Our Classless Society
Do you know what “venture capital” is? I do now, but once I did not, and I met a venture capitalist at a party, and she was like, “What do you do?” and I was like, “I work at a start up” (about which more here) and she was like, “Oh, great! I’m in VC!” and I had to nod and laugh and pretend I knew what she was talking about because I am scared to look stupid, lest someone force me to take the SATs again.*
Ross Douthat (“When I became a father, I expected to change in all the predictable ways … What I didn’t expect is that parenthood would make me such a whiner”) or Slate’s Ruth Graham (“My Facebook feed is an endless stream of blog posts and status updates depicting the messy, tedious, nightmarishly life-destroying aspects of parenting”). Raising kids in our contemporary world is, as Jennifer Senior’s new book puts it, All Joy and No Fun — and, as Lori Gottleib recently told us, no sex.
In Motherlode, Andrea Pate, a mother with two children talks about how difficult it has been finding a job—even a minimum wage one—and making ends meet. Pate lives in Milwaukee where the unemployment rate is significantly higher than the national average at 9.8 percent.
Robin Dickinson, a family practice physician, suffered two strokes and found herself unable to work. Soon, she found it nearly impossible to feed her family, but then remembered that was a safety net available to help people in her position: SNAP benefits. What is it like to suddenly fall into poverty and need the assistance of food stamps?
Have you heard of The Up Series? I had not but came across it on Netflix and then spent the next two days learning way too much about 14 random English people from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds!
In short, the Up Series is a bunch of documentaries directed by Michael Apted that follows the same group of ordinary English schoolchildren, checking in with them every seven years (at age 7, 14, 21, 28, and so on). The latest, 56 Up, came out last year, but we first meet the group in 1964, when they are seven years old and, as later episodes confirm, at peak candor and charm.
In the NYT Times Magazine, economics reporter Shaila Dewan looks at how credit card debt helps low-income people. For one thing, having access to credit and demonstrating an ability to pay back money you borrow builds a better credit profile that helps people save money over time.
Miss Sheryl doesn’t have a computer and definitely wouldn’t know what a selfie is. Her cell runs on minutes and doesn’t have a camera. Like many of us, she’s too poor to participate in pop culture. She’s on public assistance living in public housing and scrambles for odd jobs to survive.
Salon’s D. Watkins reports from East Baltimore, where “everything looks like ‘The Wire’ and nobody cares what a ‘selfie’ is.” Watkins points out that it requires a certain amount of money to participate in certain aspects of pop culture. [via]
Photo: Paul Sableman
In the Times, Nelson Schwartz looks at the erosion of the middle class via indicators in the business world—stores like Loehmann’s, J.C. Penney, and Sears and restaurants like Red Lobster and Olive Garden have declined in the past few years while businesses like Barneys which sell high-end goods, and bargain basement chains like Dollar Tree have seen gains on opposite ends:
Emma Jacobs looks at a “modern-day debtor’s prison” in Montgomery County, Pa. where a judge is sending people to jail for being unable to pay fines. Vic Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania told Jacobs: “What is perfectly clear under both the U.S. Constitution and the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure is that you cannot send someone to jail if they cannot afford to pay the fine, because that’s the equivalent of having a debtor’s prison — of putting someone in jail simply because they’re poor.” Records show that each day in jail was worth about $40 towards their fines, but taxpayers are ultimately paying for it.
Over on his blog today, Anil Dash offers a few timely “Stupid Simple Things SF Techies Could Do To Stop Being Hated.” He talks about how the New York tech community has escaped similar degrees of disdain and resentment because 1. Wall Street will always be worse, and 2. in New York, tech workers have a better “ethos of community involvement.”
His first suggestion is simple, but legitimate:
First, people in tech should use their voices to push the leaders of their companies and industry to do the right thing. It is just as easy for a CEO to ask the city to accommodate affordable housing as it is for them to demand tax rebates. And if a CEO believes their employees expect this kind of request, most tech company execs will do anything to keep their engineers happy. If Google is the symbol of entitlement in San Francisco right now, Larry Page could simply and consistently amplify the voice of those already working on housing solutions and make a huge impact.
Douglas Coupland, who writes a fortnightly discussions about culture and money for the Financial Times, talked to assembly-line workers who were working at a Shanghai factory producing internet routers, and asked them what class they believed they belonged to. They were unable to provide him with an answer. This got Coupland thinking about how we might think about class in the future, and he put together a (facetious) list. (i.e. jeudism: “In the future, every day of the week will be a Thursday. We’re all working to the grave, and life will be one perpetual fast food job of the soul. The weekend? Gone. And we all pretty much know it in our bones.”)