think that’s what many of us here do also.

  2. Growing up, we got in major trouble if we used the word “rich” in front of my parents when speaking about other people. And if we had dared use the word in reference to our own family … yikes. As for other people calling our family rich, we were trained early on, and often, to respond with, “My father works very hard.”

    Which isn’t to say my parents necessarily pretended not to be “well off” (this is what we were permitted to say) — just that they insisted we never talk about it (on threat of major consequences), and that we not let anyone maintain the impression it wasn’t the result of hard work.

    I’ve carried this on, I admit. My kids will tell you, “We don’t say ‘rich.'” And they’ve come up with their own version of our old response, along the lines of, “Yeah, but my parents were in school for like, ever.” And DS’s go-to: “My *parents* might be well off, but I’ve only get $249 in the bank.”

  3. Take housing, perhaps the most significant example.

    Maybe that’s the most significant. But right up there, is the increase in the workload such that a kid will struggle to succeed without significant parental involvement.

  4. I consider us rich, and I know that most of the people here make more than we do, per the salary survey.

    We live in a rich part of town–even though I drive a Honda, my neighbors drive Teslas and Audis. We vacation internationally on a semi-regular basis. My friends do things like shell out way too much money to see Hamilton. We have saved enough money to send our kids to college without debt. We can retire without worry.

    I’m with Risley in that we don’t say we’re rich, because it’s not polite, but if you’re in the top 5% of income ($167K+ per household), I don’t think you can call yourself UMC. I view UMC as more like 60%-80%.

  5. I wish that statistics that talk about the top income quintile would consider age. Bottom quintiles are disproportionately filled with students and retirees. I grew up in a family with a medianish income because my Dad worked full-time in a blue collar job. Most of my friends had more money (and their parents had taught them to be very gracious to those of us with less) in part because virtually all of our parents were in the 25-54 age bracket, when employment is highest.

    Some of you have pointed out in the past how geographically distributed wealth is, and that’s an important fact I’ve learned from this blog. I’d be happier raising my kids with my teacher cousins in West Des Moines (and its adequate schools and modest housing costs and salaries) than I would be in Palo Alto or NYC, where the pressure sounds so high. I suppose people self-select into the kinds of environments for which they are suited.

    In contrast to the article, I don’t think “rich” is the right term for people in the upper third of income distribution for their age group, but I agree that parental attention is important to a child’s success. I wish schools wouldn’t design projects that increase the importance of parental attention, says the parent who just helped with a diorama and presentation and Powerpoint presentation for two second graders.

  6. I consider ourselves middle class. We’re certainly not rich. Nobody is demanding of my kids an accounting of our material wealth, that’s for sure.

    “I view UMC as more like 60%-80%.”

    60% starts at $70k annually for a household.

    But I think percentiles are a deeply flawed means by which to draw distinctions on a parameter that rises exponentially at one end.

  7. Interesting. I consider Milo rich, and Houston! We are getting there, but college and retirement (more so college) are definitely not fully funded. I think once we can cross those off the list, then perhaps I would consider us rich. However, I agree that calling oneself rich is usually not polite. But then at what point does it become polite? My $5M or $20M client?

  8. Hmm, I do say upper middle class when describing us but Dh and I both come from middle class backgrounds and sometimes it seems like friends have so much more money, so I feel like we are the normal middle class ones (Dh and I have friends who spent $50K on wine last year and we were trying to guess how on earth you could drink that much last night). And where I grew up almost everyone was middle class and almost everyone went to public school so it’s sometimes a little disorienting to live in a larger city where people can send multiple children to $30K private schools, have a lake house in addition to the $1.5M house in town and drive luxury cars.

  9. I read this when it originally came out, and I immediately thought of the Totebag. Especially after reading the comments. (oh, the comments!)

    I identify with Houston’s answer. Of course we are not “rich” like the wealthiest people in America or even this blog, but we are very lucky to be so comfortable. And yes, we “work hard” too and have self-discipline all that jazz, but we were born on 3rd in a lot of ways. That’s luck. I don’t like to pretend to just be “middle class” even though there are plenty of people who are wealthier than me. I prefer to be amazed by my luck and the way that my life has turned out so far.

    I do get that the notion of “quintiles” has flaws, but if you are squarely in the top 5% of the country for income year after year, it is kind of ridiculous to say that you are just a regular ol’ “middle class” family. There is enough data there to disprove that notion. Even if you live in NYC or some other HCOL area and regardless of age.

  10. “And where I grew up almost everyone was middle class and almost everyone went to public school so it’s sometimes a little disorienting to live in a larger city where people can send multiple children to $30K private schools, have a lake house in addition to the $1.5M house in town and drive luxury cars.”

    Yeah, me too. I think it is that contrast that reinforces to me that we are not really “middle class” in any way though. I would call us UMC as well.

    Does anyone use the word “rich” to describe themselves? I think that’s almost a separate thing.

  11. I’m wondering what “college fully funded” means:
    a) I currently have full Middlebury tuition of $70,000 X 4 years = $280,000 in a 529 account for each kid, just hoping that earnings outpace cost increases bw now and then
    b) At current contribution rates and 6% annual growth, we’ll have enough for…
    etc., etc.

    At church, they did a little program celebrating recent graduates. Most of the people who agreed to be featured were high school grads, probably because they were the ones still active in the youth group. They did a little write-up for each, and I noted that, of about a dozen accomplished students, not a single one was planning to attend a private college. All were in state except one going to NC State (why, if Va. Tech is in-state? Maybe they offered significant merit aid? This kid had taken 19!!! AP classes and had a 4.5 GPA). And a good three or four of them, all of whom had things like high GPAs and NHS and leader of this and that, were heading to community college with stated plans to transfer to UVa. or Va. Tech. And I have no doubt that they will, I was just surprised to see that, apparently, many bright students are actually taking advantage of this cost-savings with easy transfer option.

  12. “I do get that the notion of “quintiles” has flaws, but if you are squarely in the top 5% of the country for income year after year, it is kind of ridiculous to say that you are just a regular ol’ “middle class” family.”

    I agree. Okay, by some measures maybe you don’t consider yourself rich but by this important income measure you’re rich as far as I’m concerned. But I don’t agree with the author that most rich people need to feel guilty.

  13. Based on a combination of what Houston and WCE said, we are borderline “rich”. When we both worked, we hovered near the top 5% threshold, with some years above and others below. However, now that only one of us works part-time, our income is more solidly in the UMC.

    I think one of the Totebag “values” is that totebaggers do not flaunt their “riches”, so totebaggers look more UMC than “rich”.

    DD#1 goes to a private parochial school. Not all families are “rich”, I would say roughly 70% are. Some students are there are scholarship and some families are very religious and could not fathom the idea of their kids going to public school. DD#2 goes to a public school that sits in the middle of a “wealthy” neighborhood, but has kids zoned from solid middle class on up. Because she is in the pre-IB program, she is mainly in advanced classes and the parental support/involvement, which higher income affords is clearly present.

  14. Does anyone use the word “rich” to describe themselves?

    Makes me think of the line from Silicon Valley re: Gavin Belson:

    He’s got a yacht with a pool on it and a pool with a yacht in it.

  15. I have to say I fell rich as we continue to debate the merits of the Aman vs. the Peninsula.

  16. I am cool with rich. Not upper class. The former is based on net worth and, to some extent, income. Measurable things. The latter is based on a lot more and no matter how much $ I have, I will always think of myself as some type of middle class.

  17. I will add that I’m at a later stage in life than some of you with younger kids, so we’ve had many years to save. I also live in a lower cost part of the country, and also a lower tax part of the country.

    I think I’ve said before that the sheer riskiness of our financial life (scrambling for health care, no 401K, huge swings in annual income, semi-regular bouts of unemployment) have forced us to save more than if we had had steadier careers with benefits and regular paychecks.

  18. I was under the (obviously mistaken) impression that “rich” is used quite often by people to describe themselves. I always thought this was yet another area in which my parents were extremely strict.

  19. “but if you are squarely in the top 5% of the country for income year after year, it is kind of ridiculous to say that you are just a regular ol’ “middle class” family.””

    Top 5% is right around $200,000. Yes, $200k is higher than $150k, or $100k, or $75k. But just because you make slightly more than a lot of others doesn’t mean that you can afford the things that are necessary to be considered rich.

    At $200k, you can’t just freely have private schools, full-time maid five days a week, new’ish luxury cars, large house, vacation house, first class air travel, etc. etc. And most importantly, you’re probably still tied to your job.

    You’re rich when you can buy the things that rich people buy without a second thought. You’re not rich just because you makemore than other people who are also not rich.

  20. A kid I know was with some friends talking about those types of cookies you get when you fly — Biscoff. Now that cookie butter became more popular she was explaining the type of cookie they use. Her friends said she was rich, half in jest but they rarely or never flew. The rich kid would never say she was rich, but sometimes it shows even when you don’t mean it to.

  21. I have been reading “Little Women” with my oldest for a month and she asked me if there were only rich and poor people in the book and where were the normal people in the middle like us? I asked her what she thought was rich and she said having a huge mansion, a poodle and canopy beds.:) I’m glad she sees us as normal, but also I probably haven’t done a great job of making her realize how fortunate we are. When I told her that most people live in houses the size of her grandparents’ houses she was a little shocked (and horrified).

  22. “You’re not rich just because you makemore than other people who are also not rich.”

    Yes you are. I’m a finance person–the only measure I use for wealth is income and assets. How many days a week you have maid service is not an accurate measure of wealth.

  23. I’m a little confused about the author’s premise. With whom am I having these conversations where I refer to myself as either middle class or rich? Outside financial discussions here, I only discuss our overall finances with DH. And it’s certainly not along the lines of, why look honey, we’re rich!

    I don’t even know what “rich” means outside of coffee and chocolate.

  24. At $200k, you can’t just freely have… first class air travel,

    Sure you can. Rich people fly private.

  25. Which marker of middle class? My angle here is food. Though not the best choice for me or anyone I love, love, love a lot of foods that are clearly American middle class. Across the range of “fast food” places one can find, I’m always going to find something to eat. One small step up to “diner” food, into which I’d also place Waffle House, IHOP, Denny’s, yep all good. Continuing up into the “fast casual” segment, I’m choosier. But as well as I/my family can cook a wide variety of genuine Italian dishes, I’m not going to turn down an invitation to dinner with you if you suggest meeting at the Olive Garden, Carabba’s, Macaroni Grill. The middle market steak places (Outback, Longhorn), that’s different. No thanks, really, even though I’m sure I could find something I like on the menu. I can do so much better cooking for myself, not including the Bloomin’ Onion. More upper end chain places (e.g. Mortons, Smith & Wollensky, Ruth’s Chris, Bonefish) do have good food, but I’d much rather go to top-rated local place than a chain. And, really, the same goes for more pedestrian fare like e.g. barbecue. A local place, maybe not in the best neighborhood, or, as I’ve experienced in Texas, off the side of the road under a big oak tree, will be a great experience for me compared with Texas Roadhouse.

    So by my eating am I middle class?

  26. “I agree that calling oneself rich is usually not polite. But then at what point does it become polite? My $5M or $20M client?”

    $20M, bare minimum. Figure that’s enough for $800,000 in annual income forever.

  27. I would consider my in-laws rich. But they came from working class families and they were born late in the Depression. They have flown first class as long as I’ve known them. But when I did some legwork for FIL last week on flying private charter jet from their winter place out west to their main home on the east coast and found out it would cost ~$25k he decided that was too much. (And as a one-shot deal, he/they can afford it.)

  28. Yeah, so y’all know what I’m going to say. I have turned in my MC card. And I was going to say “not rich until we can support ourselves without jobs,” but realistically we’re there, just not at the current lifestyle (e.g., state school or partial scholarships for kids, not as much travel as we want to do). So, yeah, we’re rich — I would just never say so, because it’s gauche. Maybe I should be “The Artist Formerly Known as Middle Class” (TAFKAMC?).

    But I do have to say that the “strong whiff of entitlement” comment is offensive. I found a calculator online that says that for 2016, the top 5% household income was around $117K, the top 10% was around $162K/year, and the top 5% was around $215K. So, basically, the 5%-20% range was $115K-215K. See https://dqydj.com/household-income-percentile-calculator. I would guess, on average, that most of the people in these income brackets worked hard in school, worked hard in college, and are now working hard in jobs. They likely have two working parents, and at least one of those parents probably routinely works more than 40 hrs/week. They probably paid a giant amount of money for a house in a good school district, or are paying even more for private school. In short, they have done all of the things that our society tells us are the “right” things, frequently at the expense of current pleasure. And they feel like they pay extra taxes thanks to the AMT, are saving for college but still can’t conceive of funding 4 years at HYPS, and yet are going to make too much money to qualify for financial aid — not to mention retirement, which is also going to fall mostly on their shoulders, because they have no pensions and any cuts to SS will largely fall on them as well. So you call these people “entitled,” I think you’re going to get a massive backlash, because these folks are busting their asses trying to do the right thing for their families and still can’t figure out how to give their kids the same opportunities they had and fund their own futures.

    In reality, almost all of us were born on 3rd base. I don’t know that anyone here had it all perfect, but we all had some combination of economic resources, supportive parents, good schools, good timing on government programs, intelligence, worth ethic/inner drive, and just flat-out good luck to get degrees and get good jobs and keep those jobs and not get horrible illnesses and not be locked into dying industries/dying towns and not to face significant discrimination on a daily basis and all of those other things. But most of those are fairly invisible to us, because we’ve never had it any other way; I mean, I am highly conscious of growing up financially disadvantaged, but I take for granted the value of a mom who put my education above everything else — that was my experience, it’s all I know, so I have no clue how much harder it would have been if I hadn’t had that. I do think it’s easier for an outsider to spot those things that involve our own blind spots. But just as it’s inaccurate to assume that I got where I am solely because of my own merit, it is also inaccurate and offensive to act as though I got here purely by luck.

  29. “But I don’t agree with the author that most rich people need to feel guilty.”

    Yeah, I don’t think guilt is the right feeling at all. More like #blessed. (haha) I kind of think of MMM, and how he talks about how we should all be amazed that the water comes out of the faucet. I feel a little like that about where we’ve worked to get to – therefore grateful and a little amazed.

    “Yes you are. I’m a finance person–the only measure I use for wealth is income and assets. How many days a week you have maid service is not an accurate measure of wealth.”

    Right. You don’t have to use the word “rich”, but you are not in the “middle”. That is demonstrably false.

    “At $200k, you can’t just freely have private schools, full-time maid five days a week, new’ish luxury cars, large house, vacation house, first class air travel, etc. etc. And most importantly, you’re probably still tied to your job.”

    Probably not. But you can pick some of those things to have. And that’s still pretty damn good. And if you are consistently in the Top 5%, you can probably pick more of those things to enjoy than 95% of Americans.

    And Milo – LOL a the Trump photo.

  30. I don’t think I feel rich when you first think about it because I don’t have any “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” trappings but when I look at people who I went to high school with and other people I know, I think that we are. I live in a place where there are a lot of RICH people (Bentleys, Ferraris etc…) so it is easy to not feel rich but I tell my kids that we are so they can appreciate the many gifts they have. I don’t want them walking around with an iPhone feeling badly that we only drive a 7 year old Mercedes. I mostly buy what I want, when I want it. I don’t buy outrageous (Gucci) things but not because we can’t afford it but because I was raised by a middle class econ professor who grew up in the Great Depression. I don’t know how much milk costs, or meat – I just go to the store and buy what I would like to have. I try to make sure that I only buy what we need but that’s more about being wasteful than money. I have everything I need and most of what I want – that’s pretty rich in my book. I think what is rich depends on your perspective.

  31. “but you are not in the “middle”. That is demonstrably false.”

    Middle class does not necessarily mean (probably SHOULD not mean) the middle of the population distribution. Why would it? We don’t have any real expectation that there are going to be equal numbers of rich and poor. We generally expect that the poor will greatly outnumber the rich. Blest are they, poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of God, etc., etc.

    Middle class means between the rich and the poor, or perhaps the rich and those who are struggling, or even the working class, if you want to draw a finer point.

    “Probably not. But you can pick some of those things to have. And that’s still pretty damn good.”

    Yes, it’s certainly good. But good and rich are not the same.

  32. I would guess, on average, that most of the people in these income brackets worked hard in school, worked hard in college, and are now working hard in jobs.

    Hard? I’m not so sure about that.

  33. We are a split household on this. DH grew up lower middle class and still in his mind considers himself to be there. Our house is in a good school district but it is very simple, the cars we drive – our kids would definitely want us to get new ones. Once DH and myself were arguing, that’s when I told him to look at the income on the tax return. He conceded that we have the income but not the wealth.
    Our kids go to private religious school.
    The vibe is definitely the range that you find on the Totebag. The kid’s education is our biggest fixed expense.

  34. I would probably say I make less than most of you and I am definitely middle class. I do agree with a bit about the article (although I’d probably use different words) is that there isn’t necessarily an awareness of privilege here in the US. A lot of us got where we are because we had a very solid foundation that helped us. And this is something I wish certain people in government would acknowledge. Very few people are able to make it entirely on your own. at some point, someone or something helped you.

  35. But I do have to say that the “strong whiff of entitlement” comment is offensive.

    Your comment is a little offensive in that it implies that those with a HHI of $55k just didn’t work hard enough. Maybe they worked harder than you but because they have an IQ of 87 $55k is the best they can do. Your wealth isn’t only about your hard work because let’s face, it none of us are “down the mines” to quote Cora Crawley.

  36. Sorry, upper middle class here. I grew up in an odd category, culturally elite but economically in the plain old middle class. We had one car, went weekend camping instead of official vacations,and lived in a small house in a subdivision populated by truck drivers and secretaries. I knew plenty of people, growing up, that I considered to be upper middle class – they lived in the nicer subdivisions, had two cars, went to Myrtle Beach for a week every year, and were members of the Aqua Club. There were also rich people in the area, but I never met any of them – they were socialites and their kids went to boarding school. I first met rich people, actual rich people, in college. They were very different from the upper middle class kids I knew from home as well as the upper middle class kids at my university. They went to Spain or the Canary Islands for spring break, and wore really expensive clothes and makeup. They had attended boarding school or elite private international schools for HS. They all spoke two or three languages. They were not rooted to a region or country the way the upper middle class kids were.
    There is no question, my family’s values and culture are upper middle class, not rich.

  37. “They probably paid a giant amount of money for a house in a good school district”

    I’m really wondering, of, let’s say all households in America with incomes between $150k and $300k, what percent gave much consideration to schools and were even in the sort of area where buyers face a decision between a 50-year-old 3 br. rambler zoned for the “best schools” vs. something much nicer; and what percent are blissfully unaware or unbothered by such considerations and simply buy this because they like the foyer and the pool:

    http://www.tegacayrealestate.com/search.html

    In most parts of the country, and I don’t know specifically about that Charlotte suburb, the $500k McMansion with the pool also happens to come with the best school district in the area. There’s no great sacrifice to be considered.

    It’s only when you live in close proximity to a significant portion of people with $800k+ household incomes, and limited land and tired housing stock, that this becomes an issue for the “Five Percent,” let’s call them.

  38. Thanks for putting that insipid song into my head Milo.

    In most respects, neither DH nor I started on third base. Only one of our parents went to college, and he was the first in his family to do so, living at home and working his way through a very average Catholic school. FIL was a high school dropout. We both lived in small houses with large families and one full bathroom. Very average public schools. We won the stable family and IQ lotteries for sure, but we were also willing to work hard and delay gratification for decades. We were able to give our kids some of what we didn’t have but they won’t stay in our current income bracket without hard work. It’s unlikely that more than one of them will make the necessary trade offs to get there.
    So I don’t feel guilty.

  39. Definitely agree with Mooshi on the global perspective of the rich. Cousin-in-law is from a wealthy (9 or 10 figure family net worth) international family. She is well-spoken, intelligent, attractive and comfortable in almost any social situation. Her life experience, and her lifetime financial security, give her a perspective that my upper middle class friends lack.

    Another aspect of household income not considered here is family size. Finn has commented in the past on how healthcare subsidies and education guidelines assume a poverty level increment in household income by family size and I’ve noticed that as well.

  40. @Rhett: Huh? Read my last paragraph. I think you and I are actually in agreement on the underlying point. Tl;dr: Even if you make $200K, you’re going to be pissed off if someone calls you “entitled,” because you look around and you’re working your ass off every day and doing all the “right” things and still have to worry about sending your kids to college and retiring, and you’re one layoff away from maybe it all goes away. OTOH, the reality is that if you’re making $200K, you had a lot of things go right in your life to get you there, and many of those things are probably invisible to you. So to someone outside your particular class [who is likely working just as hard but for less pay], you look entitled because you don’t see/appreciate the luck involved.

  41. Agree with Milo that most people don’t obsess about school pyramids when buying a house. I know people in the low six figure income brackets who did not even know the schools for which their house was zoned at the time they bought their house.
    We were not like that, but Totebaggers are outliers.

  42. what percent gave much consideration to schools

    Some do but for others “the schools” is the polite excuse used to explain paying top dollar to live in a nice area.

  43. Obsessing about schools is a very non-rich but highly educated thing to do. Rich people just send the kids to private.

  44. “Obsessing about schools is a very non-rich but highly educated thing to do. Rich people just send the kids to private.”

    I think this is a key differentiator of the rich from the UMC. Rich people don’t have to worry about school districts because they would never be sending their kids to public school anyway.

  45. “We won the stable family and IQ lotteries for sure, but we were also willing to work hard and delay gratification for decades.”

    I think maybe LFB and others would consider that to mean you started on third base, or second base at least. Because really, stable family, high IQ, and determination just by themselves give you a terrific head start.

  46. @Milo — https://www.publicschoolreview.com/blog/what-is-the-connection-between-home-values-and-school-performance. Caveat that I haven’t delved into the underlying studies, just picked this because it referenced several studies.

    I agree that this may be an area in which I am somewhat oblivious, because our family (on both sides) focuses on schools first, then neighborhood. I assume I am not the only one, though, as the value of our house dropped probably $50K when they rezoned us to a different ES (est. based on prices differences over the past year). But, you know, we also live in an area of largely two-income professional couples who have decided to move out to the ‘burbs because they want to have kids, and so since that’s basically us, it shouldn’t be surprising that they’d think similarly about it.

    I think one of the operative theories of why the MC/UMC feels so stretched is because RE prices have gone up more in better school districts, because so many people are trying to get into them. But I also agree that it is likely hard to tease out that link when there are so many other confounding variables, like house size, neighborhood safety/amenities, racial/religious considerations, etc.

  47. “There is no question, my family’s values and culture are upper middle class, not rich.”

    This “global perspective” on wealth is fine, but I’m like Houston and for purposes of this discussion related to the specific article, I look at it from a financial perspective. So that’s why I stick to my top 5% definition.

  48. yeah, when I said “I wonder” I really meant it. I wasn’t saying it’s only a distinct minority that says “schools first, and then house.”

    I do think that geography is a huge factor, and I definitely think that in Charlotte suburbs, or in our sometimes-discussed Norman, OK, you don’t really have to make a sacrifice. But the other reality is that I think there are a lot more Five Percent households concentrated in your area, or DC, or NYC area, etc., who are at least presented with the decision, even if they don’t consider it, than there are in the rest of the country. That’s why it’s hard to guess.

  49. I read the article when it came out, and I thought the headline didn’t match the article (common problem in newspapers.) He really seemed to be arguing that we should get rid of the mortgage deduction. Many Totebaggers have agreed with that in principle. Also, he’s just being British and acting as though he’s the first person ever to notice that there is a class system in the U.S. You’re not, dude.

  50. While it is useful to draw lines based strictly on numbers, for the purposes of understanding trends in the economy and so on, I think ignoring culure gives a misleading picture. Income and savings vary from year to year, and are also strongly linked to the length of time you have spent working. Cost of living is profoundly different in different areas. And beyond that, culture is important in determining opportunities. In my own case, my family’s income and savings were pretty similar to the factory workers and single mom receptionists who lived around us, but our family culture was not the sam.e And that determined outcomes for us in a way that ensured we would move upwards whereas the kids of the factory workers wouldn’t. Another example – compare a stereotypical urban family living off welfare and food stamps (or these days, a rural family on disability living in a trailer) with a Hasidic family, who commonly also live on assistance so the fathers can study. It is really hard to compare these two groups.

  51. “’We won the stable family and IQ lotteries for sure, but we were also willing to work hard and delay gratification for decades.’

    I think maybe LFB and others would consider that to mean you started on third base, or second base at least. Because really, stable family, high IQ, and determination just by themselves give you a terrific head start.”

    Right — This. Although it’s not about feeling guilty — I don’t think anyone who has plugged away and worked hard and all that should feel ashamed of or guilty about what they’ve earned. It’s more the “there but for the grace of God go I” thing, the recognition that other people may not have been able to get to the same place because they had more to overcome. It’s not about debating who started farther around the basepaths, more just acknowledging that if you end up successful, you likely started somewhere other than up at bat. Honestly, even just being born in the US is a huge advantage compared to many other places we could have been born.

    Basically, I get annoyed with both sides of the argument — those who treat successful people as if their success was entirely due to luck and didn’t involve sacrifice and hard work; and those who have succeeded and assume that it was entirely due to their own efforts.

  52. In Milo’s example, I know that people who buy in that area like living on/near the lakes. Those houses are new in planned communities. Usually one spouse works and that is enough to afford the house.
    Also a very big deal made by folks is taxes. Those areas have less taxes than the close into the city areas. Schools are supposed to be good there. But “good” is relative term. It is not Newton or Lincoln Sudbury.

  53. “Also, he’s just being British and acting as though he’s the first person ever to notice that there is a class system in the U.S. You’re not, dude.”

    Ha! I thought the same thing when I read it. Somehow Britain is superior because it is baked into the culture to own your snobbery or something.

    I do feel like there is a real “aw shucks” part of this though that is baked into the culture. That’s why our parade of uber-wealthy gubernatorial candidates all are running endless commercials where they are wearing plaid shirts and hangin’ out with regular folks. And one of them is named Kennedy for God’s sake.

  54. The whole school thing depends on where you live. In our county we have all or part of at least 6 school districts. We have a number of private elementaries, fewer middle schools and even fewer high schools. Until fairly recently, last 10 years or so, there were 4 co-ed private high schools and one all girls. Three of the 4 co-ed privates are inside the “best” school district (and houses cost the most). Two of those 5 have very small graduating classes – 40 or less. Plus, unless you live relatively close to one of them, your drive to get there is awful.

  55. To what extent do people believe that the curricular offering of particular schools is superior (and mean that when they “want good schools”) and to what extent do people want their children to go to schools that have mostly other children like theirs? (I believe that people care about social class/parental educational level far more than race, ethnicity or religion, but am open to data that shows my county is unusually enlightened.)

    All the schools in my district (and the surrounding districts and most private schools) use Common Core so I don’t have a curriculum choice. I like my kids’ school because of the other children that go there. If they switched the teachers and the building with a Chapter 1 school, I don’t think much would change.

  56. In our area, some families have had their kids go to private school, some to public and within the public schools, there are the public magnet families who have done tons of comparisons on the various magnets available to their kids.
    Also, some families left the final
    decision to their kids on private school vs. public.
    I had to salute my colleague who knew way more about how to get his kids into a desired public school magnet than the school district administration itself.

  57. To what extent do people believe that the curricular offering of particular schools is superior (and mean that when they “want good schools”) and to what extent do people want their children to go to schools that have mostly other children like theirs?

    I don’t think it’s either/or. It’s both. I want my kid to go to a school with a challenging curriculum. I also want him to go to a school with other children who are engaged and driven, and that probably means the children of academics, or certain kinds of upper-middle-class professional.

  58. As to ethnicity and race, the children of the visiting professors at Stanford were always welcome and accepted. Asian, East Asian, British, African, etc. But that’s not really the issue, is it?

  59. AustinMom said about private schools in her area “Plus, unless you live relatively close to one of them, your drive to get there is awful.”

    Again, rich people don’t think about this, but UMC people do. My mother taught for a while at a private school where kids of a number of rich families sent their kids, as well as some aspiring UMC families. The rich people didn’t think about transit. For a while, the kids of the governor went to that school. They lived about 40 minutes away, but they had a driver who brought them to school every day.

    And of course, many of the really rich simply send their kids to boarding schools in Switzerland.

  60. Private schools are also very differentiated on class. The working class and middle-middle class send their kids to Catholic school or to evangelical Christian school. The UMC types send their kids to private Montessori, or to aspirational, “academically challenging” private schools. Rich people send their kids to Choate or Hotchkiss

  61. “To what extent do people believe that the curricular offering of particular schools is superior (and mean that when they “want good schools”) and to what extent do people want their children to go to schools that have mostly other children like theirs?”

    Hmmm. Well, I am probably not the target audience, because we considered it but ultimately stayed where we were. For me, the biggest question was fit for DD, a/k/a more flexibility to deal with the academically-advanced, minimal-impulse-control kid. There is one private I know of that is known to be both academically rigorous and a little more individualistic; we also looked at a smaller Jewish school that a colleague’s ADHD kid had attended and that had the added bonus of covering the Jewish education that I couldn’t.

    For me, the “other kids like mine” was a negative. I don’t want my kids surrounded by a bunch of rich white kids — we have that demographic sufficiently covered at home, thanks very much. I like the fact that my neighborhood is more MC (probably trending UMC now), and that a bunch of different kinds of people live here and go to school together. So when DD got over the humps and did fine in the local public, I never really re-thought it.

  62. RMS, when you say, “As to ethnicity and race, the children of the visiting professors at Stanford were always welcome and accepted. Asian, East Asian, British, African, etc. But that’s not really the issue, is it?”

    I think you have taught me something about “racism” that I never understood before. I thought that “racism” meant discrimination based on race, and that “classism” was considered a separate problem, and that “racism” is the problem tackled by prestigious schools that preferentially admit UMC URM.

    For example, the head of a ~52 professor engineering department at the local university and her husband are both African American, and they live in a nice neighborhood and no one seems to find that remarkable or have any concern about their children going to school with African American kids. If anything, the consensus is that more racial diversity in our community is a good thing. The children of the African American engineering professors will probably attend higher ranked schools than comparable top percentile, multi-AP Asian or white students, and, because of the country’s history of racism, people are OK with that, too.

    Like Finn’s flip-flop example, racial norms/beliefs/stereotypes must vary dramatically by region.

  63. Rich people send their kids to Choate or Hotchkiss

    Is this still true ? I had the feeling that this was so in the past but have moved down the ladder as a choice.

  64. “I’m really wondering, of, let’s say all households in America with incomes between $150k and $300k, what percent gave much consideration to schools and were even in the sort of area where buyers face a decision between a 50-year-old 3 br. rambler zoned for the “best schools” vs. something much nicer; and what percent are blissfully unaware or unbothered by such considerations and simply buy this because they like the foyer and the pool:”

    My guess, and it is only a guess based on anecdotal evidence, is that the vast majority are buying the house because they like the foyer and the pool. But that in that price range, there isn’t all that much that can really go wrong school-wise outside of a large urban district. I don’t think most people even accurately assess the lifestyle effects of the commute. I cannot tell you how many people I know who have bought a “dream” house with a long commute, claim it is going to be fine, and then endlessly bitch about their commute. And that is a very easily-tested, known, quantifiable thing. Unlike “school quality”. I am also sometimes shocked by how impulsive people are in real estate – I am not. I guess that is why I am really a Totebag member even though I don’t buy organic Gatorade for my kid’s little league team. (I just this weekend found that organic Gatorade exists, that it is prefered by a certain type of baseball mom. My eyes almost rolled back into my brain.)

  65. Rhett – you should consider the Radisson in Tokyo. It has a pool and a play room for kids! And super convenient to the airport!!

    Despite the fact that we are in the same top 5% for income, I feel like Rhett is rich and we’re just very well-off. I would never consider the Aman, or paying for business class across the ocean.

    But that’s just splitting hairs. I think anyone planning a family vacation abroad shouldn’t insult the “middle class” by insinuating that they are part of it.

  66. Well, I am probably showing my age…. You can tell I no longer hang out with truly rich people. Where do rich kids go now? In NYC, I’ve always heard Dalton.

  67. I almost submitted this article for discussion when I saw the headline. I never sent it in because I didn’t like the piece.

    We’ve talked about this a few times, but I never feel rich in NY metro. The only time I felt rich was when I relocated to Tampa on my NY salary. This was in mid 90s, and it was less expensive in that part of Florida. The cost of living is still lower than NY, but I would not feel rich there now because costs went up too much.

    I was in the Catskills today to drop off something at camp. It’s amazing (and depressing) how much further my money would go if I moved just 50 miles north. The circle around NY metro really does create a bubble because there is just so much real wealth here.

    As for school districts, even the woman that cleans my house is aware of school districts. This county and the parents that live here are obsessed with public schools. She never finished HS and she has two kids. She’s here legally and she moved two miles to get her kids into a better school district. She told me the rents were much higher, but the schools are better.

    My Town has several school districts. The houses in the best school district are two to four times as expensive as a house that is just blocks away. It’s a difference of hundreds of thousands for a pretty basic house.

  68. Mooshi, there are so many “really” rich kids that they’re spread out all over the city. Dalton, Horace Mann, Spence, Brearly, Trinity etc

  69. “even though I don’t buy organic Gatorade for my kid’s little league team”

    Hunh? Organi-what? There is such a thing??

    I know what I should do: I should go hipster-artisanal. Since the concept for Gatorade came from pickle juice, I should bottle my own artisanal performance beverage. Which I would create by draining the liquid off of a jar of Vlasic, diluting it until it’s drinkable, and then pouring it into a pretty glass jar with a rubber ring and stopper, like this — http://www.kitchenstuffplus.com/bormioli-rocco-giara-glass-bottle-with-stopper-clear-2 — with a little slate as the tag with the name in faux-chalk marker. And then I’d charge $12.99 for it.

  70. I posted the link before but one way the school district is trying to level the inequality in neighboring schools with different population segments is merge the schools so that the resulting school would be somewhere in the middle not one extremely high and the other extremely low. It has presented the MC and UMC parents with an interesting dilemma – trying to solve social inequality, but are they prepared for their children to be part of the experiment.

  71. Louise: I think Brooklyn tried to do this. The result was Totebaggy parents protesting at education town halls about having their kids mix with poor kids. I think the integration plan was scrapped but the NYers here probably have more news. This was featured in NYT and John Oliver.

  72. The only was to equal the education playing field is to force economic and social integration so that rich parents can’t buy their way into a better school. This would require forced busing so that every child had equal access to both the good schools and the bad schools.

  73. Houston, interestingly, in one of those desegregation efforts last year, it was also the black parents protesting. They felt they would lose “their school” if lots of UMC white kids poured in. Evidently it had happened at another school in the area about 10 years ago. WNYC did a bunch of stories on this.

  74. One effect of being in the public school system is that my kids are aware that even though our house is old (and not in a charming way) and it may seem like we’re always so cost-conscious, our family is in fact toward the richer end of the spectrum for the metropolitan area.

    On the culture-versus-pure-$$ as the determinant of class, I think for most purposes you should be looking at both. As others have pointed out, when you’re talking about advantages you get from being born into a particular class, the money is only a part of it.

  75. The only was to equal the education playing field is to force economic and social integration so that rich parents can’t buy their way into a better school.

    The data doesn’t really show that. A school that’s modestly performing is usually doing fine considering its students are of modest ability. The evidence that the school itself is significantly impacting the outcome really isn’t there.

  76. I have very good UMC friends that when faced with the options that Milo mentioned took the big new house with the pool. They didn’t even consider the school district. They could easily afford to live in a better school district with a much smaller and older home. The couple grew up in a very rural part of Iowa and to them, the bar is set pretty low on what is a good school district. They don’t seem bothered by the fact that there is no art. music, or foreign language classes in ES. In fact, the husband commented that by not having those classes, it means that they can spend more time on learning what is important (English, Math, Science) because with 35+ kids in the class they need more time. Different strokes for different folks.

  77. The schools in NYC are slowly (very slowly) changing in a few neighborhoods. Unfortunately, many are still segregated by income. In some cases, the city forced some zoning changes because certain schools were just too overcrowded. The other issue is the one that I mentioned above which that there are just too many people that want to get into the same private schools. In some cases, there just isn’t enough space or people can’t afford it so they do take a chance on the public schools. When enough people start to use the public schools, some of the schools do start to improve. It is a slow process because more families have to be convinced to take a chance on a school that might have low test scores.

    The same is true in Westchester county. The federal government won a lawsuit a few years ago that forced communities without any affordable housing to build affordable housing. In the example I mentioned above about my Town, no affordable housing was required to be built in that one school district that wasn’t performing as well as the others in my Town. All of the other villages in the Town had to build affordable housing or they risked losing federal funds. My village just offered those units in a lottery this year. It took a few years for the units to finally get built in each community, and that has also been a slow processes the Westchester county executive fought this with his own lawsuits.

  78. At one point I thought my neighbor was protesting the school rezoning (Arrgh) but turns out there was another protest about a large town home development. I don’t think there were protests, just questions about whether the desired outcome was one that is achievable. Any parent can move their kid to a magnet and MC and UMC parents tend to do that here instead of totally fleeing the public school system.

  79. Lauren, your town actually built the housing? Most towns in Westchester ignored it. One village in our town did build it, and they quickly became the “not desirable” village in our town. The town part, and the Other Village (the uber swanky one) did not build the housing.

  80. “This would require forced busing so that every child had equal access to both the good schools and the bad schools.” Which we had in this country beginning in the 1970s and resulted in “white flight” from cities to suburbs where the schools had “people like us” and/or whites with means putting their kids in private schools.

    My theory: for all the good (and being on the right side of the law, as well as just the right thing to do) Brown vs Board of Education did, the ruling that struck down separate but equal, it is the root of the situation many, maybe all, metropolitan areas find themselves in. A few good public schools in the main city district along with a lot of pretty lousy ones. First ring suburbs with better schools and some racial and economic integration, second ring suburbs with little racial or economic integration, bigger lots, stable families, highly educated parents, high (UMC) incomes, “good” public schools. Most people will not stand for their children to be part of some grand experiment to figure out how to dismantle the pervasive de facto segregation that persists in our country. Oh, and we’re unwilling, especially in NY, to pay taxes for schools into one big central pot and then spread it around first to the schools that most need the help (urban ones, mostly, but some rural ones) and then, less on a per-pupil basis to the UMC micro districts that are doing just fine and the PTA can fundraise add’l for whatever they think is needed.

    Again, not saying Brown was wrong; it’s just the causal factor IMO.

  81. Fred McMurray said “and we’re unwilling, especially in NY, to pay taxes for schools into one big central pot and then spread it around ”
    The Northeast in general, land of the microdistrict, designed to ensure segregation, masked as “local control”. New Jersey and Connecticut are just as bad as NY

  82. Off-topic and totally meaningless what would you do: This week there is no school or camp, so I arranged a road trip with DS — take him to my dad’s this past weekend, drop him off for a few days while I drive on down to my Granny’s, come back, pick him up, and head home this coming F (when my dad is heading out of town). Then DS’ team made it into the championship game — at 6PM Monday night. Ugh. So revised plan: leave Tuesday crack of dawn, get down to my dad’s lunchtime-ish, both of us go to Granny’s late Thursday (I have a late-morning call F that I can’t avoid and can’t really do from the road, so it’s either leave at @5 AM or go in Thurs. night), then drive home all day Sunday.

    Now, of course, we are looking at Wrath of God-type weather coming in, and they have already canceled tonight’s game. Rescheduled for tomorrow at 6. So do I:

    1. Tell DS we are skipping the game (which seems stupid now that I have already blown three days on it)

    2. Leave tomorrow AM as scheduled without DS, or

    3. Leave Wed. crack of dawn, push the drive to Granny’s to Friday crack of dawn, return Sunday.

    Not going is not an option — I still have a Granny, I don’t get to see her enough. And given locations, flying wouldn’t save meaningful amounts of time except on the return (small airports = change planes + drive), and the return is going to blow Sunday in any event. I’m leaning toward option 3 but wondering if I’m completely nuts.

  83. Here’s a chart of perspectives and values by class:

    Totebaggers would fall more strongly into the middle class than the upper class on that, in my estimation.

  84. Mooshi, yes…the Village built affordable housing. When I saw the prices, it wouldn’t be considered affordable int he rest of the country. They’re also required to designate a certain number of units or houses as affordable when they build those massive projects that are going up in some of the villages near me. 10% of the apartments are designated as affordable. In one case recently, a developer built 11 houses, and one of the houses was required to be less expensive. In all of the other cases, it was townhouses or apartments. We need had apartments in this area, but then several got approved at once so they will have some designation for affordable units.

  85. “My theory: for all the good (and being on the right side of the law, as well as just the right thing to do) Brown vs Board of Education did, the ruling that struck down separate but equal, it is the root of the situation many, maybe all, metropolitan areas find themselves in. A few good public schools in the main city district along with a lot of pretty lousy ones. First ring suburbs with better schools and some racial and economic integration, second ring suburbs with little racial or economic integration, bigger lots, stable families, highly educated parents, high (UMC) incomes, “good” public schools.”

    Well, I think you could say that the ruling is what led to this particular distribution, but it’s not the root cause of the problem. If separate but equal was still considered equal, we’d have well-funded white schools and poorly-funded black schools. You’d probably still have a few of the former in desirable parts of the city, but most of the latter would still be in the less-desirable neighborhoods given the current correlation between race and socioeconomic levels. Meanwhile, areas like mine would probably be significantly less mixed, because many areas wouldn’t have enough of a minority population to support their own schools, so they’d probably have to travel long distances — or, you know, move closer to where their school is. So you’re probably still going to end up with relatively segregated neighborhoods, as parents with jobs (on the higher-income end) and parents without transportation (on the lower-income end) would likely prefer to live closer to the schools that their kids were allowed to go to — those neighborhoods may just be distributed differently throughout the city/inner-ring suburbs.

    So IMO it’s all of the negatives of segregation with none of the opportunity for escape through better education.

  86. The Humor row in HM’s chart reminded me of the difficulty I have in finding Father’s Day cards. I really dislike all the farting and beer humor cards. I don’t find that funny at all, and it definitely doesn’t describe my relationship with my dad or with DH. I spent a long time in the card aisle this weekend….

  87. @HM — Well, apparently I am MC after all, at least on average — I had 3 each in the poor and rich columns and 6 in the middle (with a few I couldn’t answer). :-)

  88. Ada — I’m not sure Rhett is paying for his trans-oceanic business-class tickets; he might be getting them with points. Right, Rhett?

    My brother went to an elite New England boarding school, even though we definitely weren’t rich. He was an academically gifted kid, and my striving immigrant parents wanted him to have every possible advantage in navigating the American “system”. My mother used to read the society page in the newspaper (there was such a thing once), and she took note of the high schools where the Boston Brahmins sent their kids. So, my brother went to one of those.

    I have wondered whether boarding schools are as popular now as they used to be, even for the truly rich. These days, many UMC-and-above parents seem to want to keep their kids close for as long as possible — not get them out of the house ASAP. Thus, I imagine that many wealthy parents would be loath to send a 14-year-old to boarding school, even if they can afford it. I have heard anecdotally that a lot of the New England prep schools are recruiting heavily in Asia to try to fill their classes.

    Re. UMC totebaggers who think they want their kid in a diverse school, but maybe really don’t, I recently read a fun fictional book that explored this topic: “Class” by Lucinda Rosenfeld:

  89. I live in an area that has one of the largest school districts in the country. It is very segregated and people lose their minds when there are zoning changes.

  90. “I think ignoring culure gives a misleading picture.”

    I agree, but neither should we ignore the actual money. When you’re making $250,000 or more, I simply don’t consider you middle class even if you drive a Toyota Corolla and shop at Target. If you want to call yourself UMC rather than rich, that’s semantics.

    “But that’s just splitting hairs. I think anyone planning a family vacation abroad shouldn’t insult the “middle class” by insinuating that they are part of it.”

    Splitting hair or semantics, I agree and think the middle-class family of four making $90,000 that is struggling to pay for a budget Florida vacation every other year would think most totebaggers are rich.

  91. Thanks, A Parent — just talked to DS, that’s what he wants to do, so that’s the plan.

  92. The main issue with this debate is that people are mixing social class with income class. Based on income, probably everyone here, myself included, are upper class. Based on lifestyle and social class, most of us are middle class. For Milo to insist that he is middle class based on income and wealth is a complete joke.

  93. @July – I agree with you completely. I think that still aligns to HM’s chart, BTW. I’m not saying “Five-to-One Percenters” are fabulously wealthy or part of the boarding school/private jet class. But not just regular old middle-class folks either, even if you chose to spend your disposable income on things besides luxury cars and organic groceries. Even if you just save it & buy “freedom” as MMM would say.

  94. HM – Interesting chart. I agree for my family most falls into the middle class.

    Here in the bigger districts – once they get more than 3 high schools – have some version of sorting by specialization, such as fine arts, IB, arts and/or sciences, or vocational programs (such as culinary arts). But, in most cases, the family must provide the transportation to the specialized program if the student qualifies. Again, this only is viable only if you already are zoned for that school or have the ability to provide the transportation.

    My parents always emphasized living below your means to ensure your life span wasn’t longer than your means. What I see is people who live like upper middle class, but fall into the $200K a year range, because they are saving for college for their kids and for retirement for themselves.

  95. The problem I have with that chart is that most of the people I know who are economically middle class (many of DH’s younger relatives) have the values and attitudes listed in the Poverty column, whereas most of the economically “rich” (according to July’s def) that I personally know align to the middle class column in terms of attitudes. I haven’t really known any of what I think of as the truly rich since college, but the ones I knew in college did align to the third column (especially that bit about seeing things from an international pov)

  96. Ivy siad ” But not just regular old middle-class folks either, ”
    And that is what we use to call, back when I was a kid, the upper middle class. Those people who joined the Aqua Club, something we couldn’t do (we joined the YMCA)

  97. The problem I have with that chart is that most of the people I know who are economically middle class (many of DH’s younger relatives) have the values and attitudes listed in the Poverty column, whereas most of the economically “rich” (according to July’s def) that I personally know align to the middle class column in terms of attitudes.

    MM, that goes to Milo’s point (I think?) that looking at the median income and assuming that defines the middle of the middle class may not be the most effective way to capture class distinctions. I guess it depends on what we’re trying to talk about when we talk about class. Does income show relative spending power? Yes, more or less (gotta account for wealth and for regional price differences). Does it tell you what class someone is in? Not necessarily.

  98. The reason this article exists is because there are some recently published books that talk about how the UMC is “hoarding” opportunity and living in a walled land of opportunity, while the “real” middle class is struggling. Examples include good schools that you need to “buy” into, luxury summer camps, travel sports teams, SAT tutors, etc.

  99. Statistically, there aren’t enough “wealthy” people to matter. Even the people with top 1% household incomes (business owners, specialist physicians, financiers, etc.) have mostly middle class values, and many people with top 1% wealth don’t have the schedule obligations of people with top 1% income earning obligations.

    A thorough analysis of household income/wealth needs to include number of earners, especially if children are involved. Milo has observed before that $120k from one earner is a different situation than $120k with two earners and childcare obligations. I concur.

  100. My family was not wealthy growing up but I knew that we were better off than many other families in our neighborhood. We ate well. We had a car. My father worked a lot of OT and he didn’t hang out in bars. We rarely went on vacation, although there were several trips overseas to visit relatives. It was after college when I developed friendships at work and was exposed to kids and the lifestyles that come with having a father who was a partner in a Big 4 firm or a law firm or owned his own business. It was an eye opener.

  101. I didn’t like the article for reasons similar to those of RMS. After all, the upper classes in Britain have always look back at their centuries of inbreeding and prided themselves on being a bit stupid and unfit for hard work. They know that their social standing is not based on merit, however defined.

  102. Houston said “Examples include good schools that you need to “buy” into, luxury summer camps, ”

    Some of these things have long been true. Particularly schools. SInce we fund school via property tax for the most part, and that was even more true back when my parents were kids, where you lived determined how good your schools were. My mother lived in a nicer part of Detroit than my father, and that made a big difference in terms of school quality. Her HS, back in the 50’s, was considered to be one of the top HSs in the country.

    And northeasterners have long believed in expensive residential summer camps.

  103. And $120K at age 28 is very different from $120K at age 58

    I’m curious if that’s still a thing. Most people I know were set at their current income range by their early 30s. What sort of situations would have you be making $60k at 30 but $120k at 58?

  104. Rhett, some academics fit that profile. Start at $40K and be at $500K by 55

  105. Rhett, Possible ideas:
    PhD biomedical engineer would make $60k at 30 but $120k as middle manager at 58. Teacher in a good district would make $60k at 30 and $120k as a principal/administrator at 58. Cop would make $60k at 30 but $120k as detective/chief of police (depending on community size, etc.) at 58.

    All these are people who have moved up the pyramid by doing good work.

  106. “Rhett, some academics fit that profile. Start at $40K and be at $500K by 55”

    That is pretty rare unless the academic patented something that generates income, or does a boatload of high level consulting work. Most of the really high incomes in academia go to the faculty at the med school who maintain a practice. And there are coaches, obviously.

  107. All these are people who have moved up the pyramid by doing good work.

    No, they’re people who moved up the ladder by being willing to go into management.

  108. PhD biomedical engineer would make $60k at 30 but $120k as middle manager at 58.

    Would that typically happen after 20 years? Or would you end up on a management track sooner?

  109. I assume you are talking inflation adjusted dollars in your salary comparisons. 60K 25 years ago is more or less equivalent to 110K today so you would be treading water in purchasing power.

  110. Rhett, first level biomedical manager would make ~$100k after 5-10 years depending on specialty/subfield and maybe $120k after 15-20 years. He would have topped out at $120k before 58.

  111. RMS’s point that people increased their salaries by being willing to become managers is well-taken. Mr WCE’s Dad’s death confirmed that Mr WCE did not want to spend 25 years as an engineering manager and then die, thus his decision to remain technical.

  112. There was a difference growing up between the Totebaggy values of my parents and some other families at our income level. Some families sent their kids on shopping vacations to places like Dubai and Singapore. My parents would pay for airfare to Italy and Egypt (where we had relatives stationed , so free accommodation and ferrying around) so that I could see the places described in my history books. Similar sort of thing with funding education in the U.S. I knew I could ask them for funds which I would repay. Unlike my other relatives my sibling and myself passed on a traditional big wedding. It just didn’t seem important and at some level we knew we were saving the family (parents and our own) money.

  113. reposting –

    Fascinating discussion. As noted in the past, on paper I’m sure we’d qualify as rich/UMC. In reality, I sure don’t feel it. We don’t have anywhere near what Milo has saved in our kids 529 accounts, we have a jumbo mortgage, we don’t have a car and paying for private middle school will be a challenge. Since the kids, when we travel, we visit family or friends, with an occasional trip overnight trip to an amusement park. I travel for work, so see some perks from that. Are we much better off than the families at the public school my kids attend? Yes, without a doubt. Are we on the level of some folks who live in my building? No, not even close. Such is life in NYC.

    We did look into schools when moving here, but thought we’d only live here for 5-7 years, so only focused on elementary.

    Houston and Mooshi – On NYC schools, yes in one district, both white (UMC) and black (poor) families objected to the change in zoning. The black families did not want to lose the (black dominant) culture of the school, even if it might result in better test results (aka a better education). My guess is they feared “gentrification” and being priced out (eventually) of a neighborhood that has been “theirs” for a generation. (Interestingly, probably not much longer than that.) That has happened in other neighborhoods. I find that fascinating since it places culture/community above higher educational standards and opportunities.

  114. “What sort of situations would have you be making $60k at 30 but $120k at 58”

    Professor? In non-inflation-adjusted dollars, my mom made $22K as an entry-level assistant prof after getting her Ph.D (in her case in her early 30s, because she taught HS for several years first). As a tenured full professor 20 years later she was making around $120K. I’m assuming that the $22K in @1978 was probably close to the equivalent of the $60K now.

    I do agree that 20 years is a long time, but there are a number of sort of modern-day “apprentice-ship professions” that give you ok-to-pretty-good pay for 5-10 years and then a potential for a significant bump up if you become a partner or go out and do your own thing — e.g., accountant, doctor, lawyer, lawyer, finance/hedge fund guy, etc. In many of those cases, if you went straight through from school, you’d probably be making that first big jump in your early- to mid-30s (e.g., you’d get out of residency/fellowships, you’d make partner wherever, etc.), but that first jump is just the beginning of the possible salary increases. So instead of seeing a sort of steep line from college until the early 30s, then a leveling off that maybe keeps up with inflation or whatever, you have more of a flatter line in the early years, and then it angles up after that point.

  115. I’m assuming that the $22K in @1978 was probably close to the equivalent of the $60K now.

    According to the CPI calculator 22k in 1978 would be $86,146 now.

  116. probably be making that first big jump in your early- to mid-30s (e.g., you’d get out of residency/fellowships

    For lawyers, I thought in big law it was say $150k to start then lock step for 7 years when you’ll be making 350k. At that point it’s up or out. If you make (junior) partner you’re making 450k and the 7 figures only comes when you make equity partner.

  117. According to the CPI calculator 22k in 1978 would be $86,146 now.

    Nooo…that seems way too high. I’m sure the calculator says that, though.

  118. Kerri – we had the discussion before but lawyers here for good law firms make a very decent living. A lot of people in my neighborhood are lawyers. On one income – everyone of them has a SAH spouse (two are SAH dads), three kids apiece, ample sized homes, in a good school district and some have lake or beach houses.

  119. Several of my friends are of counsel or special counsel in medium to large law firms. They never made partner, but they’ve been working in the firm(s) for 20- 25 years. They seem to make a decent amount of money even though they’re not partners. I don’t think it is up and out at every firm – even in the mid size to large firms.

  120. IME, there is a big jump in salary from 30ish to 40ish in regular corporate jobs, as long as you keep progressing in management. (Agreeing that being willing/able to manage people is a key here.) Then the pyramid gets very narrow, and only a few people make it into top management – usually in their late 40’s or early 50’s. That’s true for me & for a lot of my peers both in my field (Finance) and in other fields in the industries that I’ve worked in.

  121. My old firm would have happily let me sit at of counsel forever. The rates were high enough in my area that I was very profitable even if I never became a rainmaking partner. But this is very practice area and client specific. If you have to cut your rate regularly because of your practice area or clients, there is a lot more pressure to have a big book of business. And, of course, I would not have gotten any big raises. Just COL/market adjustments plus bonuses based on yearly $s.

  122. Also – if you are in a more technical area at a big firm (corp tax, ERISA, sophisticated IP stuff), you are much more likely to be kept around because there usually aren’t tons of people that can do the work compared to a general business litigator or transactional corp person.

  123. Two comments. In 1970 I dropped out of college and made 2.5 an hour or 5K a year as a typist/ asst secretary. Nowadays a similar job – some community college, office assistant, familiarity with word, excel, etc. – pays about 15/hr. or 30K a year. The inflation calculators vary a bit, but in the vicinity of 31K now for 5K then. So even though some jobs end up at higher relative value and some at lower over time, the CPI data should give a rough comparison.

    As I always say, if you want to do a “dirty” white collar job – by that I mean a job that is necessary, but too geeky, too arcane, too far from the client/customer – you can keep working for good money even if you are old, fat and socially challenged.

  124. In my “world”, you tend to see people work a job from 2-5 years. They have either moved within the organization to a better paying and/or more mobile position, or they have changed employers. It tends not to be linear, but more stair step, with small COL raises, then a jump with a promotion or job change. Also, in my “world” many jobs run on a two year cycle, so if after two cycles, you aren’t moving up, then you are moving on.

    Also, in my “world” certain technical skills are as valued as managerial skills. I had two jobs that fell in that category. It would have been a pay cut to have moved into management. We were rewarded for our ability to produce a quality and quantity that required knowledge of the subject matter, attention to detail and ability to produce accurate results under tight time constraints.

  125. L, as Milo points out, college fully funded can be a high bar, and even higher if you include grad school, which at today’s prices could easily add another $270k.

    Throw in inflation, and with 3 kids you’re easily looking at $2m.

  126. Milo pointed out that of his acquaintance lots of bright kids were going in state or at most to neighboring state colleges. That has been my experience as well. If the kid does get into and wants to attend a recognized private college the parents will somehow foot the bill. Otherwise, the parents may be close but not have saved every penny even for in state tuition. The gap may be covered by loans which are paid back aggressively and current cash flow.

  127. The comments on salaries at younger and older ages made me think of this 32 yo Doctor (Pediatric Gastroenterology Fellow) in NYC who makes $76,670. She was featured on Money Diaries, one of my latest internet obsessions. I imagine her salary will go up substantially.

    Welcome to Money Diaries, where we’re tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We’re asking millennials how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we’re tracking every last dollar.

    I find it fascinating to see how they spend their money — the ways they economize and the ways they splurge. This doctor scrounges as much free food as she can from the hospital where she works.

    http://www.refinery29.com/money-diary-new-york-doctor-pediatric-gastroenterology-fellow-salary

  128. “After all, the upper classes in Britain have always look back at their centuries of inbreeding and prided themselves on being a bit stupid and unfit for hard work. They know that their social standing is not based on merit, however defined.”

    You’ve read my favorite book, I assume? Catch-22 satirizes this a little bit. Nately, the rich one, recalls how his mother took immense pride in the fact that nobody in their family ever did a single thing for their money, not like, e.g., the low and dirty Rockefellers whose money was tied up in oil…

    DW and I are in NYC for a short getaway while the kids are at their grandparents for a week. Is the Tenement Museum a good idea for us? I’m also wondering if we should save that to do with the kids, who generally enjoy that kind of thing.

    Any other recs? We have theater tickets for tonight and tomorrow afternoon, just need to fill the time in between.

  129. I was thinking last night in the car…part of the reason we like to hang on to our Middle Class Cards is because, when rich is the goal, we feel like we’re too young and it’s too early yet to declare that we’re finished.

    It’s not about not recognizing good fortune or relative advantages. It’s simply more of a personal metric. Besides, my in-laws haven’t turned in their cards, either.

    We regularly hang out with families who are high in the stability/IQ advantages, but HHI (from one earner) might be $60k or $70k. So we stay grounded.

    We’re also friends with an ortho surgeon/NP couple, and they make us feel po’. From her, DW has learned about things like Stitch Fix and Peloton subscriptions (unlike my YouTube cycle classes).

    Similarly, my parents recently spent a weekend on Nantucket with old college friends at the enormous new house of a guy who became a “rainmaker,” travels by private jet, (and meets many other metrics). which is why it would seem silly for any of us to say “oh yes, we’re rich at $250k income.”

  130. OK, so I realized I had the salary wrong — that $22K was mid-’80s (I remember because her sabbatical year, she made $11K, and my college thought she could afford to pay half of that towards my tuition). So I don’t know what it would have been in 1978.

    @Rhett: No clue what BigLaw salary scales are. The problem with law is that it tends to be fairly binary — there are a bunch of firms that pay big money, and then a bunch of jobs that start around $45-60K. We don’t have the equity/non-equity distinction, but we also don’t make that kind of money. And I think the bigger the firm, the less likely you are to make partner, and the longer the partnership track — many are now @10 years.

  131. Milo, it is a lovely day. Walk the High Line or go to Central Park. Or walk around Chinatown or the West Village.

    Check out the very fantastic Rauschenberg show at MOMA. Or the equally fantastic exhibit on Chinese art and history at MMA.

  132. Zipping up to NYC for a quick getaway to go to 2 shows is not middle class behavior. Just sayin.

  133. The Tenement Museum is worth a trip imo. They have differently themed tours so even if you later return with the kids you can try something slightly different. The general neighborhood includes Katz deli and Economy candy store and other interesting sights, so you can spend considerable time there. Send a virtual wave to me tonight as I’ll be in lower midtown at my salsa dance class.

  134. @Milo: Right. I think the fundamental problem is that when you build wealth by working and saving, it is hard to feel “rich,” because your financial independence is tied to keeping a modest lifestyle. So, sure, I could splurge on a private jet, but if I lived like that, I wouldn’t stay wealthy for very long. So it’s Totebag-wealthy, vs. Richie-Rich-wealthy.

    Re: NYC: honestly, our favorite thing to do is just ramble through the neighborhoods and Central Park — you should have great weather, I hope. If you want an awesome bagel with a sort of stereotypical old-time experience (e.g., cheap, lots of food, formica tables), Barney Greengrass on the Upper West Side is totally worth it (this is where I realized that the term “asses to elbows” was literal, but a weekday breakfast isn’t that busy). If you want to get the kids a treat, we tend to bring ours stuff from Dylan’s Candy Bar on the east side of the park — you can get like little candy jars with their names and fill them with candy, but that place gets pricey fast, and there’s nothing particularly special about the candy itself. Note that this provides a convenient walk across the park — Barney Greengrass is like 86th and Amsterdam — don’t ask me how I know that — and Dylan’s is sort of off the SE corner of the park. I also like Hell’s Kitchen a lot for the various ethnic restaurants piled up, well, asses to elbows.

  135. July, the financially middle class denizens of DH’s family come to NYC for a show sometimes. And my sister, who is definitely middle class according to income, comes in by airplane no less, to see ballet and other performances. Gasp, she has even travelled internationally.

    I think you may be confusing the middle class with what we used to call “the working class”

  136. Oh, and if you’re down on the Lower East Side: Porchetta. They have one thing: porchetta. My favorite food from Italy, made into a sloppy delicious sandwich. Milk Bar in the East Village is very NYC-trendy, but I gotta say, their corn flake milkshake was ridiculously good, and their Crack Pie is the closest thing I’ve ever found to my mom’s Old Fashioned Cream Pie.

    And then there’s always the Intrepid — but that may be a little too close to home. :-)

  137. You can buy at least twice as much candy at Economy compared to Dylan’s for the same money.

  138. July,

    Ugh, that lady an her 6am spin classes.

    And, “I call my mom and cry about my choice to be a doctor in NYC. She says she’ll put $5,000 in my account to take some of the pressure off.”

  139. Yes! So many millennials are being subsidized by their parents. But I don’t think that’s very different from previous generations, from what I’ve read.

  140. And my sister, who is definitely middle class according to income, comes in by airplane no less, to see ballet and other performances. Gasp, she has even travelled internationally.

    But, she’s the daughter of a professor. If you dad had been a plumber your sister would probably spend her discretionary income on something more middle class.

  141. But I don’t think that’s very different from previous generations, from what I’ve read.

    When I started my first post college job everyone either worked two jobs or had help from their parents. It’s certainly nothing new.

  142. My kids liked NYC street food, so though they could get the same things in a restaurant here, having it from a cart and finding a spot to sit while people watching fascinated them.

  143. Rhett, July is arguing the people who make middle class incomes can’t possibly afford to travel internationally (or do getaways to NYC). Yes, it true that the plumber’s kid might choose to travel to Disneyland, but from a financial POV, that isn’t different. July is arguing against the cultural idea of middle class.

  144. Plus, the middle class denizens of DH’s family are not the kids of professors, but they still like to come to NYC sometimes, mainly to see Broadway.

  145. I agree with July. This isn’t Milo’s annual vacation. It’s just a fun side trip.

  146. So I guess that DH’s 30 something relative, the one who never went to college, works as a receptionist, has 3 kids, and babydad works odd jobs, must be rich because they sometimes drive the 3 hours down to NYC to see a show??? Geez, they have even travelled to the Caribbean, so they really must be rich.

  147. I glanced at the doctor diary. I hope she changes her eating habits before doling out advice to her patients. She is going to be a pediatric G.I. Specialist no less. Less money on the gym, more money on the food. (I am being snarky but so much of what ails us is tied to our diets).

  148. Zipping up to NYC for a quick getaway to go to 2 shows is not middle class behavior. Just sayin.

    That’s only if you see it through the “brown bread and raw carrots” totebag view of what the middle class should be doing. Actual middle class people probably spend more of trips and cars and any number of other things than a totebag person would consider prudent given their income.

  149. My parents are middle class. They have been to shows in NY. They have been to Europe. But these weren’t side trips to pass the time when the kids were gone. They were big expenditures that were planned for extensively and not done on a semi-regular basis.

  150. “put $5,000 in my account ”

    I love my kids. And maybe someday I’ll be in a position to do something similar. But not yet. And I’d rather gift them $5k just because vs when they come whining to me because of the financial pressure they face.

    And reading this, I give DW & me a big pat on the back for raising 3 independence-seeking people.
    DS1 (22) remains somewhat on the dole in that he’s on our health insurance, auto insurance, cell phone plan. He could get health ins from his employer at a fairly reasonable cost to him, but it’s quite literally $0 marginal cost to keep him on ours so the better move right now is to have him take the $60/month incentive credit for not being on his employer’s plan. Cell phone is more inertia than anything; when the renewal comes up I’ll probably tell him to look into getting on his own plan. Auto insurance is a whole ‘nuther thing. To insure his current 2005 domestic vehicle with 130k on it on his own given he lives within the city limits of a major city, his commute, and him being <25, the cost I was quoted from our insurer was $3800/year. So we keep him on our plan at a much lower cost. I'm quite sure we'll help him with his replacement vehicle which he's planning on getting when he finishes his BA in a little over a year. Despite everything he's put us thru on this educational journey over the past 5 years getting the degree is an accomplishment worthy of recognition.

  151. , he says he needs to go get a few things at REI for our upcoming trip to Machu Picchu, which was a present from his family to us for Christmas.

    Neither her nor her boyfriend come from a middle-class background.

  152. My DH’s parents were working class, not middle class (dad was a mill worker) and even THEY went into NYC for the night, to see a show – and not as an annual vacation (they spent annual vacations going to racetracks up in New England)

  153. Speaking of kid independence: last week, DH was out of town all week, and DD *totally* stepped up — planned a menu with me, cooked dinner every night, did at least 3 loads of dishes, and took care of both sets of cats — all with no nagging or whining whatsoever. It was “nature abhors a vacuum” — she saw a void in an adult role and filled it. And now today I get to take her for training in her first “real” job (camp counselor).

    It gives me hope, it does.

  154. “July is arguing against the cultural idea of middle class.”

    No. I agree there is a “cultural” middle class, which many totebaggers seem to want to claim. But there is also a financial middle class, which totebaggers also want to claim but does not mesh with the distribution of income and wealth in this country. In a way your sister seems to fit in more with a cultural upper class (ballet) even though she is financially middle class.

  155. July – I, too, love money diaries. I wish they expanded them to include older people with families.

  156. The Diet Coke and the gum. The first thing the GI specialist will tell you to cut out is things with artificial sweeteners. I speak from experience cause I made rounds of pediatric GI specialists when kid fell ill.

  157. My sisters I guess are both middle class by salary (both married professors) but the one that lives in NY married a guy who came over here from Italy as a kid, so he has that super frugal mindset and they have a lot in the bank. They travel but it’s usually driving vacations or camping. And the Italian parents are constantly gifting them large sums of money and doing things like buying the furniture for their house and starting a 529 for their son. In contrast, my other BIL, grew up the son of two professors in Mississippi and was relatively well to do and seems to expect travel, nice dinners out, organic food, etc. even though he only makes $55K per year. It’s an interesting contrast because they have similar household incomes when you account for cost of living and how they grew up definitely impacts their mind set of what class they are now in and what they expect.

    And the law firm thing – it seems like so few people make partner anymore in the larger firms that they are content to let you stay on. My husband’s firm likes to brag that they don’t have a non-equity partner track but in reality they’ve put a ton of people in the counsel position which is now the non-equity partner track. As long as you bring in enough money they will keep you around.

  158. So I guess all those gazillions of families all over the country who dutifully schlep their litte girls to see their regional ballet company do the Nutcracker every year are all culturally upper class? I guess we must have a pretty big upper class in this country.

    What is irking me is the black and whiteness of this view. You do X, Y, or Z, so you must be in the upper class. Most people are more mixed up than that. You can go see Broadway shows AND spend vacation time at rinkydink racetracks up north. People are complicated like that.

  159. who dutifully schlep their litte girls to see their regional ballet company do the Nutcracker every year are all culturally upper class?

    Dance moms are definitely middle class.

  160. From today’s Washington Post:

    “Too often the rhetoric of inequality points to a ‘top 1 percent’ problem, as if [all] the ‘bottom’ 99 percent is in a similarly dire situation,” Reeves writes. “This obsession with the upper class allows the upper middle class to convince [itself] we are in the same boat as the rest of America; but it is not true. . . . Those of us in the upper middle class are not the victims of growing inequality. We are the beneficiaries.”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/america-sings-the-postindustrial-blues/2017/06/18/d59a8a2c-52bb-11e7-91eb-9611861a988f_story.html?utm_term=.264d9a820d75

  161. I agree there is a “cultural” middle class, which many totebaggers seem to want to claim. But there is also a financial middle class, which totebaggers also want to claim but does not mesh with the distribution of income and wealth in this country.

    This +1000.

  162. The Money Diaries daily life descriptions give me anxiety – waking up at 5:15, diet coke and so much spinning. It sounds stressful (she says as she’s still in her pajamas sipping her morning coffee with cream and sugar).

  163. Finn – blerg. No way will we have put away $2M by then for college/grad school, unless we get 100x return on one of DH’s portfolio companies. Or win the lottery.

  164. Oh, re: big firm salaries – my salary now is less than 50% of what I was making 9 years ago. Sigh.

  165. Thinking about this some more, I would argue that we don’t have fine enough distinctions, and that leads to confusion. In particular, the term “working class” seems to have disappeared, but it is a really useful term. Although we traditionally think of factory workers, miners, and other people who worked with their hands for a salary as the working class, I think there is a broader distinction: people in lower status jobs who are financially dependent on their job and employer. So, I would put home health aide, and supermarket cashier into the working class along with miners and auto plant workers. I think the term working class started to fall out of favor in the era when factory workers were making as much as many white collar workers, but that era is gone.

    I also think that if the term “middle class” is too broad at the upper end of the income distribution, it is also too broad at the lower end. My sense is that there are more poor people in this country than the official statistics state, and just above “poor”, lies the “working class”. The true middle class is smaller than is usually reported, and then we get what I might call the “well to do”, aka the “comfortably well off”. The term “well to do” is another term that fell out of favor as people started widening the concept of middle class. The well to do are, just as they were in Victorian times, those people who are not quite rich but who are close enough to aspire to the values of the rich.

  166. I just came from a charity breakfast for a local charity that I have begun to support at a more than 50 a year level. Its mission is affordable housing. The Commonwealth has guidelines and will funnel money into cities and towns that meet certain percentage of household guidelines for what it deems affordable. The independent housing authority only covers a part of the required units, and most of that is elderly housing – non controversial. The town itself doesn’t run these residences. A side governmental Authority or Commission is a very Massachusetts way of providing services since the towns are small and the counties no more than judicial districts. So this organization branched out from housing assistance to needy families to the purchase and rehab of distressed properties (often commercial that are converted to housing) and management (via a management company) of several hundred units of rental housing, with more units large enough for families and some adapted for the handicapped. The Commonwealth passed a 50% tax credit for contributors, so that state gov’t de facto funds half of the rehab costs. Most residents don’t have a car in a town with good public transit, so the usual need to provide lots of parking in high cost area is avoided.

    Something that works.

  167. I agree with you, MM. I think there is a class of people who are the working professionals. Largely the group of people who are correctly classified as exempt. Most Totebaggers fall in to this category.

  168. Mooshi – I think the middle class may be thought of differently depending on the area of the country. Here for instance there are many one income families making around $100k to $130k a year that are comfortably off – a house, two cars, driving (some flying) vacations.
    Which class would such a family fall into in NYC and surburbs ?

  169. I completely agree with July & Houston. The heart of this is that the UMC has more choices and freedom and different problems than the true middle class, as illustrated by the distribution of wealth. And yes – most people are complicated. People can both like the ballet and The Rock. That doesn’t change the facts.

    Also – it really doesn’t have anything to do with spending or family size (which I would argue is another consumption/spending choice in a way). I could easily spend myself poor, but that doesn’t make me part of a different income/wealth class. I don’t think we should be pigeonholed by our tastes either.

    “Too often the rhetoric of inequality points to a ‘top 1 percent’ problem, as if [all] the ‘bottom’ 99 percent is in a similarly dire situation,” Reeves writes. “This obsession with the upper class allows the upper middle class to convince [itself] we are in the same boat as the rest of America; but it is not true. . . . Those of us in the upper middle class are not the victims of growing inequality. We are the beneficiaries.”

    And this is why it matters. Not because we should feel guilty, but because we should recognize the facts and have perspective.

  170. ” I think there is a class of people who are the working professionals. Largely the group of people who are correctly classified as exempt. Most Totebaggers fall in to this category.”

    Right. I agree. Call it the UMC, the Well-to-Do, the Five Percenters (or Ten Percenters maybe). But it exists, and it is a distinctly different group from what I would call the true Middle Class.

  171. The gastroenterologist has a bright and brilliant financial future, if she leaves New York. Docs in New York, even those finished with training, seem still to struggle quite a bit. Unlike most other professions, doctors have lower salaries when they live in HCOL areas – she can make much more if she relocates to Omaha.

    I agree that going to a Broadway show does not immediately define one as “rich.” However, a quick jaunt to NYC to see two shows in the context of a life that has many other vacations in it does.

    DH and I are going to Palm Springs for a few days in July (and I love me some sunshine). Would love some advice on child-free activities. The trip doesn’t kick me out of the middle class, but the fact that it is one of 4 or 5 non-work related trips by plane I will take this year does.

  172. But who are the True Middle Class? I would still argue that this is a small category, and that the people who are really struggling are the working class.

    And Louise’s point about geographic differences is exactly why looking solely at financial data to determine where you fall is very misleading. At the same time, cultural tastes can be misleading too. In my town, there are lots of small business owners – the guy across the street with the plumbing business, the exterminator next door, the pizzeria owner a block over, the autobody repair shop owner who used to live across from us – who are probably making incomes that many of you would say puts them into the ranks of the well to do. They have piles of advantages, just like we do. In particular, they have long controlled the town government (the mayor of one of the villages, who I know quite well, is definitely in this group). So who are these people? Culturally middle class, financially quite well off. They own property, and are politically connected. Who are they in our little categories?

  173. Nearly everyone in my neighborhood makes “incomes that many of you would say puts them in the ranks of well to do.” That’s because I live in a HCOL area. That doesn’t make my neighbors middle class (except in some kind of bizarre microdemographic) – it just means that I live in a financially homogeneous neighborhood.

    I think there is regional variation on who can claim being upper class. We don’t have old money where I live. So, I absolutely think there are families that own small businesses who are “rich” – I think it is some East Coast contrivance to think that a plumber can’t be “rich.”

  174. The value of formal education also varies by geography, I think most Totebaggers assume that at least a bachelor’s degree is the right/best solution to a middle class life, but in the places I’ve lived, lots of people have other skills- tradesmen, cabinetmakers, bike shop owners, various less-than-4-year healthcare degrees, HVAC techs- that provide them with incomes similar to those most people with college degrees receive.

    One of the comments that resonated with me is the one a few months ago about how growing up in an economically vibrant area, vs. economically depressed, is one aspect of winning the lottery at birth. In areas where few jobs require a college education, getting a college degree isn’t enough- you have to be willing to get a college degree and move away from your family. (Almost everywhere needs teachers and nurses, so maybe the argument is more that the value of a college degree is constrained to a few fields.)

    Population growth and limited land in high opportunity cities has meant increasing difference in cost of living.

  175. Well, circling back to the OP: the OP was clearly focusing on income percentiles. So I would argue that the cultural factors are fundamentally irrelevant to the initial topic.

    The problem with these various cultural factors is that MC is a highly politicized term — it is safe/good to be MC, in a way that it is not to be either rich or poor. And there are value judgments involved, too, e.g., the disdain of ostentatious shows of wealth, the moral value of working hard and saving, etc. So even those of us (like me) who are clearly not financially MC still cling to the term because it represents some important facet of who we think we are and how we define ourselves.

    Which is also why the car, for me, has been a BFD. I totally adore it. But we are definitely “under the radar” people, so driving something that seems to epitomize showing off really, really bothers me. And DD doesn’t even want to be seen in it, because she doesn’t want her friends to all think she’s a “rich bitch” (her words).

    But, you know, it’s a freaking blast to drive, so I’m managing to get over myself. :-) As DD says, sometimes a red door is just a red door; everything doesn’t have to have a deeper meaning.

  176. I think we can argue about what the lines are – geographically & the like. But people who are in the Top 5% of the entire country in income distribution cannot claim to be “middle class” no matter where they live, how old they are, and what they spend their money on. That’s my stance. And I don’t necessarily care about putting people into specific categories.

    It’s about this:

    “This obsession with the upper class allows the upper middle class to convince [itself] we are in the same boat as the rest of America; but it is not true. . . . Those of us in the upper middle class are not the victims of growing inequality. We are the beneficiaries.”

    I can put an Occupy 99% sticker on my car, but it’s a little disingenuous if I am not part of the 97%, no?

  177. Going back to the Spinner Doctor – Could someone explain what she means about the high call volume on Sunday nights because of the nanny reports? Do parents not see or talk to their children M-F, and then read a weekend report that mentions that little Lulu has a cough and runny nose? I’m honestly perplexed by what she means.

  178. “in the places I’ve lived, lots of people have other skills- tradesmen, cabinetmakers, bike shop owners, various less-than-4-year healthcare degrees, HVAC techs- that provide them with incomes similar to those most people with college degrees receive.”

    Those types of skills are valued and potentially rewarded in urban areas in all parts of the country too. Maybe even more so because of the variety of skillsets needed for the varied housing/commercial building stock, commercial base to support retail, ete.

    “(Almost everywhere needs teachers and nurses, so maybe the argument is more that the value of a college degree is constrained to a few fields.)”

    I do agree with this though – some fields are very geographically limited, and some areas do not have a diverse base of jobs.

  179. Lemon – the other thing that got me about her is that she doesn’t eat! With so much spinning! And is a GI doc!

  180. the moral value of working hard and saving,

    I wouldn’t call saving a middle class value at all. A decently funded retirement, emergency fund, college, long term care insurance, etc. these aren’t the things middle class people generally have.

  181. I think we can argue about what the lines are – geographically & the like. But people who are in the Top 5% of the entire country in income distribution cannot claim to be “middle class” no matter where they live, how old they are, and what they spend their money on. That’s my stance.

    Yes! Even if you are an exterminator.

  182. “I think it is some East Coast contrivance to think that a plumber can’t be “rich.””

    I’m gonna call bullshit on this. Look at Moonstruck for example. Cher’s Dad, the plumber, was definitely rich. As Mooshi has described her neighborhood, plenty of under the radar “Millionaire Next Door” types there. I think we’re used to thinking – and I wouldn’t limit this to the NE – only the ostentatiously rich (Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous types) are “Rich” but that is just not true.

  183. I can’t find the “nanny report” comment – is that from the Refinery article or are we talking about something else?

  184. One of the parents at DS’s school has that Tesla with the wing doors. I feel like it is from the future or something when I see it. I’m in awe. And I’m not even a car person.

  185. Rhett – yes, but the car we saw was white with blue so though very cool not as cool as the all blue perhaps.

  186. Ada – the Refinery article, day 7.
    L – She is going to have a serious ulcer. Not to mention that she receives some sort of infusion treatment, so I would think that a healthy diet would be of high importance. And I don’t live in NYC, so I was stunned by how much her half of the restaurant bill was.

  187. I would think that a healthy diet would be of high importance.

    What’s unhealthy about it?

    I was stunned by how much her half of the restaurant bill was.

    Do you not drink?

  188. @Rhett: 2015 Porsche 911 GTS convertible.

    Wow! That’s awesome!. I’m very impressed! I’ve been to the factory, it has a certain Charlie in the Chocolate Factory vibe going on. Teams of blue suited umpa lumpas toiling away.

  189. “What’s unhealthy about it?”
    A pack of gum and about a gallon of coffee, with perhaps a slice of pizza for the whole day is not a healthy diet.

    “Do you not drink?”
    Not so much. If I do, it it one glass of wine. I figured most of her bill would be alcohol, but still, $99, when she is stressed about money?

  190. You’re confused, Rhett. I have a brand new Camry Hybrid. In other news, the stretchy waistband on my jeans is awesome. Laura’s the one with the cool car.

  191. Oh! I didn’t realize there were 7 days. So much more diet coke, starbucks and gum.

    I totally don’t get the nanny report thing, and I suspect she doesn’t either. What happens on Sunday night is that the cold/fever/bug bite didn’t go away over the weekend and now you are worried that the kid needs to miss school on Monday. Or that the nanny will balk at taking care of your sick kid. Or, you had too many things to do over the weekend to deal with it. Sunday evenings (or Monday of a holiday weekend) are always crazy in the ER.

    I don’t think it is a universally acknowledged truth (among pediatricians or gastroenterologists) that artificial sweeteners are bad for your gut. Diet Coke was the drink of choice at every med school and residency event I went to. Unclear what kind of practice she will have, but many people go into GI because they want to spend their time doing colonoscopies and endoscopies, not counseling on diet.

    Also surprised at the restaurant bills. I think there are a lot of affordable restaurants in NYC – $200 for two is a lot, when you can’t find the $265 for your medical license.

  192. Man, you guys are sure judgy about the Diet Coke. I’ve drunk so much Diet Coke in my life my blood is probably carbonated.

  193. Took mooshis advice and walked the high line . Very cool. Liked the cultivated-weeds post-industrial landscaping.

  194. @Rhett — that is DH’s car. Down to the color and everything. Except his has running boards and a roof rack.

  195. “$200 for two is a lot”

    $1000 is a lot. $200 is fairly reasonable if you have a few drinks.

  196. I don’t think it is a universally acknowledged truth (among pediatricians or gastroenterologists) that artificial sweeteners are bad for your gut.

    That’s my understanding as well. There seems to be a UMC female food thing going on with people thinking there is more evidence for their pet theories than there actually is.

  197. $200 is a lot when you say you can’t afford to buy cereal at your local store and have to order it online to save a few bucks. And you’re loading up on free granola bars from the infusion center.

  198. I don’t think it is a universally acknowledged truth (among pediatricians or gastroenterologists) that artificial sweeteners are bad for your gut.

    What is the rationale about artificial sweeteners are bad? One ped gastro said no one should ever drink them, another was ho hum about them. At one point, DS needed all the calories he could get, so I could see why he shouldn’t drink them, but what’s the problem for healthy people?

    Regarding the nutrition thing, the ped gastro offices always seem to have a nutritionist on staff who will meet with patients all the time. It seems odd that someone whose job involves the functionality of the digestive tract would eat the way that doc does.

  199. What is the rationale about artificial sweeteners are bad?

    Puritanical “you can’t sin (eat sweets) without being punished” attitudes. As Ada and I discussed a few weeks ago, there is no evidence that artificial sweeteners raise your insulin levels, but it’s a commonly-held belief. There’s no evidence that it screws up your gut biome, but that’s another popular belief. And the only thing that all those “being fat and drinking diet soda are related!!” articles prove is that fat people drink diet sodas. Duh.

  200. $200 is a lot when you say you can’t afford to buy cereal at your local store and have to order it online to save a few bucks.

    If your parents are casually wiring you $5k then it’s fine.

  201. There’s no evidence that it screws up your gut biome, but that’s another popular belief.

    Ada can chime in but in my experience there are two kinds of doctors. One will tell you there is no evidence if there is no evidence. The other kind will tell you to do X,Y & Z because, while there is no evidence, they find that giving people a sense of control over their illness makes them feel better.

  202. Meme, Ticks are a big issue around here. Last summer, I was talking to some people who spend time in the brush where ticks live. After a day in the woods, everyone takes a shower with flea and tick shampoo. That might be a little too rough and ready a solution for your DIL, but I just wanted to pass it along.

  203. The other kind will tell you to do X,Y & Z because, while there is no evidence, they find that giving people a sense of control over their illness makes them feel better.

    Well, some of them believe it, too. Doctors aren’t immune from fads.

  204. I think $5 million in net worth (most of it liquid) would be considered rich. You could retire and live in many US towns without ever working again. I used to work to support high net worth clients. I really think of rich as when you regularly fly private without having to be aware of the cost. You need to have at least $40 million in net worth to think about owning your own plane IMO.
    I think I heard the phrase HENRY – high earner not rich yet on a personal finance blog. That probably describes a lot of the people on this board. We are doing fine but we have to keep working. Compared to most in our school district, we are “working class”. Seriously, people are horrified at the prospect that there ever could be affordable housing zoned to our schools. It is sad.

  205. I’m in Bergdorf. The men’s building across the street. I am DEFINITELY not rich. I can’t spend $1,600.00 on a random windbreaker jacket. But obviously, there are plenty of people buying this stuff because the store presumably pays its 5th Avenue rent every month.

  206. I think part of the issue is that there’s not a specific threshold for being rich, such as being able to drop $1600 on a random windbreaker jacket.

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