At the Upshot, Lynn Vavreck, a professor of political science at U.C.L.A., discusses a survey she did in which she asked respondents how much income their household needed to earn to be considered “rich.” It turned out that the “I’d be rich” number increased with the rise in income:
This is, perhaps, unsurprising. Based off our discussion of if money buys happiness, we know that it makes more of a difference to you if you’re going from a low-income household and into the upper classes.
As for me, I live a pretty comfortable life on a sub-six-figure income. I imagine having a household with $293,000 would feel pretty rich to me.
This is not news, but in case you needed more ammunition to shoot down the rags-to-riches dreams of the naïve up-and-comers you meet between the dive bar and the OTB, there’s a 30-year, longitudinal study of 800 Baltimore children that proves, as Mother Jones happily summarizes, that “family determines almost everything, and that a child’s fate is essentially fixed by how well off her parents were when she was born.”
And (surprise!) the data reveal additional barriers to upward mobility for black children:
Alexander found that among men who drop out of high school, the employment differences between white and black men was truly staggering. At age 22, 89 percent of the white subjects who’d dropped of high school were working, compared with 40 percent of the black dropouts.
These differences came despite the fact that it was the better-off white men who reported the highest rates of drug abuse and binge drinking. White men from disadvantaged families came in second in that department. White men also had high rates of encounters with the criminal justice system. At age 28, 41 percent of the white men born into low-income families had criminal convictions, compared with 49 percent of the black men from similar backgrounds, an indication that it is indeed race, not a criminal record, that’s keeping a lot of black men out of the workforce.
Now, I realize that for those among us who, through poor planning, were born poor and/or black, there’s not much to do but keep on struggling and hope to beat the odds. But I do sometimes wonder how long the American Dream will continue to edge out Armed Insurrection Followed By Workers’ Paradise as our favorite unrealistic formula for working class salvation.
Photo by the author
As a followup to Meaghan’s post about the American man who traveled to Canada and was struck by the existence of a “vast and comfortable middle class,” the Upshot talked to some middle-class Canadians who said they had plenty to worry about but thought they were better off than Americans:
“When you have a family to raise and you are middle class, you are on a treadmill,” said Deborrah Mustachi, a 52-year-old educational assistant for the Catholic school board in Markham, a Toronto suburb. “It’s very difficult to save when you have to live for today.”
Yet, Ms. Mustachi added, “I think people in the U.S. seem to struggle more.”
Canadians have little doubt that they face less financial stress about medical costs than Americans. Many also credit their labor unions for the size of their paychecks; union membership rates are higher in Canada. Canadians also know that the American housing bubble and bust were more severe than their version.
“We got to keep our houses,” said Gregory Thomas, 39, an actor and house painter who lives with his wife and two young children in Toronto. “As an outsider, it seems like the aspirational section of the middle class — those who are constantly trying to get a little bit higher — they really got decimated in the States.”
And I can’t get over this kicker:
Or as Mr. Thomas said, Americans “may get more on their plate when they go to Denny’s, but they don’t have more when they go home.”
Photo: Alex Indigo
While everyone agreed in principle that it is generally not desirable to judge people based on their appearance, we diverged on whether judging people based on apparent wealth is as bad as judging them based on, say, race.