For Rich People Only
Anyone following the news recently has been reminded that the gap between the very rich and the very poor is growing. That’s as it should be. The rich are rich because they are prudent, go to Harvard, buy Wayne’s stock, marry well and have the good sense to inherit money. And never spend a dime.
The poor, not all but a lot of them, should never have been born, from parents who should never have been born, grow up without fathers and have brains like a scrambled egg. I stole that last image from Jimmy Breslin, who would not agree with anything else in the sentence.
Part of the “rich are richer and the poor are poorer” story is the alleged disappearance of the middle class. We are told we have no more middle class. Why? Pondering that great mystery, I go back to roots in Philadelphia where my family was middle class. Maybe even not that good. Maybe lower middle class. We were never utterly broke. We had the most expensive Lionel set in 1950. But my dad did not have a car, was always in hock to a loan company (although I did not know it then) and my mother was one of the first working moms of that era. She took surveys, going around door to door, asking people what they bought – and why. Market research. One Saturday she hired our whole neighborhood to stand in front of Thom McAn shoe stores and count the people coming out with packages. I did that from 9 to 5, at the store near Germantown and Chelten. My buddy Miles went to a store near Broad and Erie, and counted for an hour and then went home and made up the numbers. He was close.
We were middle class, and what happened to my middle class is that we became the mildly rich. And we thus disappeared from the statistical radar. Examples: My two brothers were Ph.D.s. Both had college scholarships. I was the dummy of the family. One brother was a consulting civil engineer and teacher at an Ivy League school. He bought stock, and wisely, and back in the 1970s when our company needed help he sent $25,000 overnight. The other brother also taught college – economics – and is not hurting.
These guys are typical of my middle-class friends. In those days the term “millionaire” meant something. Today it means two houses, even in a depressed real-estate market. Looking back, I can think of almost no friend who is not far, far better off than their parents. Almost all could ship you 25K overnight; most, if they had to, could raise $200,000 for an emergency.
One buddy grew up in a row house with five siblings. He became a Ph.D., taught college, and has been retired 10 years. Another row-house product organized a division for a major company. He had two houses, one in suburban Philadelphia, the other on the beach at one of South Jersey’s better addresses. Another friend, whose dad, like mine, sold life insurance, and not too much of it, became publisher of an important trade magazine. He has been retired for years and splits time between a tony north Jersey suburb and Long Beach Island.
These are just the Philly connections. Closer to Florida, I can’t list the number of people who came from ordinary circumstances, from all over the country, people whose family income a generation or so back never exceeded $15,000, and who today could lose that in the morning market and hardly notice it. By Florida standards, they are not super rich, merely comfortable.
They are the former middle class. They have not disappeared. Just moved up in class.