"The problem with America’s semi-rich" -- sound familiar around these forums?

Page is an interview with the author of The 9.9 Percent: The New Aristocracy That Is Entrenching Inequality and Warping Our Culture .

Some of the themes sound rather familiar around these forums.

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I think many invest in their children not to “make them the best” but as they are not satisfied with the local school option not so much from a sense of other schools are better/keep up with the competition, just simply feel that the local schools are doing a poor job of teaching. Oftentimes, less expensive to supplement the education than it is to switch to a private school and/or move to a better district.

Also, some kids simply like to learn and if one can afford it, there is wonderful value in private lessons in X, Y or Z.

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Folks invest in their children’s education primarily to give their kids better–or the best–opportunities, not, in my experience, to make them the best.

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I invested in my children’s education because that was a family value passed down to me from my own parents. It was definitely a thing in my dad’s family (Italian immigrants). My folks had a tight budget when we were growing up but they helped us financially as much as possible.

H and I invested in our kids activities partly because growing up in small towns and with a limited budget I felt I missed having opportunities to explore interests. I was happy to be able support my children’s interests in dance, theater, music, sports, travel and cultural activities.

And FWIW - I’m not nor was I ever “miserable” because of this.

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Interesting article. Here are a couple of opinions. For the last century or so the hope for many was that their children would be more successful than they were. For many parents in the last 30 years that has meant they are better educated than their parents were. Many of those people are now the semi rich. However, things have changed. There are far more parents with college degrees and the expectations that come with that. There is far more competition for the jobs that will make someone “successful” and the credentials are more rigorous than they used to be. Instead of just a college degree it must be one from Harvard … Being successful today still may not make you as successful as your parents and the people deemed successful today are billionaires. Being semi rich also means that these parents will likely be paying full cost for any college they send their child to.

I think we are dealing with a 20th century goals with 21st century realities and it is causing a lot of stress among those who feel they had the solutions.

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“The problem with America’s semi-rich”

Good thing there’s only the one.

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I think the big difference is that the consequences of “falling” out of the upper-middle-class are perceived as graver than they were in the previous century. Being “poor” for a middle-class kid growing up in New York City in the 1970s meant settling for a job in the mail room of a Fortune 500 company and living in a four-story walk-up on the Lower East Side. I have contemporaries who have lived in the same apartment for forty years and put themselves through college while working full-time jobs. I’m pretty sure they’d do it all again, if they could. But, where does someone find a cheap apartment in New York City these days?

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I know a lot of people in the 9.9% group. Reading through that article, next to nothing applies to but for an extremely small percentage of them. Does it sound familar around these forums? Yes in the sense that the author seems to assume that every’s experience is the same as his/hers. We see that a lot here. And I am sure there are many people here who were nodding their heads in agreement reading through the piece. I found myself saying What? a lot and wondering if this is a fictional piece. No doubt though there is a definite agenda with it.

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Oh brother. Has American society completely lost the ability to be introspective, to have any sense of proportion? Nobody wakes up and says “My neighbor has a bigger house and a brand new Tesla and goes to Aspen every year, but I am healthy, my kids get to spend time with their grandparents, and I have a fundamentally good life”? Is everyone comparing their lifestyle to a Kardashian?

Jeez.

I’m wondering why there is no mention of Robert Putnam, increased secularity, etc. as a driver of the “gimmees”. Me, me, me…

Thanks for posting, now I don’t need to read the book!

I dislike Vox. The Voxsplainers deliberately confuse news with commentary - that’s their mission. I especially dislike them discussing “inequality” where they do a masterful job of confusing income and wealth, as well as ignoring complicating facts such as the changing demographics (one’s income and one’s wealth vary with age) and the fact that wealth and income percentiles do not track a cohort over time. Well, so long as it fits the narrative.

That said, there is something there there, and I think @lvvcsf is onto something. The way I would describe it is when your great grandparents got off the boat, they knew what boxes they needed to check to ensure their children were not in the bottom half of society - they made sure their kids got high school diplomas. In turn, their kids know to get in the top quarter, they had to go to college. And so on.

This worked until it didn’t.

  • Box checking doesn’t work past top 10% or maybe top 5%.
  • As more people get college degrees, the relative value of a college degree goes down
  • As college gets easier, the absolute value of a college degree goes down.
    Colleges have decided for a number of reasons, many of which I agree with, that it shouldn’t take a couple of generations to get a degree. So competition goes up.
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The whole Nanny business- that’s so regional. And parenting trends go in and out of style quickly.

I lived in a midsized city in the Midwest when my kids were born. I had a full time job, needed full time childcare. In that particular place, the status symbol for young families was a stay at home mom who claimed to “never” use any paid childcare. Either a grandparent (or two or four) or an aunt, or the doting college roommate who lived in the same neighborhood, joined the same country club, had kids the same ages. And certainly not a nanny- needing fulltime paid help was a sign that the breadwinner couldn’t afford the luxuries of an affluent lifestyle by himself.

Then a move to a midsized city in the Northeast and the tables were turned. Needing a nanny was proof of two well educated parents with at least one high status job, and at least one high paying job. And now during Covid and Covid+… not needing or using paid help seems to be back as an uber status symbol, it means that at least one parent is around to supervise, chauffeur, shlep, whether that means continuing to work from home or not work at all.

Gotta pity the single parents.

So a lot of his generalities only work if you happen to be living where he lives, at the moment in time he’s describing.

And there are still LOTS of children of the mega affluent who are pretty much ignored and left to their own devices. Ask any divorce lawyer in a wealthy area, and the stories they tell would curl your hair. I have a neighbor who recently told me about a divorce-- neither parent wanted custody (each had a new, younger partner and they wanted the freedom to travel). Put bluntly- there were NO suitable candidates for custody despite a gajillion dollars and a high status/affluent lifestyle.

So not every wealthy parent is grooming their kid for Stanford and an Olympic gold medal. Some can’t even bear the thought of being home for dinner…

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Haven’t read the book, but couldn’t help but laugh at this amazon review:

mediocre read that tries to demonize yet another group. This time, the "9.9%"
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Very nice. I like his way of thinking. I do think he overemphasizes economic inequality because so many people are motivated to achieve non-economic inequality.

In my profession (engineering), for example, the Professional Engineer license was created to differentiate the worthy from the unworthy, but has no tangible benefit. Despite being so level from both an educational and occupational standpoint, some engineers just can’t stand it when they are lumped with the masses. They have to be the best, even if it is completely illusory. Like an honors college.

But regarding education, Stewart is right:

“There’s a tendency for members of the meritocratic class to say, “Oh, the problem is that we’re hoarding these spots. We’re hoarding spots at the elite universities and certain professions, and what we need to do is to make sure that we’re more representative in how we let people in.” Well, that’s really wonderful for people to do, but that is not going to be the solution to much of anything. It takes for granted that the hierarchy itself is justified and is economically productive, and it’s just a matter of making sure that everyone has a fair shot of getting in.”

I would extend this to things like alumni associations. Some people covet access to elite alumni associations, which in many cases just perpetuate privilege and discrimination. All driven by irrational pride in one’s institution.

Or seeking private schools “for the rigor”, but also to take shelter from the dregs of society.

Presuming you mean for engineers other than civil engineers (and some working in civil-adjacent areas), for whom being able to sign off on designs used by the general public (what PE licensing enables) is a tangible benefit for one’s career. For other engineers, not so much.

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Funny you should say that. When we lived in Greenwich CT (many, many moons ago) and had our first kiddo we would occasionally hire a woman to babysit so we could go out for dinner. Her main gig was being one of two (!) nannies for a super wealthy couple (wife didn’t work) with two kids (one nanny each). In the summer the nannies would be sent off to Nantucket with the kids while the “parents” swanned around Europe. I suppose they had kids so they would have someone to leave their $$$ to.

Some people want to spend time with their kids when it is convenient for the parents. Otherwise they don’t want to be bothered.

Pretty sure that no time was convenient from what the nanny inferred.

Interesting reading! I think we as parents want our kids to do a little bit better than we have done. Say your family’s income is $200K, or that you are in ~top 10 percentile. Realistically, getting your kids to do better is a hard ask. I suppose panic must set in at that point.

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Re: nannies - there’s a difference between hiring a nanny because both parents work full time and hiring a nanny so you can keep up with your tennis games and ladies’ lunches (not judging the latter, btw)

Where I live, getting a nanny is pretty much the cheapest option (not to mention the long waiting lists at daycare centers). So it may sound glamorous to hear someone say they have a nanny, but it’s also cost effective (especially with multiple kids).

That said, there are a fair amount of families in the more affluent areas of my city, who have nannies and mom (or dad) doesn’t work. I put my oldest in a “pre-k” program at a local private school because she had outgrown daycare and didn’t much care for the daily nap requirement. I was the ONLY working mom in a class of 20 kids and at least half of the kids were picked up by nannies. I got to know more nannies than I did moms. We were still new to the city and it was my first wake-up call as to just how affluent our area was (is).

I’m fascinated with other people’s money, where they get it and how they spend it. I probably spend too much time wondering where a couple with mid-level jobs gets the money to afford a $28K/year private elementary school for multiple kids, drive a Range Rover and own a beach condo. Or how another couple my age with only one parent working and one kid already in college is affording to pay out-of-state at another college for their 2nd kid (and also have a beach condo). Obviously it’s none of my business, and I would never ask - but I want to :wink:

I find it interesting - I’m sure there are a lot of factors in play like inheritances and some cultures where parents supplement their adult kids (buy them homes, pay for grandkids’ education, etc.) - but I also fear that there are a considerable number of families living above their means and putting a lot of things on credit cards - in order to feed the "keeping up with the Jones’ " mentality.

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In our neck of the woods people in this income category do not feel rich not because they are envious of others’ material goods but because of the insane cost of housing, living and taxes. Private nannies are generally unaffordable to dual income white collar workers here. The part about investing in the kids rang true - that’s the other place the money goes.

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