Had a good talk with my mom two nights ago (while waiting in a long-ass line to get into the midnight showing of a certain sci-fi movie) about class. She had not heard about the Times piece
(she's a middle school teacher and is too busy to read about it right now anyway--grading beckons), but she said it sounded very interesting and that she'd like to read it.
I explained to her about the interactive graphic where you set forth your job, education, income and assets and it rates you. She said she was interested in entering the information from various points in her life, to see how she moved up over time. She concurred with my belief
that she'd grown up with working class roots and then moved up to middle class, followed by upper-middle class. Now, if she's not already in the top fifth, she's probably on the cusp.
One thing in particular she told me that I thought was interesting: Even though she would likely have been considered working class or lower-middle class when she was a young girl, she always thought of herself as middle-class. She and her sisters always had everything they needed: clothes, food, books for school. Plus, they had a few luxuries like vacations... it wasn't until my mom was older that she realized their "vacations" were just the result of my grandfather--a U.S. serviceman--being sent to various bases around the globe. She thought they were just vacationing in Italy or Germany, just like a few of the other middle class families they knew.
Another important component of class (at least per the Times) is education. This is another area in which my mom grew up with a middle-class (or even upper-middle class) mentality: It was just assumed that she and her sisters would go to college and get their degrees. I find this astounding because neither of my grandparents had college degrees. My grandfather went to college for one week
, disliked it, dropped out and joined the Armed Forces. My grandmother would have loved to have gone to college but was just too poor to afford it. But there was never even a question that their three kids would go, even though the money for their college educations wasn't necessarily a given. My grandparents lived frugally and saved, and by the time their oldest was old enough to go to college, they had enough to send her to a state university. Same with Nos. 2 and 3. (It no doubt helped that they were spaced out four or more years and all attended state schools.) I still think it's incredible, though, that the thought never entered my mom's mind (nor her sisters' minds) that they might not go to a university. It was just something that you did--no alternative.
Anyway, the rest of the story is that my mom graduated from college, started working, started saving, married my dad, had me, left my dad, and kept working and saving. I always had everything I needed, and had, well, a lot of luxuries as well. Sure, we had a roommate in our townhouse for about five years. But the extra money meant we could take fun vacations. (Can you tell a love of travel is in my blood?) By the time I was in junior high, I would definitely say we had reached the upper-middle class.
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The one Times survey question that took me by the most surprise was this: 84% of the people surveyed said they favored programs designed to help people in the lower-class get ahead. So with that kind of popular support, why isn't more being done?
And on a related note, why is Maryland Gov. Ehrlich vetoing a bill
that would've required companies with more than 10,000 employees (in other words, Wal-Mart) to spend 8 percent of the company's payroll on health care benefits or give that money over to the state's health care program for the poor?