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Down and Out on $250,000 a Year
January 5, 2011 12:52 PM   Subscribe

This is not satire. This appears to be a completely serious attempt to justify the extension of the Bush tax cuts by showing a "typical" family of 4 with no debt (other than a mortgage) struggling to get by on a quarter of a million dollars a year. They clearly can't afford to pay a couple thousand more in taxes. They can barely afford to send the kids to summer camp as it is.
posted by COD (314 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
When will Obama do something about the families stuck in rifles in a thunderstorm? With a dollar??
posted by theodolite at 12:54 PM on January 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


They always try to fool you into thinking that all $250,000 will be taxed at a higher rate. Since only income earned over $250,000 is taxed at a higher rate, these people making $250,001.00 will pay approximately 5 cents more in taxes, literally.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:58 PM on January 5, 2011 [145 favorites]


In reality, to make ends meet, this squeezed couple would have to cut back on discretionary expenses – take a pass on a new suit, skip an annual vacation, and drop some kids activities.

DEAR GOD.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:58 PM on January 5, 2011 [100 favorites]


In Glendale, the Joneses can live reasonably well – but not extravagantly — in a three- or four-bedroom home valued around $750,000.

Wow.
posted by ghharr at 12:59 PM on January 5, 2011


By that logic, my family of 4 is homeless and destitute. Except, of course, for the part where we're not.
posted by tommasz at 12:59 PM on January 5, 2011 [41 favorites]


Previously
posted by atbash at 12:59 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


WHY IF THE JONESES DIDN'T EXIST WE'D HAVE TO INVENT THEM.
posted by boo_radley at 1:01 PM on January 5, 2011 [19 favorites]


LOL rich people?
posted by josher71 at 1:01 PM on January 5, 2011


This article showed me the exact opposite of what it wanted to show me. The highest amount of (combined state and local) tax on $250,000 to be found anywhere in the country is only $78,276?

That's criminal.
posted by gurple at 1:02 PM on January 5, 2011 [33 favorites]


Hm. Let's see. In Glendale, you can rent a four-bedroom home for $875/month.

I wonder what they're spending the rest of the money on. Perhaps one of the children has an illness and they have no insurance.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:02 PM on January 5, 2011 [30 favorites]


Wow. And the original article hasn't been closed to comments yet? So far, not a single non-scathing comment about this... I mean, if you are going to take the time to write a completely unrealistic article hell bent on the premise that someone who makes $250K is poor, at least have the common courtesy to not let the rabble comment on your article.
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:03 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh good grief.

This hypothetical couple with children "live" in some of the highest cost-of-living places in the country. They max out their 401(k) every year, they can afford cell phones and travel and sending their children to summer camp. They're saving $16,000 a year for their children's education. They have health insurance.

So many of the things listed in that article as being somehow "necessary" for this imaginary family are things which most people go without.

I'm not saying that we don't have things fucked up in our country when it comes to income and how it is spent and such, but really? Counting gasoline taxes as somehow being part of their tax burden, when it's the exact same money everyone who drives a vehicle pays?

If it's really impossible for a family of four to make it on a quarter-million bucks a year, how do families of 6 or 8 make due with less than half of that?

This is a publication for the richest whining about things which most people cannot even begin to consider. Pure wankery, and largely bullshit when put into the larger context.
posted by hippybear at 1:03 PM on January 5, 2011 [41 favorites]


$13,000 on "food and household supplies" and that doesn't even include lunches and dinners out? In what universe does a family of four need to spend a thousand bucks a month at the grocery store?

And that is just one of the many things I could bitch about in that chart.
posted by something something at 1:04 PM on January 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


I mentioned this in passing last month. A bit of discussion in that thread followed...
posted by schmod at 1:04 PM on January 5, 2011


None of these numbers are realistic for a family of four, even making that much.

Day care and babysitting: $15,000. Cut that by $14,750.
After school activities/camp: $4000. Cut that by $3500.
Home cleaning: $5000. Cut that by $4500.
Insurance on two cars: $3500. Cut that by $2000.
Car loan payments: $7700. Cut that by $3800.
Gas: $6800. (WTF?!?) Cut that by $4800.
Car Maintenance: $1000. Raise that by $1000.
Parking Fees: $3000. Cut that by $3000.
Gas and electricity: $5280. Cut that by $4000.
Phone, cable, internet: $2400. Cut that by $1200.
Water: $612. Cut that by $300.
Dry Cleaning: $1200. Cut that by $1100.
Student Loans: $6000. Cut that by $6000.
"Leisure": $15164. Cut that by $14164.

Total savings, and I haven't really started cutting spending, of $64,114. Yeah, fuck you, pay more taxes, assholes.
posted by mark242 at 1:04 PM on January 5, 2011 [45 favorites]


They have a budget item for summer camp. In the real world, the kids don't go to summer camp when mom and dad are struggling to pay the bills. Then again, I was about 3 months into my post college career when I realized that eating lunch out every day way a really stupid thing to do. These imaginary rich folks have $5000 budgeted for lunches. There is so much fat in that "typical" family budget that it isn't even funny. $633 a month in car payments? You are top 3% income in the country and you can't come up with $10K cash for a late model Accord, or a 10 year old Mercedes?
posted by COD at 1:05 PM on January 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


Between lunches at work ($5000), takeout ($1250), house cleaning($5000), parking ($3000), misc entertainment ($3000), eating out ($2400) they seem to be able to cover their shortfall and still max out 401ks, save for college and pay for a vacation ($4000), childcare ($15000) and

And what's up with a line item for gas taxes and a line item for actual gas?
posted by electroboy at 1:05 PM on January 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


The remarkable thing is that even if the Bush tax cuts continue, the family in Huntington N.Y. is going to have to declare bankruptcy pretty soon as they are in the red to the tune of over $20,000 per year. The expiration of the tax cuts are the least of their problems.

Why am I supposed to feel sympathy for a hypothetical family who had two kids while living in a place that they manifestly can not afford?
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:05 PM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


Hm. Let's see. In Glendale, you can rent a four-bedroom home for $875/month.

That's got to be sketchy. I used to pay $1100 a month for a crappyish one-bedroom apartment in neighboring Pasadena. Crazily, housing in Southern California really is so expensive that $750,000 is reasonable for an average family home in many areas.
posted by something something at 1:06 PM on January 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


In reality, to make ends meet, this squeezed couple would have to cut back on discretionary expenses – take a pass on a new suit, skip an annual vacation, and drop some kids activities.

JESUS WEPT

Some of the expenses incurred by couples like the Joneses may seem lavish – such as $5,000 on a housecleaner, a $1,200 annual dry cleaning tab and $4,000 on kids’ activities. But when both parents are working, it is impossible for them to maintain the home, care for the kids and dress for their professional jobs without a big outlay.

AH HA HA HA HA HA

TRADE LIVES WITH ME JONESES AND SEE HOW YOU LIKE IT THEN...AND I DON'T EVEN HAVE KIDS!
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:06 PM on January 5, 2011 [25 favorites]


Not much left over for coke and hookers, though. Poor, benighted bastards.
posted by steambadger at 1:06 PM on January 5, 2011 [10 favorites]


Okay, $250,000 in Cleveland is different than $250,000 in NYC, but, um, this imaginary family still needs to STFU. And all the hand-wringing over spending money on groceries? What do poor people eat, air???

(@mark242, I live in a low-cost-of-living area and daycare for under-5s costs around $12,000/year. Day care is not cheap.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:07 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Serious question: Is the Fiscal Times trying to incite a class war?
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:07 PM on January 5, 2011 [33 favorites]


oh yeah, the new Congress started today. It is about time for a 2 minute hate.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:08 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


"In 2006, the "real" (adjusted for inflation) median annual household income rose 1.3% to $50,233.00 according to the Census Bureau. ... 1.93% of all households had annual incomes exceeding $250,000." (Source)

So, y'know what: Fuck the "Jones" and their $250,000/yr income problems. The Jones have options. They just need to wise up to the fact that they're not the Gates or the Rockefellers. They need to appreciate the luxuries they have and pay their fucking share in taxes.
posted by chasing at 1:08 PM on January 5, 2011 [20 favorites]


They should start a meth lab for an additional income stream.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:08 PM on January 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


The matrix on the second page is insane! Who the hell spends 5,328 dollars a year in parking fees?
posted by SweetJesus at 1:08 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sure the cost of living was different (much much lower), but my parents, my sister and I grew up on a salary of $1200 (gross) a month, health insurance paid for my my dad's business, and a small amount of farm income, (and a very meager tax refund at the end of the year). If you are not making it on $250k, then a hearty 'go screw yourself' from me. There's plenty of things you can cut, trust me. And we didn't just get by, we had everything we needed, and a lot of things we wanted, mostly because we were taught not to want for much. Things like this really REALLY irk me.
posted by deezil at 1:08 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wonder what they're spending the rest of the money on. Perhaps one of the children has an illness and they have no insurance.

If you know of a way to buy coke and hookers without cash, I'd like to hear it.
posted by electroboy at 1:09 PM on January 5, 2011


By the logic of this piece, then, can we conclude that the poor souls who make less than a paltry $250k are criminally underprivileged and that steps should immediately be taken assist them?
posted by Bromius at 1:09 PM on January 5, 2011 [76 favorites]


I'm never going to jump on the "burn the rich" bandwagon.

But I could really easily be convinced to jump on the "burn the rich invented by the idiots at The Fiscal Times and probably the idiots at The Fiscal Times."
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:09 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


This article showed me the exact opposite of what it wanted to show me. The highest amount of (combined state and local) tax on $250,000 to be found anywhere in the country is only $78,276?

That's criminal.


If you have some a priori principle that the tax rate on the first $250,000 must be far higher than $78,000, that's as bad as the dogmatism of conservatives who insist that it's immoral to set the tax rate higher than X. There's nothing inherently immoral or moral about setting the taxes at a certain rate; it depends on how much tax revenues we need.
posted by John Cohen at 1:10 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is horseshit on so many levels.

$5,000 a year for house cleaning. Umm, dude?

$3,000 a year for parking in Washington D.C. -- a city with an excellent public transportation system.

$2,000 a year for parking in Glendale, CA. I lived near Glendale. Didn't pay a dime for parking, unless you count the occasional meter in L.A.

$5,000 a year for "lunches at work @ $10 each." When you run this number, you find that both of the parents are spending $10 per weekday on lunch.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:10 PM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


> By the logic of this piece, then, can we conclude that the poor souls who make less than a paltry $250k are criminally underprivileged and that steps should immediately be taken assist them?

No, no. Austerity Measures are to be implemented on people who already have to deal with austerities. That's why they call it that, silly.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:11 PM on January 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


These people eat out at lunch 500 times a year. At first I thought I read that wrong, but no, 500 times a year.

So basically when they are sick, on vacation or on a statutory holiday, they still drive to work, and get lunch.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:11 PM on January 5, 2011 [23 favorites]


>In Glendale, the Joneses can live reasonably well – but not extravagantly — in a three- or four-bedroom home valued around $750,000.

Wow.


I don't know, in the part of the world where I live (urban British Columbia, Canada), 750k is pretty much the average price of a home (the median is about 550k, but a family of 4 would be pretty cramped living in a median-priced home).

The price of paying out the monthly mortgage is pretty taxing (no pun intended). It's expensive, and, although the family can live comfortably, that's about it. The real issue is that a growing class of people in sub/ex/urban areas cannot afford a decent house. Housing prices are too high.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:11 PM on January 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Who the hell spends 5,328 dollars a year in parking fees?

Depending on where you live, and whether you're reimbursed by employer, it might be on the low side. I live in Baltimore and the parking garage next to my office would be $2100/year. If I had to actually pay for it, I'd ride the bus.
posted by electroboy at 1:11 PM on January 5, 2011


There's plenty of things you can cut, trust me. And we didn't just get by, we had everything we needed, and a lot of things we wanted, mostly because we were taught not to want for much.

The rich deserve nicer things because they "work" more. That's how they got rich. No, really! I AM BEING SERIOUS!
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:12 PM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


You know who works for the Fiscal Times after accepting a buyout from the New York Times? Foreclosure facing novelist Edmund "I left out the part about my new wife being a serial bankruptcy filer and it's the government's fault I can't count even though I'm an economic journalist" Andrews.
posted by anniecat at 1:12 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm going to take a wild guess that this article is written by and read by the same assholes who also think that whatever job you have, if it's with a union you're making too much.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:12 PM on January 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


The rich deserve nicer things because they "work" more.

RICH PEOPLE ACTUALLY BELIEVE THIS.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:13 PM on January 5, 2011 [92 favorites]


What I found most amusing is that even the Fiscal Times' regular readers are scoffing at this article in the comments.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:14 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Possibly related?
posted by chasing at 1:14 PM on January 5, 2011


And ah, the comments: "On the surface, this article (which fails to point out that the limit is $250,000 and, therefore, no one was suggesting these fake people should pay more) is simply stupid. It gets HILARIOUS when you consider the following: Hube writes above that, "for most, moving to a low-tax state midcareer is difficult, if not impossible. People are generally bound to their high-tax states by their jobs." But Hube told us in a 2009 Barron's essay that "Low-tax states are attracting businesses and creating jobs, while high-tax states are losing them" and, therefore, a huge population shift was taking place. So which is it? Are people being forced to leave "high-tax" states because businesses don't want to be there or are people finding it impossible to leave high-tax states because, as Hube writes now, it's "tough to find high salaries in low-tax states like Florida."

Hube is neither a consistent nor intelligent writer. She will make a good living in the lucrative defending-the-elite market."
posted by boo_radley at 1:14 PM on January 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


If our imaginary Joe here is commuting into Manhattan by car every day, I can believe that he is paying $5000 a year to park. However, he is an idiot for doing so. If he can expense that every month at work, it shouldn't be an expense in the family budget.
posted by COD at 1:14 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hm. Let's see. In Glendale, you can rent a four-bedroom home for $875/month.

That house is in Glendale, Arizona. It's more like $2500/month for Glendale, California.

Doesn't make the article any less a pile of shit, though.
posted by stefanie at 1:15 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Who the hell spends 5,328 dollars a year in parking fees?

Yea, that's not really that high. Downtown parking leases here in my little city cost around $300 a month, I imagine that it would be hirer in bigger cities. I'd never pay it when there are buses to ride but I know people who do.
posted by octothorpe at 1:16 PM on January 5, 2011


Also, what the fuck is going on in that headline pic? Did The Fiscal Times hire the graphic designer from No Limit Records?
posted by electroboy at 1:17 PM on January 5, 2011 [22 favorites]


Once again, the fiscally irresponsible clamor for government intervention to reward their indigence with a comfortable lifestyle.
posted by Eideteker at 1:18 PM on January 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


None of these numbers are realistic for a family of four, even making that much.

Day care and babysitting: $15,000. Cut that by $14,750.


$500 a YEAR for day care? You can't get day care for $500 a MONTH in Seattle proper. I can easily see $15,000 if you send your kid to a boutique hothouse day care, but even the run-of-the-mill day care here starts at $12,000 a year.

After school activities/camp: $4000. Cut that by $3500.

Do you even have kids?

Home cleaning: $5000. Cut that by $4500.

So, you either think this is monthly costs, or you think all $250K households have one income.

The numbers are inflated (and there are a lot of luxuries mixed in), but there is some truth to it all. One reason why this argument rings true for middle and upper-middle class Americans.
posted by dw at 1:19 PM on January 5, 2011 [13 favorites]


This is horseshit on so many levels.

Agreed. I just do not have that much sympathy for people who can't live more frugally on $250k. I also do not buy that one cant do it, even with children.

I mean, everyone is cutting back - starting with the poorest. Why can't some the Joneses do with a little less. Or at least spend more intelligently.
posted by lampshade at 1:19 PM on January 5, 2011


If I parked in my building at work it would cost me $5000/year. So I take the bus. Monthly bus passes cost $1000/year.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:19 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


One reason why this argument rings true for middle and upper-middle class Americans.

So far, the majority of comments seem to indicate that this rings true only for the author and you.
posted by fuq at 1:20 PM on January 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


$5,000 a year for "lunches at work @ $10 each." When you run this number, you find that both of the parents are spending $10 per weekday on lunch.

That's actually not unreasonable. I'm a lazy bastard and don't make my lunch at home. When I eat at the nearby deli (because it's close, shut up) it costs me $9 for sandwich and chips. $10/lunch doesn't seem out of line to me. Complaining that it's too high when you could make lunch at home and bring it in, does.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:21 PM on January 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


The rich deserve nicer things because they "work" more. That's how they got rich. No, really! I AM BEING SERIOUS!

Then you haven't been asked to go out with your father at 3 in the morning on the day after Christmas because a milk chilling tank on a customer's dairy farm has stopped cooling the milk, and needs fixing. And you stay there in finger-tingling cold until after noon when you get in the truck, drive 3 hours to pick up a compressor, get back with it, take another 3 hours to put it in, and then finally get to stop and have a hot meal when you go home for supper that night around 7.

And then tomorrow, it happens again, different dairy, same problem.

If you really are being serious, I feel sorry for you. If you're not, I've been unnecessarily harsh, but that was the gist of my childhood. Hard work, long hours, nasty conditions, just so my father could run his own business and help out the local farmers with fair prices and damn good service.
posted by deezil at 1:21 PM on January 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


(@mark242, I live in a low-cost-of-living area and daycare for under-5s costs around $12,000/year. Day care is not cheap.) - Eyebrows McGee

This! Daycare can easily run over $1,000 - $1,400 a month for each kid that's not school age. Also, people are obsessing about the summer camp issue but you have to find somewhere for them to go from 7:30 am - 5:30 pm while you're working. We don't get summers off. Of course, the costs for these programs range drastically but it's not an optional expense for working parents.
posted by victoriab at 1:22 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


You know what else is Too Damn High?

The Rent.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:22 PM on January 5, 2011 [13 favorites]


The rich deserve nicer things because they "work" more.

RICH PEOPLE ACTUALLY BELIEVE THIS.


I think the half-ass logic that goes into policies like the Bush tax cuts are that in order for a thriving economy, poor people need to believe this. The thought is that if wealthy people need to make sacrifices and are living in a state that isn't all that much better than middle-class Americans, who is going to be motivated to work harder and produce more innovative businesses to reach the goal of being wealthy? And in turn, how will our economy grow?

While I completely disagree with this train of thought, hopefully it provides some insight into why "RICH PEOPLE ACTUALLY BELIEVE THIS".
posted by bhamrick at 1:22 PM on January 5, 2011


This family should invest in some bootstraps.
posted by doublehappy at 1:24 PM on January 5, 2011 [15 favorites]


sweetjesus: 5000 a year in parking is not outrageous in some cities. In my cold little metropolis in Canada, a spot downtown runs you about 450 a month and they are mostly sold out. If you are like me and can't afford that, public transit/walking/living close to downtown are the choices.

A lot of people that work downtown (caretaking staff, service industry people) would need to spend the majority of their monthly salary on gas, parking, and insurance. That's no food, no house, no 401k, no yearly plumber or monthly hair styling... We just don't believe we are entitled to these things so we spend money on stuff we can afford, like food, housing, clothes, bus passes.
posted by ryanfou at 1:24 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Taxes take a hefty toll. Everything from property taxes and the alternative minimum tax to the taxes tacked on to cell phone bills and the cost of gas, when combined, takes a massive bite out of earnings – in some cases even more than the federal income tax toll. And it’s not likely to get better anytime soon. States and municipalities have been steadily raising income tax rates to help close gaping holes in their budgets. Property taxes are also increasing, even though real estate values have cratered. And sales taxes are hitting record levels, in some areas nearing 10 percent. Gas taxes, alcohol taxes and hidden surcharges on everything from airline flights, ferry rides, soda, vehicle registrations and rental cars have also been stealthily rising."
This is what you wanted. You wanted the Federal Government to step back and let the state and local governments decide for their people. As a result, the states are getting less money at the Federal level and have to make up for the shortfalls elsewhere. It's that or shut down the fire/police, turn the roads to gravel, and close the schools (sure, your kids' private school will be ok, but do you really want roving gangs of public-skooligans free to wander around vandalizing and robbing?). What, did you think this shit just paid for itself? Have fun with your private police and fire, too.
posted by Eideteker at 1:25 PM on January 5, 2011 [25 favorites]


I'm with dw, actually. Sure the article is outragefilter, but there's a kernel of truth in there. When I graduated from college, I had two monthly expenses: rent and electricity. Now it's rent, electricity, cable, two phones, internet. Should we all give these things up and go live in the woods? Perhaps. But that's not the way society is going, which is something to think about.
posted by Melismata at 1:25 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not that I'm defending the premise of the article because god knows I'd feel filthy rich making 250K a year...but I also used to think that I'd be content making $16K a year because it was so much more than I made waiting tables.
posted by victoriab at 1:25 PM on January 5, 2011


Maybe they should have the housekeeper pack them all lunches.
posted by Biblio at 1:26 PM on January 5, 2011 [17 favorites]


I was listening to some NPR thing this weekend, about a woman who decided when she was 8 that she would live on the family farm in the backwoods out east.

So, she went to college, got get masters, got a PhD, married another PhD, and then got her wish: to live on the family farm. They did the math, and found that living by writing and selling jam and produce was only $10,000 less productive than getting jobs in their fields.

At first, it was cute and quaint that a PhD would want to life life on the farm, but then I got angrier and angrier: there are probably neighbors of hers who were forced to live on the family farm due to lack of opportunities and eke out an existence simply hoping they make $10,000 profit a year. Essentially, what the story was about was that this PhD couple was spending $10,000 a year to fund their hobby but played up as the American Dream. They end the story by saying the couple and their kids are surprisingly comfortable living on $46,000 a year because they've got very little debt. The whole thing felt so ignorant about what being a struggling farmer is really like.

The lack of perspective on being truly poor is lost on so much of the country. So you can't make it on $250,000 -- do you really understand what demanding your government cut "entitlements" (god I hate that term) does to the people living on $20,000 a year? The slight discomfort of high taxes forcing Americans spending only $700/month at the grocery store is enough to make a whole lot of Americans lives easier.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:26 PM on January 5, 2011 [13 favorites]


Kid's after school activities: $4,000
House cleaning: $5,000

I think I see a way to save $9,000 off the bat and keep the kids occupied after school. Also, they're paying off their own student loans AND saving for the kids' education? Seems like double dipping the education budget.
posted by revgeorge at 1:29 PM on January 5, 2011 [12 favorites]


If you really are being serious, I feel sorry for you.

No, we're on the same side here, and now I really am being serious.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:29 PM on January 5, 2011


Now it's rent, electricity, cable, two phones, internet. Should we all give these things up and go live in the woods?

I think that there might be a middle ground.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:30 PM on January 5, 2011 [13 favorites]


Kid's after school activities: $4,000

Most parents now have to pay for things that used to be free, like riding a school bus or after school sports. Kids with nothing to do after school, not good.
posted by Melismata at 1:30 PM on January 5, 2011


"Should we all give these things up and go live in the woods?"

The woods? In my day, we would have killed to live in the woods!
posted by Eideteker at 1:31 PM on January 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, some of those expenses are difficult to separate from the situation. Parking fees and their house price seem ridiculous, but if they lived in an area with a lower cost of living and population density, they'd make less money. If they both work they'll need some kind of day care.

On the other hand, their combined leisure and house cleaning budget is more than a lot of people make. So I'm still in the 'world's tiniest violin' camp. These are some upper-middle-class people upset that $250k/year doesn't make them upper-class when they live in an area with a very high cost of living. My heart bleeds, it does.

That being said, these guys are much more like regular people than they are like the ultra-wealthy who are the actual problem, so we should probably be trying to get them to join the folks with the pitchforms and torches and not make them feel like they're the enemy.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:32 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


See how they suffer on their cross of gold?
posted by munchingzombie at 1:32 PM on January 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


Have the Jones' (authors) considered obtaining a supplementary income by producing a film series? Because a DVD set of an entire family going and fucking themselves would probably sell pretty well in certain markets.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:33 PM on January 5, 2011 [19 favorites]


infinitywaltz, we're cool man. I just get the GRAR inside me.
posted by deezil at 1:33 PM on January 5, 2011


I think that there might be a middle ground.

I don't know, I can't really get cell reception out in the woods.
posted by electroboy at 1:34 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


This article is complete and utter Quatsch.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:34 PM on January 5, 2011


That's actually not unreasonable. I'm a lazy bastard and don't make my lunch at home.

The operative words there are "lazy bastard." You are not complaining about making ends meet.

If you were, and spending $10 a day at lunch, that would be one of the things I'd point out first. To get to $5,000 a year at $10/day lunches, that means two people are spending 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, paying for lunch. That's nuts.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:34 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


deezil, me too; it's just that mine comes out as sarcasm.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:34 PM on January 5, 2011


The richest 10% need to be pimp-slapped back to reality before things get really ugly. History shows that heads begin to role when the wealthiest become too greedy.

Paying high taxes is apersonal safety measure.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:35 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


The first comment was very enlightening. Here is an excerpt from the aptly-named Nitpicker:

On the surface, this article (which fails to point out that the limit is $250,000 and, therefore, no one was suggesting these fake people should pay more...
posted by Mister_A at 1:35 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Because a DVD set of an entire family going and fucking themselves would probably sell pretty well in certain markets.

The Aristocrats!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:35 PM on January 5, 2011 [15 favorites]


$42,000. That is the highest annual salary I've ever made in my life. Now admittedly I'm single and don't have a family or even a freaking pet to take care of right now, but the idea of having $250,000 income in a single year literally shuts my brain down. I honest to god would not know what to do with that much money. It's not even a real number to me.

I mean literally the first thing that came into my head was "I guess I could pay for cable again."
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:36 PM on January 5, 2011 [36 favorites]


Anyway, that's not to say that the basic premise, "$250,000 per year is different from being rich" is incorrect, but they are seriously overstating the case here. You should not be in the red at $250,000 per year.
posted by Mister_A at 1:36 PM on January 5, 2011


Having servants cook and clean for you is very nice, but even two income households (and working single parents) can get by without it. Really.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 1:37 PM on January 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Most parents now have to pay for things that used to be free, like riding a school bus or after school sports. Kids with nothing to do after school, not good.

Gee, if only there were some way to spread that cost out to all the residents in the area, so that they could pool their resources to pay for something that is consensus-good. We could even set it up in steps, so that rich people paid marginally more than poor people.
posted by Mayor West at 1:38 PM on January 5, 2011 [91 favorites]


Should we all give these things up and go live in the woods?

Well, no. There are other choices: conserve electricity; cut cable and switch to $8/mo Netflix; get the cheapest dumbphone plan possible. We all make choices about what to spend our money on, but we should grow up and take...what's that thing conservatives love so much? oh yeah....personal responsibility for the choices we make. If someone who lost their house to foreclosure can be taken to task (as has happened on this very site) for the choices they made that got them there, then I don't think it's out of line to have the same standards for people like these.
posted by rtha at 1:38 PM on January 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


Hoooooo boy. So many problems with the numbers.

Using the numbers they're citing, the "moderate cost" of food per month for my household of two would be $501.50. That's for food at home - does not include meals or snacks out.

My household of two eats like royalty for, at most, half that. That's with abundant splurges. They "don't shop at high-end groceries?" Sure they do. They'd have to, to spend that.

Phone, cable, internet: $2400.

What kind of phone, cable, and internet cost $2400? I'll give you $120 a month for the cable/phone/internet all-in-one-deal. What's the rest of this - iPhones for the whole fam?

That's actually not unreasonable. I'm a lazy bastard and don't make my lunch at home.

You're right, $10 for a lunch is pretty easy to do; when I forget my lunch it's usually a minimum of $6 to buy one, $10 with a beverage or sides or at a sit-down place. But what's missing here is that this expense is unecessary. It's a luxury to eat out. When things get tight, you stop doing it, even if you're lazy. When you develop other important priorities, you stop doing it, even if you're lazy. We're supposed to pity a family that can't join the country club or take lavish vacations? Well, at $10 for two people per work day for the whole year, they're spending $4800 on lunch out. That's a damn nice long weekend away, or even a week all-inclusive, for a family. It's math like that that makes me bring my lunch. I like eating lunch out, but I like other stuff more.

The main issue is that so many of these expenditures are choices. It's the tone-deafness to the availability of choice to the rich that bothers me here. The Joneses might be spending all their money, but that doesn't mean they're somehow not rich. The very fact that they have choices about where the money can go - money that can be shifted from this category to that, spent or saved, at will - is what defines them as rich, not how much they have left at the end of another profligate month. They're trying to live above their means. The amount of this income that is disposable is just huge, regardless of the stupid decisions they're making about how to dispose of it. Lower-income people serve their basic needs with their money and have far less choice.
posted by Miko at 1:38 PM on January 5, 2011 [67 favorites]


the idea of having $250,000 income in a single year literally shuts my brain down

I know. I don't make half that and support a non-working wife and two children. The idea that I would make $125 a year?

I'd go to the dentist. For the first time since 1995.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:39 PM on January 5, 2011 [18 favorites]


Should we all give these things up and go live in the woods?

Yes, as long as the woods are blinged out..
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:39 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


The main issue is that so many of these expenditures are choices. It's the tone-deafness to the availability of choice to the rich that bothers me here.

Hear, hear.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:39 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the only thing these stories are intended to do is keep the poor arguing with the upper middle class while the top 0.1% make off with 40% of the wealth.
posted by benzenedream at 1:40 PM on January 5, 2011 [20 favorites]


I can easily see $15,000 if you send your kid to a boutique hothouse day care, but even the run-of-the-mill day care here starts at $12,000 a year.

I think the key here is are these kids in school or not? If they are not in school, then 15,000 should be about right for a 45 hour per week daycare but the camp fees aren't necessary because you're paying a 52 week/year childcare facility. But if they're in school, no way you're paying 15K a year for before-and-after care, but the camp/activities fees makes more sense.

As a datapoint I pay $10,400 a year for 45-hour per week child care 52 weeks a year for a preschool age child. In Maine.
posted by anastasiav at 1:41 PM on January 5, 2011


Gee, if only there were some way to spread that cost out to all the residents in the area, so that they could pool their resources to pay for something that is consensus-good. We could even set it up in steps, so that rich people paid marginally more than poor people.

I DON'T KNOW, SOUNDS LIKE COMMUNISM TO ME.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:41 PM on January 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'd go to the dentist. For the first time since 1995.

I've heard similar statements from others and felt the same when my diabetes drugs were sky high. It's fucking insane that the idea of getting rich means people could afford regular goddamn health care.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:42 PM on January 5, 2011 [17 favorites]


benzenedream brings up a good point. It would be relatively easy for the Joneses to go from fake poor (I can't afford the 2011 Lexus! I'll have to drive the fully-loaded Highlander!) to real poor (I lost my job and my husband has cancer and we're circling the drain) in this country. Still doesn't excuse this lazy justification to preserve tax breaks for a family that WAS NEVER IN ANY DANGER OF LOSING THEM.
posted by Mister_A at 1:44 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


This article deserves savage mockery.
posted by Xoebe at 1:44 PM on January 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


Jeez, this stuff again. This is ground that's been covered before, in the guise of HENRYs: High Earners Not Rich Yet.

As always, my heart bleeds for those who save more for retirement in a single year than the median household earns in income. Poor dears.
posted by Sublimity at 1:44 PM on January 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Okay, just a second here. Stipulating for the moment their ridiculous budget scenario, what are we looking at here?

Their honest position, what they truly believe and worry about, is that someone in the top 2.9 percent of wage earners (and thereby including, one imagines, the 97.1 percent of Americans below them) cannot maintain a basic, functioning lifestyle in today's America. And what that tells them is that we need to reform the tax code?

Isn't that kind of like seeing a zombie apocalypse going on outside your house and worrying about whether there'll be inspectors to make sure that infected zombie flesh doesn't get into the municipal water?
posted by Naberius at 1:45 PM on January 5, 2011 [38 favorites]


You're right, $10 for a lunch is pretty easy to do

Here's what you do: you go into McDonald's, and you order the McChicken Combo, with an extra McChicken. It comes to something like $3.79, which is cheaper than the two-cheeseburger combo but has bigger sandwiches, plus is lower in fat and comes with lettuce while the regular cheeseburger does not -- in fact, it's the most food you can get at McDonald's for the least amount of money.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:45 PM on January 5, 2011 [12 favorites]


Who the hell spends 5,328 dollars a year in parking fees?

This is actually a great question. In the face of climate change and a growing global population, we all have to adjust our priorities.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:46 PM on January 5, 2011


I've heard similar statements from others and felt the same when my diabetes drugs were sky high. It's fucking insane that the idea of getting rich means people could afford regular goddamn health care.

I'm probably shaving decades off my life by not treating my hypertension, but I can't afford to do anything about it. It also doesn't help that I'm relying on caffeine and Excedrin to treat my chronic migraines because, without insurance, I can't afford the really nice doesn't-explode-your-heart migraine pills my mom can get.
posted by kafziel at 1:47 PM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


This is me playing the smallest, most preposterously-overpriced violin to give voice to the sorrow of a family trying to make it in this world on $250k/year.

It sounds like Wah wah wahhhhhhh.
posted by ErikaB at 1:50 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


The point is not whether a $250,000/year income for a family of four = rich.

The point is that this family of four probably would have done just fine under Clinton-era tax rates, which is where Obama wanted to return the tax rates to. I'm so tired of people saying that a return to 1990s tax rates would be a hardship. When Clinton raised taxes in the 1990s, all the Republicans said it would ruin the economy. They were wrong. And Clinton raised taxes on the highest income levels by 8.6%, from 31% to 39.6%. Obama wanted to raise them from 35% to 39.6%, which is only a 4.6% increase, much smaller than the Clinton increase. (And as others have pointed out, it would only have applied to the amount of income that was in excess of $250,000, not to a person's entire income.)

Complainers.
posted by Tin Man at 1:51 PM on January 5, 2011 [13 favorites]


That being said, these guys are much more like regular people than they are like the ultra-wealthy who are the actual problem, so we should probably be trying to get them to join the folks with the pitchforms and torches and not make them feel like they're the enemy.

That true, but there is one major difference - most of their expenses are due to choices they made and not due to circumstances that are beyond their control. Cool Papa Bell already pointed out that the lunch expenses can be drastically reduced. Have the maid come half as often. Get an older car. DON'T TAKE FUCKING VACATIONS IF YOU CAN'T MAKE ENDS MEET. Or, you know, move. Yes, they'd probably make less money in a cheaper state, but people do manage to live there. Remarkably, they survive. It must be possible.

You don't actually need cable tv. Yeah, it's nice and all (I like it), but if these families are really suffering then they should probably ditch it and start reading books. You have a nice library in town, where they will totally give you books for free. Movies too. Well, you did, until you voted against that bond measure that would have funded it. Pity about that.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:51 PM on January 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Great day in the morning, the privilege drips from every word and calculation.

I'm above the stated median income (on a single income) and consider myself incredibly blessed and privileged that I'm able to support my fiancee in going back to school to finish a bachelor's degree. We have debt, and I stress about the occasional feeling that we're living paycheck-to-paycheck, but I also know that we could do more to tighten our belts if we had to.

I'd take a single year at 250k, and then back to my current salary. That would erase every debt she and I have, with enough left to put some in savings.
posted by Tknophobia at 1:52 PM on January 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


First off this article is ridiculous - nobody is down and out making 250k/yr - but it does illustrate the fact that making 250k doesn't make a family rich - those guys are firmly middle class.
posted by zeoslap at 1:52 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


My favorite part is that three of the 8 areas they looked at - Bethesda MD, Alexandra VA, and Washington DC - are part of the DC economy, and therefore chances are very high that one or both of them is being paid by taxes, either directly by working for the Federal Government, or for a contractor or non-profit that's run heavily on Federally-allocated funds.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:53 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


-- in fact, it's the most food you can get at McDonald's for the least amount of money.
Double-like.
posted by joecacti at 1:54 PM on January 5, 2011


Thanks for linking this illuminating article. If anyone is interested, I'm taking up a fund for imaginary families just like this one. You can send your donations via PayPal to zyloco (at) gmail.com.
posted by zylocomotion at 1:55 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's what you do: you go into McDonald's,

Oh no you don't.
posted by Miko at 1:55 PM on January 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


The monthly train ticket from huntington is $3600/pa, + $50 bucks for parking + 1248/pa for subway. So the 5328 in parking isn't that far off taking public transport. Also $100/week isn't crazy for a cleaner in the NY suburbs.

250k isn't rich in NY, but that isn't an argument against them paying higher taxes.
posted by JPD at 1:55 PM on January 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


My favorite part is that three of the 8 areas they looked at - Bethesda MD, Alexandra VA, and Washington DC - are part of the DC economy

And you can commute to all those places from Baltimore, where $750k buys you 5 houses in my neighborhood.
posted by electroboy at 1:57 PM on January 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


Yeaah but you have to live in Ballmer. Yikes.
posted by Mister_A at 2:02 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Here's what you do: you go into McDonald's,

Oh no you don't.


Here's the thing: if they are eating out every day of the week for $10 a day, they may as well eat McDonald's for a whole hellofa lot less. Unless they are eating vegan food from a vegan restauraunt - which no other aspect of their food expenses indicate - they are probably shoveling a hell of a lot of crap into themselves, patting themselves on the back and thinking that McDonald's is gouche. The reality? Chances are they are killing themselves just as effectively as McDonald's will.

Restaurants offer healthy options which are not healthy, but because it has feta and greens on it, people buy it up, ask for extra feta - and to add bacon!
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:03 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


These articles are basically about the fact that people who work higher end management jobs are unhappy with the fact that having a $3,000 mortgage and owning two cars and socking away hundreds of thousands of dollars for your kids' college education and paying someone to clean your house is what being rich means. Having a couple of high end but not exceptional corporate executive or high-value technical/professional jobs doesn't mean you get to fly your golden jet to Cancun 6 times a year or whatever the fuck I am supposed to believe is the baseline lifestyle below which I must feel sorry for people.

My family has just about half of what these imaginary people have (half the mortgage, half the cars, half the kids) at well under half their income and I would hope that someone sensible would give me a sound slapping if I ever ventured to describe myself as "down and out."
posted by nanojath at 2:03 PM on January 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


zeoslap: First off this article is ridiculous - nobody is down and out making 250k/yr - but it does illustrate the fact that making 250k doesn't make a family rich - those guys are firmly middle class
In... what sense does it not make them rich? Not "buy your own sports team" rich, or "tweet about yet another weeknight spent snorting coke off a Penthouse Pets' tits" rich, but you're fucking rich if you're making $250K a year.

$250K year is roughly what, ~$180K a year after taxes, cash in pocket? Live on $50-70K a year quite comfortably like many people would actually like to, and you're stuffing $110-130K a year into an investment mattress. In 10 years with even conservative, super safe investments you're probably sitting on a nest egg that has grown to more than $1.5 million dollars. And in ten years, that nest egg is paying you out more than you were living on while you were working. Which means in 10 years or less you can retire and never work another day in your life and spend all your time traveling the country in an RV, or working on your garden, or volunteering, or whatever the heck you want to do. In other words, $250K/yr means you can be fully retired, affluent, and completely free of financial constraints decades before most people will even think of having to bank on Social Security supplement their paltry Walmart greeter income.

Look, people do win the lottery and then blow it all. That doesn't mean they weren't rich, it just means they're stupidly bad with money management. Calling yourself "not rich" when you make $250K a year is stupid.
posted by hincandenza at 2:08 PM on January 5, 2011 [24 favorites]


I don't disagree with you, Nanukthedog, but even though I've never made a ton of money I don't see McDonald's as a food resource. And you don't have to. If you're just talking about sustenance to make it through the lunch hour because you forgot lunch, there are many other easily available options. For the, say, 560 calories you'd get in a double-patty McChicken, you could get a $2.79 can of Blue Diamond Almonds and a chocolate milk and come out pretty well nutrition-wise. I'm looking at a $2.49 can of almonds from my desk right now - it's a small can - and if you ate the whole thing you've got 1020 calories, which is 24 grams of protein, plus 48% of your day's calcium and 72% of your fiber. They are pretty filling, too. Not that I'd eat the whole can, but you don't need to just to get through the day. CVS and Walgreens can also set you up with string cheese singles, yogurt, other nuts, granola and protein bars, juice drinks and sometimes even fresh pieces of fruit, depending.
posted by Miko at 2:12 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Day care and babysitting: $15,000. Cut that by $14,750.

So how did you arrive at that $250/year figure? Do you still pay $2/hr for babysitting? Or are you saying "don't have a kid"?

We pay about $17,000/year ($325/week) for full-time child care. That is for a one-woman, one-helper, 6-kid operation. (And that doesn't include any extra we have to pay for the 6 weeks of the year that our day care is closed.) The semi-industrial school we tried when she was 1yo was even more expensive, with zero green space.

I consider myself pretty rich, although my wife and I don't come close to $250K/year. I cut elsewhere, but day care is pretty hard. Any home care with accreditation seemed to be $250/week ($13,000/year) and up. Pre-schools for babies and toddlers are even more expensive.

That being said, these guys are much more like regular people than they are like the ultra-wealthy who are the actual problem, so we should probably be trying to get them to join the folks with the pitchforms and torches and not make them feel like they're the enemy.

Yes yes yes, a million times yes. If I were of a conspiratorial mindset, I would say that the Powers That Be are trying to incite a class war between the ones with crumbs and the ones without, while the fatcats feast and laugh. ... Pass me a pitchform.

you're fucking rich if you're making $250K a year.

And yeah. Pretty much by definition. If you're making 6x the national average, and more than 97.1% of other families in your country, you're fucking rich. I'm rich, but at least I admit it.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:12 PM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


They should start a meth lab for an additional income stream.

Hey, I know, kids -- we could start a meth lab here on mefi, and donate the proceeds to the Joneses. I'll bet somebody here knows all about chemistry, and I can make the hillbilly costumes, and I'll bet my dad would let us use his barn!
posted by steambadger at 2:13 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't know, in the part of the world where I live (urban British Columbia, Canada), 750k is pretty much the average price of a home (the median is about 550k, but a family of 4 would be pretty cramped living in a median-priced home).

Lots of places anywhere near jobs on the West Coast are going to have median housing prices in that vicinity (I emphasize coast, because housing is often cheaper inland, thus the hellish commutes). Pasadena is next door to Glendale and is one of the 10 most expensive housing markets in the country, which freaking blows my mind because it was nothing other than an average town (and one with a scary skid row downtown that has long since disappeared) when I grew up there and is in fact still called by the New York Times and other eastern media outlets that know nothing about California a "suburb" of Los Angeles. The SF real estate blogs are always making chortling noises about "charming fixer-uppers" in the Mission or Bernal Heights or Potrero Hill that cost $750k and above. Here's a 2-bedroom 1450-square-foot short sale on Dolores and 30th that's on the market for $975k.

Not that I'm agreeing with anything about this hypothetical couple and the framing of their hypothetical misfortunes, but housing is a huge expense when you live in certain parts of the US/Canada.
posted by blucevalo at 2:14 PM on January 5, 2011


This might seem a bit harsh, but we're getting a lot closer to blood running in the streets in the U.S. - seeing Ted Turner on television the other day, claiming that he was close to poverty, down to his "last few million" and worrying about burdening his family with funeral costs, I'm telling you, it's going to get ugly when the shit hits the fan. A teacher of mine once told me, "no country is more than three meals away from a revolution". If the top 2% keeps pushing this BS sob story, they're gonna get their heads handed to them by a populace that's extremely well-armed, generally ignorant and growing more frustrated and desperate by the moment.
posted by dbiedny at 2:16 PM on January 5, 2011 [12 favorites]


"Their honest position, what they truly believe and worry about, is that someone in the top 2.9 percent of wage earners (and thereby including, one imagines, the 97.1 percent of Americans below them) cannot maintain a basic, functioning lifestyle in today's America."

This.

"First off this article is ridiculous - nobody is down and out making 250k/yr - but it does illustrate the fact that making 250k doesn't make a family rich - those guys are firmly middle class"

And this. Remember "Eyes Wide Shut"? The well-to-do city doctor is confronted with just how far from Ultra-rich and privileged he is?
posted by Eideteker at 2:17 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


but it does illustrate the fact that making 250k doesn't make a family rich - those guys are firmly middle class.

Then what is the definition of middle class? If your income puts you above 97% of the rest of the wage-earning population, how the hell is that "middle"?
posted by rtha at 2:17 PM on January 5, 2011 [25 favorites]


>By the logic of this piece, then, can we conclude that the poor souls who make less than a paltry $250k are criminally underprivileged and that steps should immediately be taken assist them?

Bingo. This is a tough argument: Life is really tough when you make 250K?

So we can finally admit that 97% of Americans are hard working people who deserve better? Or wait, they have to pay more to help the people making more than 250K?

And if 250K is hard for a family of four, how could it possibly be done when making minimum wage of $31,200 per year? At what point do bootstraps get so expensive, I wonder...
posted by notion at 2:20 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


we're getting a lot closer to blood running in the streets in the U.S

You know, I have always been reconciled to the idea that America's lower classes were too placid and too well manipulated for this to happen. But these last few months, I think that the basic understanding that we are not all in it together is finally starting to seep in a little deeper.
posted by Miko at 2:22 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


MeFi's own jscalzi reminds us that "not feeling rich is not being poor."
posted by indyz at 2:24 PM on January 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


The U.S. federal poverty level for 2010 for a family of four is $22,050 (.pdf).
posted by rtha at 2:26 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


This might seem a bit harsh, but we're getting a lot closer to blood running in the streets in the U.S

So Ted Turner made you angry, therefore revolution?
posted by electroboy at 2:32 PM on January 5, 2011


In Australia, in 2009-10, assuming a two income household, 50/50 split, their (somewhat simplified) taxes would look like this:

Person A

Income $125,000

Federal income tax -$34,950
Medicare levy -$1,875

Maybe a grand for rates (local, annual property tax).

Repeat for person B.

Net household income - $174,350. This includes free (mostly) health care, enormously subsidised medicines, free (mostly) education.

Of course, they also get to pay:

- 10% GST on all manufactured goods and all services (fresh food exempt, as well as some other minor stuff)

- $4.90 per gallon for gas

- A standard variable mortgage interest rate of 7.81% (and none of that is deductable for the family home, which currently has a median price of $558,000, which will get you a three bedroom, one bath, brick veneer, carport only, 1200 square foot dogbox in Canberra)

- $3.16/lb for apples, $1.35/lb for potatoes and up to $9/lb for basic, supermarket-grade beef

- Much, much more for cars, books, computes, internet access, telecoms, clothing, shoes etc

In short, your $175K in the hand doesn't go anywhere near as far here as it goes there.

But even with all the extra expenses, if you were on $125K each in Australia, and you tried to tell people you were doing it tough, you'd probably be buried up to your neck in the sand at the smellier end of Bondi, be stoned with warm cans of Tooheys New and left to drown in the effluent-laced tide.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:32 PM on January 5, 2011 [10 favorites]


Can someone tell me whether it's possible for someone to really pay 5k in parking? I'm unclear on that point.
posted by mreleganza at 2:34 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


but you're fucking rich if you're making $250K a year.

Well, no. I agree with the sentiment that these people can suck up a few thousand dollars in extra taxes a year, but there are a few assumptions baken into these numbers (which are also pretty shitty in spots as may others have noted).

First, it's basically that to make that much money you are living somewhere where the cost of living is correspondingly high. There is not one single "America" from an economic point of view. I may make a lot more than what others make, but I also have a hugely expensive house relative to the rest of the country because that's what real estate costs in silicon valley. I could move to where houses are cheaper but assuming I don't want to commute for 2 hours a day I'd probably have to take a lower-paying job. But, in short, making a quarter million in some parts of the country is far from being rich because of high housing costs which generally go along with high local taxes. So basically I would agree that an income of $250K isn't rich at all in some parts of the country while a "mere" $100K of annual income in other parts would make you extremely affluent. So this is pretty variable.

Second, the assumption that it's a two income family. They spend a lot on eating out, on child care, on cars and gas. If you're in a nuclear heterosexual family of 4+ people having both parents work is not really a strict economic decision. Unless the lower-earning spouse is earning at least $50K or more then you're probably not actually saving a lot of extra money (retirement savings in something like a 401k is probably the only exception here). If both parents are making roughly the same, $125K, then it's probably a net economic benefit. But if this was a case where one person made $150K and the other $50K (not the same total, I know) it might be cheaper for the second spouse to simply be at home and save the extra child care costs.

Now, not everyone wants to be at home with their kids full-time, so like I said, this isn't strictly an economic decision. Some parents will go back to work and earn $20K annually because otherwise they'd go nuts. And that's fine. But a two-income family isn't necessarily the best economic decision to make.

Live on $50-70K a year quite comfortably like many people would actually like to

There are a lot of reasons that people with high incomes don't simply live like paupers and convert all their income into savings/assets and I think it's a bit ridiculous to dictate that everyone should do so. These people are clearly paying too much for cars IMO but not every expense is avoidable.

Just to get the class rage nice and frothy here I'll tell you all how much my mortgage was last year - I spent $43K on mortgage payments and property taxes combined. It would be hard to limit my total budget to $70K given that fixed cost. And if you're going to tell me to move, I've got a few dozen reasons why paying that much for a wood box is not only a good idea but a pretty good deal compared to what a lot of people pay around here.

At any rate, as I said at the top, whether $250K of annual income is rich or not, they can absolutely afford a little bit more income tax.
posted by GuyZero at 2:34 PM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


Then what is the definition of middle class? If your income puts you above 97% of the rest of the wage-earning population, how the hell is that "middle"?
posted by rtha at 4:17 PM on January 5 [+] [!]


This is really what these discussions are all about: a bizarre conception of what counts as "middle class." When my wife and I decided to buy a house 10 years ago we went to the bank and they looked over our numbers and offered to loan us what I judged to be roughly 230% of what I'd calculated, just based on normal, conservative but not excessively so estimates, of what we could afford to buy. When I mentioned that we were pre-approved for far more than we could afford I was offered the opinion that a blended mortgage with a partial adjustable rate component might be just the thing to bring those mortgage payments down. We made a middle class decision and bought the house we could pay for with our middle class incomes.

I went to an inexpensive state college. I chose carefully and got a great education but let's be real: I chose that college based on cost. That is a "middle class" decision. I knew lots of middle class kids at school and let me tell you, not one of them, not one, had tens of thousands of dollars socked away by their parents for their education.

Not one of my friends, growing up middle class - NOT ONE - had someone cleaning their house. Plenty of two-income families in that mix too.

There is a huge ass difference between not being satisfied with what rich means and not being rich. The difference is the other 9 people in most average groups of ten having substantially less than you do.
posted by nanojath at 2:35 PM on January 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


A teacher of mine once told me, "no country is more than three meals away from a revolution"

"Anarchy is three missed meals away," is a saying dating back to the Roman Republic. It has a literal meaning, and refers to the fact that the worst civil unrest tends to happen when a populace is faced with starvation and food shortages. IMO it doesn't really apply to the USA at this moment, what with the whole superabundance of food and worst, most rampant obesity in history thing.
posted by Ndwright at 2:37 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


This kind of stuff almost makes me wistful that Charlie will probably never get out of the joint.
posted by Danf at 2:38 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


This infuriates me on so many levels. First, our family grew up in Bethesda MD (youngest of 2, now 29) on significantly less than this and were FINE! Both my brother and I played hockey (not a cheap sport) and went to fancy schools and left without debt. Why? Because our parents weren't idiots about money. And we had everything we needed and a lot of what we wanted

Also, they bitch about the $77k in taxes they pay but they are putting away $78k in wealth (mortgage plus investment) a year. In 20 years assuming the market's okay they'll own a 1 million dollar home and have a nest egg of around 750k.

but yeah, Boo fucking hoo
posted by slapshot57 at 2:38 PM on January 5, 2011


Then what is the definition of middle class? If your income puts you above 97% of the rest of the wage-earning population, how the hell is that "middle"?

"Class" has nothing to do with income. There are upper class people in the US with very low nominal incomes. Like, maybe you're Benjamin brewer and you have a shit job but hey, you're Edgar Bronfman Jr's oldest son so yeah, you're actually kind of upper class.

The middle/upper class divide is about income vs assets, not an absolute dividing line of income. There are lots of non-founder CEOs making a few million a year that are absolutely middle class simply because they're all about cash flow.
posted by GuyZero at 2:39 PM on January 5, 2011


you'd probably be buried up to your neck in the sand at the smellier end of Bondi, be stoned with warm cans of Tooheys New and left to drown in the effluent-laced tide.

This can also happen if you're brown or merely a "yobbo" in parts of Australia, so I dunno if it stands out as unusual punishment.
posted by GuyZero at 2:41 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Global rich list
posted by Miko at 2:43 PM on January 5, 2011


Interestingly in the PDF rtha links to above it first lists poverty levels for all states except Alaska, Hawaii, and DC. Then it gives the numbers for Alaska, Hawaii, but not DC.
posted by mareli at 2:43 PM on January 5, 2011


I was going to make a snarky comment about how the people writing these articles are the same ones who complain about the "luxurious" lives of the poor who have phones and television, or who buy a $50 swordfish steak from Whole Foods with food stamps to prove...something, I guess.

But instead it just depresses me. Not because I'm poor, but because I just graduated college and feel like the "rich work harder and deserve more sympathy than the lazy/stupid poor" sentiment is only growing, and that I'm looking forward to a lifetime of people not believing that I really can be clever when I'm not making over a hundred thousand a year or holding down a prestigious knowledge-economy job.

I've got friends like that already, and while I love them dearly, there's always a part of me that wonders if they're thinking about me when they talk about how valuable the work of entrepreneurs and investment bankers is compared to everyone else.
posted by Tubalcain at 2:44 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Social Class in the United States

According to Gallup, the public's median definition of "rich" was an income of $120,000 -- or assets of $1 million.

A few different polls I've seen over the last year suggest that the richer you are, the more you think you would need to actually be "rich." This results from people continually comparing their resources with those around them and, often, a couple rungs up the ladder.

Fair enough to say that class is complicated, especially in the US. There is no standard definition of "rich." But this hypothetical family just doesn't get to claim "not rich."
posted by Miko at 2:46 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


250K is a lot of money and I suspect anyone making that would agree. But treating that demographic as rich is a little odd. Those folks may live in bigger or nicer houses, but I guarantee every penny is accounted for, even if there is more leftover after the bills. And realize that more and more people fall into that demographic in combined income households, and a lot of them are getting killed by the AMT, which disallows a lot of mortgage interest write-off. So yeah, 250K is a lot of money, but to me rich means being able to take your eye off the bank balance month to month, or not giving a shit over a sudden 5K dental bill, or never thinking twice about a summer vacation at the beach. At 250K for a typical family, none of that is happening and I expect they work their asses off for the money, unlike someone with a lot of inherited income or dividend income.
posted by docpops at 2:46 PM on January 5, 2011


Can someone tell me whether it's possible for someone to really pay 5k in parking? I'm unclear on that point.

No garage within walking distance of my office (in midtown Manhattan) is less than $450 a month. The decent ones are around $700. That's just work. When I bought my apartment (also in Manhattan) a few years ago, I was offered the "opportunity" to buy a parking space in the building. The cost of the parking space was $180,000. Yes. That's a true thing that happened. The Real Estate agent gleefully told me that I could add it to my mortgage. I looked at him like he was insane, which it turned out he was, but so was everyone else.

I don't have a car; I have two sons to throw my money away on instead. We love the subway.
posted by The Bellman at 2:49 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm under the impression there exists a certain segment of society who firmly believe that the most important problem in America today is that rich people don't have enough money. Furthermore, the (distant) second-most important problem is that poor people have it too easy.
posted by mhum at 2:54 PM on January 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Kid's after school activities: $4,000

Most parents now have to pay for things that used to be free, like riding a school bus or after school sports. Kids with nothing to do after school, not good.


I didn't want to jump on the snark train but seriously, cry me a river. I had a library card and a cheap bike, and I didn't end up dealing airplane glue.
posted by chaff at 2:55 PM on January 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


. . . but I guarantee every penny is accounted for . . .

LOL yeah we saw that in the article.
posted by chaff at 2:57 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Christ, who gives a shit how you define "rich?" Devoting even 2 seconds to arguing over where to put those goalposts only serves the interest of the people who have grabbed the ball and done a runner off the field while we're squabbling.

There's only one group of people who benefit when this discussion happens and its the folks who are opposed to progressive taxation no matter where the percentages sit.

Because only a statistically significant portion of the population, no matter what they make, ever feels rich. They still don't have that other larger house, that younger spouse, that larger pool, that bigger plane, that competitor chain, they still have to get out of bed at least twice a week or their billions turn into millions, whatever.

Stop playing along with this diversion. Chasing and Ironmouth have the right idea: don't talk about meaningless words like "rich." Talk about the fact that they are making more money than 97% of the population. That they and the rest of their 3% are splitting about 25% of the country's income. That nobody's asking them to dig into their bottom quarter of a million bucks, only to chip in an extra 4 cents per dollar on the rest of that million and since they have seen more than 40% of the gains in income in the last 30 years that it's a pretty small increase.

Those facts mean concrete things. You can put a stack of 100 bills on a table and show that you'd have to hand about HALF of them to ONE PERSON if you were simulating the nation's economy with TEN PEOPLE. You could have him hand you back 2 bills to show how much extra you were asking from him... if you were rounding up, that is.

Or you could argue endlessly about what "rich" means, something that can only be decided by poll.
posted by phearlez at 3:01 PM on January 5, 2011 [40 favorites]


I'm sold. Compelling argument in that article. I agree that every single family in America should be making $250,000 federal-tax-free dollars, every year, in order to make ends meet.

Why don't we pool up everybody's income and just redistribute it so that every family just gets $250,000 federal tax-free dollars? I mean, that's pretty much the only way anybody could achieve a debt-free life!
posted by jabberjaw at 3:02 PM on January 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


GNAAAAAA only a statistically INSIGNIFICANT portion of the population ever feels rich. ISsignificant, IN!
posted by phearlez at 3:02 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


No garage within walking distance of my office (in midtown Manhattan) is less than $450 a month

That's the thing- Manhattan has superb public transportation. This example is about L.A., where I have never once heard of a company not just providing someone a spot for free. And anyway you can always park on the street, except maybe downtown, where there is plenty of public transport.

And finally, if by some weird freak thing their employer decided to charge people at the VP level an absurd amount to park, they would at least do it pre-tax, making the whole damn thing moot.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:03 PM on January 5, 2011


Kids with nothing to do after school, not good.

They can read, right?
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:04 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


The back and forth about whether this expense or that is over- or under-estimated misses the point. The point, as I see it, is that even with all of those expenses this family is socking away $41k a year in college and retirement funds. $41k a year! And they're listing that as an expense!

If you can save $41k a year and still spend $5k for a maid to pick up after your shit, you're rich.

And this line kills me: "Some of the expenses incurred by couples like the Joneses may seem lavish – such as $5,000 on a housecleaner, a $1,200 annual dry cleaning tab and $4,000 on kids’ activities. But when both parents are working, it is impossible for them to maintain the home, care for the kids and dress for their professional jobs without a big outlay."

If I could insert the FFFUUUU! image here, I would.
posted by schoolgirl report at 3:09 PM on January 5, 2011 [16 favorites]


This stupid article totally argues against their cause. If $250K/year is inadequate to feed and house a family of five, how do they feel about paying people $50K/year, the median household income in 2009? How the hell do they think 98% of the country gets by? And they want to keep taxes low so that these "little people" don't get any assistance? How stupid are the "rich" anyway?
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:21 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


How stupid are the "rich" anyway?

The rich are smart enough to know that paying a hack to write a biased bullshit article could save them each thousands of dollars a year.
posted by GuyZero at 3:25 PM on January 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


And this line kills me: "Some of the expenses incurred by couples like the Joneses may seem lavish – such as $5,000 on a housecleaner

About a year ago there was a hilarious Washington Post profile of a lady who was "struggling" as an attorney or something like that when her income was reduced to $300,000 a year. Let me repeat that: reduced. And one of the great throwaway lines was how she had a maid who lived in her home... after the maid herself lost her job and couldn't afford her rent.

And that wasn't the fucking article. There was even a picture of the maid taking the first woman's kid to the doctor... while she herself no longer had medical care.

We've really been trained to just ignore the servant class in this country. This is yet another article talking about the "difficulty" of having a large income that throws away a line about another person being paid a fraction of that and not even wondering how the hell they're surviving.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 3:30 PM on January 5, 2011 [12 favorites]


Jesus wept, he fucking did.
posted by maxwelton at 3:34 PM on January 5, 2011


"Class" has nothing to do with income. There are upper class people in the US with very low nominal incomes. Like, maybe you're Benjamin brewer and you have a shit job but hey, you're Edgar Bronfman Jr's oldest son so yeah, you're actually kind of upper class.

The middle/upper class divide is about income vs assets, not an absolute dividing line of income. There are lots of non-founder CEOs making a few million a year that are absolutely middle class simply because they're all about cash flow.


Yeah, I know. But the linked article is framed in terms of income, not social class, and much or all of this discussion has gone the same way. So that's what I was talking about.

I took a sociology of the American class system in college. The first day of class, the professor asked, "How many of you are middle class?" There were maybe two or three of us who didn't raise our hands. The prof asked me why I hadn't, and I said I didn't know what she meant by this. I was the child of a single parent who wasn't making more than mid-$30K; we'd been on welfare and food stamps when I was younger; I'd worked since I was 13 or 14. I'd gone to a public high school. But my mom had a PhD (and was working as a secretary, since she couldn't get an academic job). I was the first kid in my generation in my family to go to college, and it was an Ivy (with a shitload of financial aid). Since we can argue all day long about what "class" means, with the interplay of finances, education, living circumstances, etc., it's no wonder I was confused. I still wonder how my classmates weren't.
posted by rtha at 3:35 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


to me rich means being able to take your eye off the bank balance month to month, or not giving a shit over a sudden 5K dental bill, or never thinking twice about a summer vacation at the beach

To me rich means means not having to check my bank balance before I go to the grocery store, not panicking over a $500 car repair, or actually being able to consider a summer vacation.
posted by lost_cause at 3:36 PM on January 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


I'm pretty sure this isn't supposed to be persuasive. All of this really is all about defining rich down from the people making millions a year to people picking up the scraps.

Pretty soon they are going to be cranking out articles like "Even while making $70,000 recent college grads Brad and Rachel find it hard to make ends meet. They each spend over $1,200 on transportation a year and combined they spend over $18,000 a year on housing" And people will be saying "twelve hundred bucks a year on transportation! you can get like 50 bikes off of craigslist for that!"
posted by Ad hominem at 3:37 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


So, why should I feel bad about these folk's poor life choices?
posted by moonbiter at 3:38 PM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


What kind of phone, cable, and internet cost $2400?

Ours did until we ditched the land line. Even now, with taxes, it's still close to $2000.

I think the key here is are these kids in school or not?

The one thing that stunned me about day care was that we were spending the same amount on care that we would on tuition to the parochial high school. In fact, we considered sending her to a Catholic elementary school because it was only half as much as day care. (We put her in public school and pocketed the savings, minus after care and school supplies.)

So, yeah, the description of care makes no sense unless you have one kid in diapers and one kid in 2nd grade, which is possible but not terribly common. OTOH, two kids in diapers and you're spending $2000/month on day care even with the "family discount."
posted by dw at 3:42 PM on January 5, 2011


Oh! So this is what the fury of a class warrior feels like! I'd always wondered. Thanks Fiscal Times!

I say tax income over $250k at 70%. That way I can finally say "fuck you, got mine!" (poorness; it has it's advantages, right?)
posted by quin at 3:43 PM on January 5, 2011


To me rich means means not having to check my bank balance before I go to the grocery store, not panicking over a $500 car repair, or actually being able to consider a summer vacation.

So there's no space between struggling and rich at all?
posted by Bookhouse at 3:43 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


These arguments always revolve around the same semantic fiddling. One side uses "rich" to mean "has enough income to eat and sleep comfortably," another to mean "can do whatever they want, whenever they want, on a yacht." One side uses it to mean "way above the median for the nation," so that $250,000 is an insane amount of money — why, you could go see the dentist twice a year! — another to mean "way above the median for the neighborhood," so that $250,000 is barely enough to maintain your $750,000 house, let alone the servants.
posted by No-sword at 3:43 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


So angry I'm just tossing possessive apostrophes around willy-nilly
posted by quin at 3:45 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


To me rich means means not having to check my bank balance before I go to the grocery store, not panicking over a $500 car repair, or actually being able to consider a summer vacation.

Which is, in the end, the intent of all this. If Republicans can pit one liberal demographic against another I suspect they can guarantee themselves a fresh pool of converts from the upper classes who previously voted Democrat. I can't recall where it was published, but there was a great analysis of the AMT and how it hit the hardest in blue states with a lot of high earners that were democrats, hence their (Congress, back when it was last in Republican hands) sclerotic disinterest in correcting it. I can say personally I'm happy to pay higher taxes when I know the Republicans don't want me to, but when the people who I try my best to support through charitable donations and huge federal and state tax bills are agitating for more of my money I get pissed and for a few seconds imagine joining the Dark Side. I know that's juvenile but it's an honest assessment, and I bet it isn't rare at all.
posted by docpops at 3:48 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, if you keep spending every extra dollar you earn you'll never feel 'ahead'.

Let's assume the Joneses are 30 at this point, just purchased their house and really love their town or otherwise can't or won't move and they have a 4% fixed 30 year mortgage.

Even granting the childcare and parking just cutting the relatively luxurious expenses:
Food: cut in half so $6829
Takeout: gone entirely: $1250
Lunches at work: $4500
Travel: $4,000
Eating out: $2,400
Entertainment: $2,693
Phone Internet, etc: $1,200

Assume they buy a 2000-vintage Honda Accord, that's $5k once but saves them $7,596/year.

I've just saved them ~$30,468 a year ($25k the first year).

If they put that entire value into prepaying their principal each month their final loan value goes down from $1,289,019.49 to $965,688.09 saving them $323,000 and 17 years off their mortgage. The numbers are even better for them if they have a higher interest rate.

So, after 13 years of that they have an additional $30k that no longer needs to go to prepaying principal and the $36,055 in mortgage payments that are now straight income.

If their $62,858 in loan and credit card debts weren't already paid off those would go in another year.

They're now age 45, debt free, they have almost $70k of unallocated, disposable income, they have barely any housing costs.

Now they can say fuck it and start blowing it on world travel, after 15 years of careful budgeting who could blame them (HAMBURGER).

But let's assume they're more long-term thinkers. Starting at 45, $70k a year invested in let's say 6% nominal-yield investments until they retire at 65 turns into $2,953,990.35 when they stop working. Assuming they live another ten years they will die with assets of $5,290,146.81. And this isn't counting their retirement savings (assuming the same 6% return that would be worth $4,151,629.46 when they retire).

The Joneses are worth $7,105,619.81 on the day they retire. Since that will compound on its own (same 6%) to $12,725,082.87 in the next ten years they could take that same $750k income out of the interest and still be worth something like five million dollars in liquid assets plus however much their house has appreciated in the 40+ years they've owned it.

This was half an hour's work with a prepayment calculator and a compound interest calculator and ignoring inflation, taxes, changes in childcare expenses, and raises and it's not even close to optimal (since just investing the $30k in that magic 6% return instead of prepaying the mortgage from age 30 would make them another $3,791,058.74 - $1,289,019.49 =$2,502,039.25 MORE).

Now perhaps the Fiscal Times would like to explain to me how, precisely, the Joneses can be simultaneously within reach of Fuck You Money and barely getting by without assuming that someone in this conversation is breathtakingly, blindingly incompetent.
posted by Skorgu at 3:51 PM on January 5, 2011 [14 favorites]


So when does someone coin a universal phrase for "ghetto fabulous" because it sure looks like we need one.
posted by klarck at 3:58 PM on January 5, 2011


There are so many things I want to address that I hardly know where to begin. The one that strikes me most is the notion that it is some kind of class warfare and that it is all a clever marketing campaign either by the rich or to appeal to the rich. The ironic thing is that I'm one of those who would be quite affected by the tax proposals and I guess I'm rich by any reasonable definition, but I am a full and enthusiastic supporter of the tax hikes. The most vociferous opponents of the cuts that I encounter are the people who they will never apply to. I find similar things about the estate tax -- the people most horrified by the tax are the people least likely to ever be affected. This is the greatest trick of the Republican party in my mind, persuading the have-nots that the taxes on the haves are morally offensive.

The other thing that strikes me particularly is that this article is disingenuous because the proposed tax hikes would be on AGI of 250k which wouldn't kick in until they earned another 50k or more and even then would only apply to the income above that mark. So even if we accepted the cost figures of this post, it still wouldn't really apply.
posted by Lame_username at 4:07 PM on January 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


I live on about $3000 a year. It'd be about $2000 if I gave up beer. I'm basically homeless, I live in a $700 van, eat out of dumpsters, and my only expenses are gas and car insurance and a prepaid $15/month cell phone. $3000 is equivalent to their clothes budget. Do I win the thread or something, now?

but really, seconding others: i cannot even begin to imagine having $250,000 a year at my disposal. The wastefulness of their lifestyle just gives me a visceral, gut-turning reaction. And the worst part is I'm sure they don't really appreciate what they have. Hell, I'm sure a lot of people reading this don't fully appreciate having running water or being able to take a hot shower or the ability to bake tater-tots or refrigerate things or own cats or not have to wipe frozen condensation off of the inside of their windshields every morning. etc.
posted by mingo_clambake at 4:23 PM on January 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


> Using the numbers they're citing, the "moderate cost" of food per month for my household of two would be $501.50. That's for food at home - does not include meals or snacks out.

My household of two eats like royalty for, at most, half that. That's with abundant splurges. They "don't shop at high-end groceries?" Sure they do. They'd have to, to spend that.


This came up a while back in an AskMe thread and it still niggles at me at times. A lot of folks said the same--that spending $500 a month for two people on all food/grocery expenditure is exorbitant and sign of cluelessness when it comes to smart shopping. Ummm. I am embarrassed to ask/say this, but I really wish people saying that would go into great nitty gritty detail about where they're located, sales tax on groceries, what the major places are they shop for groceries--specific names of stores or CSA rates or something--with per-unit pricing examples. Because my mom was mad frugal and good at smart shopping and I like to think some of that rubbed off on me, and I cook everything at home from scratch, there is just about zilch prepackaged in any way, and I have not once on my own bought expensive items like upper end seafood or obscure cheeses or even nice treats like rarer fruits or nuts or whatever. And it still takes all my might to keep our food/grocery bill at 500 for the two of us. My aunt recently mentioned Kroger is just damn expensive, which gave me a bit of hope it isn't that I'm a failure. It also got me really interested in the way it depends on where you are by A LOT--even the farmers markets here seem craaazy expensive to me compared to what I was used to in other cities. And because I'm a dork I notice price differences in shops when I'm out of town on vacation or other travel and am often floored at how much it varies. Apples here are, if you are lucky, 1.50/lb. (when they get that low it's a big deal and they want you to flip out at what a great sale it is, even). I was in Chicago a while back, in the heart of Magnificent Mile at a high end and convenient (i.e., you'd think mad marked up) grocery store and apples were .89/lb. and that wasn't even on sale. Just stuff like that. And tax on groceries here is almost 10%.
posted by ifjuly at 4:33 PM on January 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Irony Alert!

Even if we could level the domestic playing field, we won’t solve our wage stagnation and inequality problems. Redistribution of income appears to be the only answer.

The 2nd most read article at thefiscaltimes.com (at the moment) is Income Redistribution: The Key to Economic Growth?
posted by doublesix at 4:38 PM on January 5, 2011


Lame_username, you said a mouthful about the loudest proponents (not to say the most powerful ones) of these taxes being the people who will never be subject to them. If anyone has a good cite explaining why that is I'd love to see it.

The middle/upper class divide is about income vs assets, not an absolute dividing line of income. There are lots of non-founder CEOs making a few million a year that are absolutely middle class simply because they're all about cash flow.
Guyzero makes an important distinction. I noticed that the numbers in the article presuppose $3,000/year in investment income. Just picking a number out of thin air: at 2% annual interest (randomly split between almost-zero return on savings accounts and maybe 4% return in an index fund?) that would require $150K of financial cushion...outside of retirement accounts, because those don't generate income during most of one's working life. That's a pretty nice situation to be in right there....

Finally, a hearty AMEN to phearlez for dispensing with the "what feels rich" line of reasoning and laying it all on the stats. I wish more people would get that. Jesus pete.
posted by Sublimity at 4:39 PM on January 5, 2011


$8000 a year on gas at today's prices doesn't even let you drive around the circumference of the Earth. Every other week.
posted by justkevin at 4:45 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


oh please everyone thinks "If I had money like that then I wouldn't spend on these frivolous things" bullshit. Sure a few of you will, but most of you are going to do what these people do. What makes them assholes is that they complain about it, not that they spend it.

(also counting savings as an expense is a joke.)
posted by JPD at 4:47 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maslow's expanding hierarchy.
posted by iamck at 4:55 PM on January 5, 2011


Never Lurgi : Why am I supposed to feel sympathy for a hypothetical family who had two kids while living in a place that they manifestly can not afford?

I agree completely. Of course, I also wouldn't limit that sentiment to just fiscally irresponsible upper-middle-class/lower-upper-class people. Living paycheck to paycheck (whether $300 or $3,000 or $30,000 a week) and still falling behind? Don't reproduce.


John Cohen : it depends on how much tax revenues we need.

Not quite... How much of our money the asshats in DC can get away with wasting depends on how much tax burden we'll bear before lining them all up against a wall. And I don't exaggerate to say that in the past two years, the tone of the "water-cooler" chat has gone from mere grumbling to something likely actionable as outright sedition.


KokuRyu : Housing prices are too high.

So move. Simple as that. I might make less than a quarter of The Joneses, but my house cost less than the Joneses make (and not to brag, but I have a damned fine house with an awesome garage and enough wooded land to get lost on).


electroboy : If I had to actually pay for it, I'd ride the bus.

This. I too enjoy an employer-paid parking garage, but if denied that, I sure as hell wouldn't pay the same insane price to save myself a quarter mile walk from the nearest free parking (in fact, I sometimes opt for the long walk anyway, just to stretch my legs before sitting at a desk for the next 8+ hours).


XQUZYPHYR : another person being paid a fraction of that and not even wondering how the hell they're surviving.

Nonono, see, you need to look at that from the "noblesse oblige" angle. She didn't "employ" a maid, so much as she fed and sheltered an indigent who helped out with the chores; and, purely out of kindness (and to comply with those pesky anti-indentured-servitude laws), gave the poor wretch a modest stipend to promote self esteem. Hamburger, BTW, though I suspect I come closer to accurate than I'd like to admit.


And just for the record - I would say that I, making far less than the Joneses, should pay more in taxes than I do - Except that I also consider the government shamelessly wasteful and think they need to slash the federal budget to about a third of its current level (and then we can talk about temporarily raising taxes until we pay the deficit down to zero).
posted by pla at 4:57 PM on January 5, 2011


Lame_username, you said a mouthful about the loudest proponents (not to say the most powerful ones) of these taxes being the people who will never be subject to them. If anyone has a good cite explaining why that is I'd love to see it.

I can't explain it other than optimism that someday they'll be there too and it'll be their problem (all growing inequality indications to the contrary) but I would bet a finger that it's tied in some way to this effort to muddy the water with debates about what it means to be rich.

After all, rich is what heiresses and lotto winners are. By golly I'll keep buying that ticket and hoping I have a secret royal uncle, but along the way I'd LOVE to believe that 250k a year isn't rich. Then it's something I just might achieve! Maybe by signing up for that computer education program I keep seeing advertised on commercials. Happily they'll let me sign up without spending much of anything - I can just get a government guaranteed loan!

Some days I think we're not 3 meals away from revolution but 3 classes on statistics and personal finance.
posted by phearlez at 4:58 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Produce is really cheap in Chicago because so much of it comes through here on its way to somewhere else.
posted by mai at 5:11 PM on January 5, 2011


So I just got home from work. I teach sixth grade here on the south side of Chicago and almost all of my kids are poor. Like, the real kind of poor where your family is living on $1200 a month, your mom works the night shift and you have to tuck yourself into bed at age 11, or maybe your heat got turned off in December because your mom got behind on the the bills and then you got pneumonia and missed a week of school.

I got really mad reading this article but then reading these comments made me feel better, because I know at least I am not the lone sole person in the world who is middle class and knows it, and can appreciate it.
posted by mai at 5:14 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


these people making $250,001.00 will pay approximately 5 cents more in taxes, literally.

No, they'll pay less. Because if they're making $250K, their taxable income will be around $200K.

This couple claiming they're burned by this? They're making more in the range of $330K a year if they're showing a taxable income of $250K. They could be making more.
posted by eriko at 5:16 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Glendale CA and Glendale AZ are two different places. Why link to rental in AZ?
posted by Ideefixe at 5:16 PM on January 5, 2011


I would love to be able to live in a house with a garage and a yard that is cleaned by someone else and is equipped with a kitchen that I only use to make supper because I get to eat my lunches at a restaurant. And all the time being able to put $16,000 a year aside to fund my kids education. I would feel like I won the fucking lottery.
posted by Foam Pants at 5:22 PM on January 5, 2011


I would feel like I won the fucking lottery.

Well I guess I won the lottery then except that if I fuck up at work there's no more lottery. I won't complain too much about my life but I gotta work like everyone else and I have my petty psychodramas like everyone else and being a quarter million dollars closer to nirvana isn't that much closer as far as I can tell.
posted by GuyZero at 5:27 PM on January 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ideefixe : Glendale CA and Glendale AZ are two different places. Why link to rental in AZ?

Not my argument, but... Because you can carry on with your life equally well in either place. If the former costs 3x the latter and you still CHOOSE to live there, good for you, but you lose any right to complain about your cost of living.

To repeat myself - If you live in the "wrong" one of those towns - Move.
posted by pla at 5:27 PM on January 5, 2011


To repeat myself - If you live in the "wrong" one of those towns - Move.

you realize the for the most part salaries scale according to cost of living yes?
posted by JPD at 5:31 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


This discussion will seem trivial after the apocalypse.

Just kidding. Class is still an issue.
posted by ovvl at 5:32 PM on January 5, 2011


To repeat myself - If you live in the "wrong" one of those towns - Move.

You are infinitely naive if you think the job market is the same in every town in the US.

There's a reason that there are something like 8 software developers living on my street alone. I'm pretty sure that's not the case in most US cities. The job market in Glendale CA, being a suburb of LA, is vastly different from the job market of Glendale, AZ. There's this thing called the "tv and movie industry" that you may have heard of. it only exists in one of those two places and employs a million people, give or take.
posted by GuyZero at 5:32 PM on January 5, 2011


i just found out today that between the little i get on unemployment and the money i make, oregon minimum wage, washing dishes at the pizza place around the corner from me 18 hours a week (which was a tough pill to swallow as i'm thirty fucking four years old, but i am in school again and busy so sometimes you do what you have to), i'm over income for food stamps (gross icome). so i can relate to this article.

shit is rough. i'll have to cut back on the, uh...the, think, think. well, when i do think of some discretionary income i blow instead of paying rent, bills and groceries i'll cut back. cut it right back.
posted by rainperimeter at 5:41 PM on January 5, 2011


They spend $5000 in out of pocket medical expenses, but don't mention what it is? That doesn't seem normal for people with health insurance. And $4000 in dental expenses? Did both of the kids get braces this year? Or did they manage to negotiate themselves $250,000 in combined salaries at employers with awful dental plans?
posted by Gary at 5:45 PM on January 5, 2011


Gary: keeping up with the latest plastic surgery and cosmetic dentistry, perhaps. Not likely to be covered even by gold-plated insurance.
posted by Sublimity at 5:51 PM on January 5, 2011


These articles make me feel a combination of furious, depressed, and exhausted. I've been working since I was 14 and, 17 years later, I can say that the most I've made in a year is about $16k. And that was eight years ago, at this point. For the past few years, I've been lucky if I make $9k. In a year. To those of us whose concerns are more along the lines of "Gee, I hope I can find enough change in the couch to take the bus to work tomorrow," these articles are just insulting. And that's what I need. To be both poor and insulted.

Assholes.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 5:51 PM on January 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


Yes yes yes, a million times yes. If I were of a conspiratorial mindset, I would say that the Powers That Be are trying to incite a class war between the ones with crumbs and the ones without, while the fatcats feast and laugh. ... Pass me a pitchform.


OK here you go.
The white is what you stab with, you keep the blue copy, and the goldenrod goes to the head office.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 5:53 PM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


This makes me realize again how much money I save by renting, not owning a car, and making my lunch. And oh yeah, no kids.

I do agree that the food budget is reasonable though. I spend at least 200/mo for myself, although that includes almost every meal, no takeout. Admittpedly I don't stint ( that includes nice cheese, organics, wine, fancy olive oil) but with my reduced budget elsewhere I don't consider it a big deal.
posted by yarly at 5:58 PM on January 5, 2011


They spend $5000 in out of pocket medical expenses, but don't mention what it is? That doesn't seem normal for people with health insurance.

Welcome to the wonderful world of the High Deductible Health Plan! My husband's job gives us healthcare options that basically add up to: you can get a plan that actually pays for stuff, and pay $5000/year in premiums, or you can choose the High Deductible Health Plan that is free, but doesn't pay for anything until you've spent $5000 of your own money. We went for the latter this year. And we got the last laugh on them: I had an emergency appendectomy on December 18. Ha ha ha!
posted by Daily Alice at 6:20 PM on January 5, 2011


JPD : you realize the for the most part salaries scale according to cost of living yes?

It scales, yes, but not enough.

Check out PayScale's (or any other) Cost of Living calculator. If I move to NYC, I would make (on average) 35% more than I do now; My cost to live a similar lifestyle would go up a whopping 87%. On the flip side of that, if I moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, my salary would drop by only 8%, while my cost of living would drop by 24%.

Thus, I can't complain. I like where I live, and can afford to live here.



GuyZero : You are infinitely naive if you think the job market is the same in every town in the US

Every market, of course not. But for (almost) any highly skilled job, you can bet that somewhere with a lower cost of living will need you. You might not keep pulling down six figures, but you'll do better overall on significantly less. And for unskilled labor, everywhere needs cashiers; In some places (I could name a few not too far North of me), minimum wage can actually put you in your own home; Will $20/hr doing the same work in NYC end up with you living anywhere other than a rat-infested apartment with zero equity for the rest of your life?


yarly : This makes me realize again how much money I save by renting, not owning a car

You'll occasionally get very lucky, but leasing almost never saves you money on cars. It may put you in a nicer car than you could otherwise afford on the short-term, but in four years, instead of outright owning a decent car that will last you twice that much longer, you'll just have another new car and the same monthly payment.
posted by pla at 6:24 PM on January 5, 2011


It's absurd that the bottom 80% pay taxes at all. A progressive tax on the top 2% alone, topping out at 49%, would probably provide enough for a civilized public welfare (health, safety, education, income insurance, Internet) system that gives everyone a good chance of getting a 1950s-70s middle class life. Quite comfortable.

Sounds crazy.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:28 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I mean, I have no car at all! Walk, bike, or metro.
posted by yarly at 6:42 PM on January 5, 2011


I'm also with dw on the response here. Some of the numbers are a bit inflated and sure, the family here could be a bit more frugal (lunches, etc.), but the point is that once you add it all up...at the end of the day $250,000 is by no means "rich", especially when taking the community into account.

Sure, you're well off and you're not hurting for basic necessities, but it sure doesn't mean you're necessarily living the high life.
posted by tgrundke at 6:45 PM on January 5, 2011


I don't quite get the angst towards those with +2 standard deviation income, composed mostly of people who at least work for their money, when those with higher incomes are more likely to be part of the class that systematically and legally siphons wealth from the rest of us to themselves, and ships our jobs to sweatshops, all the while paying a lower tax rate.
posted by simms2k at 6:48 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


You'll occasionally get very lucky, but leasing almost never saves you money on cars.

I read that as "renting [an apartment] and not owning a car..."
posted by rtha at 6:50 PM on January 5, 2011


Hm. Let's see. In Glendale, you can rent a four-bedroom home for $875/month.

My one-bedroom apartment in Pasadena cost $1200/mo in 2001, so forgive me if I think that is utter bullshit.
posted by malocchio at 6:56 PM on January 5, 2011


Wow. My mind is blown by the ridiculousness of this article.
posted by agregoli at 6:58 PM on January 5, 2011


Wait, that was Glendale ARIZONA? Impressive research, that.
posted by malocchio at 7:06 PM on January 5, 2011


To me rich means means not having to check my bank balance before I go to the grocery store, not panicking over a $500 car repair, or actually being able to consider a summer vacation.

So there's no space between struggling and rich at all?


I totally empathized with this definition of "rich" and I'm in no way struggling. I saved up enough money to take two and a half months unpaid maternity leave *before* my baby is born, followed by at least 6 mos. of living off of my partner's salary alone before I start working (as a nanny, in my own home, so we won't be adding "childcare" to our list of expenses) again. (In case you couldn't tell, we SERIOUSLY planned this baby around when we could financially afford it.) I consider myself to be doing fine financially - I pay my bills every month, I have some money left over to eat the occasional sandwich out, and if something comes up - I can usually swing it, even if it means having to scrimp a little or juggling money from savings.

Hell, I even HAVE a savings account for the first time in my adult life! And health insurance! I'm doing AWESOME! But that doesn't mean that if my car needed a $500 repair, I wouldn't have to think a bit and create a strategy for how I was going to pay for it.

So, no, I don't see myself as struggling, but if I had enough money to be able to just shell out $500 without thinking about where it was going to come from - that would be "rich" to me. I mean, I think I'm doing awesome when I can take stuff to the dry cleaner's without thinking twice about whether I have the money this week or not.

It makes me sad when threads like this turn into "I'm even NOT RICHER than these guys!" I really try to take the time to appreciate what I do have and it seems like a lot of people would be a lot happier if they would think about things like "I have cable! Life is awesome!" rather than what they don't have or what they've had to save on. But, y'know, that's just like, my opinion, man.

(And, y'know, people making shit up like this to be divisive and distract people from the actual issue which isn't "People with X amount of money aren't rich" and "Um, these tax cuts? Yeah, ridiculous and should totally expire. What people have been doing with the extra money is kinda irrelevant.")
posted by sonika at 7:09 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sublimity: "Lame_username, you said a mouthful about the loudest proponents (not to say the most powerful ones) of these taxes being the people who will never be subject to them. If anyone has a good cite explaining why that is I'd love to see it."

I can explain why one person I know rails against taxes on people who make an order of magnitude more than he does: Catholic guilt. It's something like feeling guilt for not trying harder, and therefore those who make more are better people for having tried harder (again with the notion that the rich work *harder*, ahahhehahahahhahhah), so they deserve their wealth more than the rest of us do.

I'm not making this up.
posted by notsnot at 7:19 PM on January 5, 2011


Living paycheck to paycheck (whether $300 or $3,000 or $30,000 a week) and still falling behind? Don't reproduce.

Hahahahahahahaahahahahahaha! If reproduction was just a choice for most people, we wouldn't exist as a species. It is a basic, innate drive, like survival and sex.
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:20 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]



OK here you go.
The white is what you stab with, you keep the blue copy, and the goldenrod goes to the head office.
posted by Senor Cardgage


Leave the Puce!
posted by Miles Long at 7:42 PM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


rich is employing a housekeeper.

That's the line, at least for me. Having someone else clean up after you.

i cannot understand the mind of one who employs servants.
posted by Miles Long at 7:47 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really wish people saying that would go into great nitty gritty detail about where they're located, sales tax on groceries, what the major places are they shop for groceries

That sounds like a big derail for this thread, but I'm a person who does this. I just happened to add last year's numbers up in my budget tracker, and here's the grocery budget for 2010:

January: $256.52
February: $158.92
March: $248.82
April: $241.50
May: $155.40
June: 207.60
July: $202.06
August: $275.11
September: $281.31
October: $227.36
November: $208.65 (Excludes Thanksgiving Dinner which comes out a gifts & holiday budget)
December: $182.82 (same w/Christmas food, separate budget)

...Averages out to $220.50 a month. It bugs me that it's not under $200, but it's about the best I can manage just now.

Off the top of my head, things that make this possible:

-I love to cook. We cook a dinner for two five to six nights a week, and eat out or get a pizza the other one or two nights. Eating out is in a separate entertainment budget.

-This budget does not include a lot of things that many people - and, unfortunately, many financial tracking programs - lump into a "grocery" line item. It does not include pet food and litter, household items like cleaning solutions or sponges or light bulbs, or alcohol. It doesn't include eating out or snacks purchased while out and about. It only includes food purchased to be prepared and eaten at home. We try to eat most meals at home and take picnics when we travel, if that's possible. I track my expenses myself because I really want to know what costs what, and lumping all the grocery store purchases together means you just have no idea what the real cost of just the food is.

-I live in Massachusetts, which taxes some grocery store food at the $6.25 sales tax rate - but not everything. For instance, it doesn't tax whole foods, only prepared and packaged foods. Because of the stuff I buy it doesn't impact me all that much, but maybe 20% of what's in my cart is subject to sales tax.

-I have a 10x10 community garden plot which has been pretty productive. We got a couple pounds of tomatoes a week in this blockbuster year. All our lettuces/arugula from May through September came from there, also a few servings of broccoli and chard, a few squashes, and a ton and a half of kale. We eat something featuring kale at least once a week and will do so into the foreseeable future, either from the freezer or the garden. KALE

-Looking back over the year, the shopping has a distinct pattern. About every two weeks I go and do a big shopping run for a bunch of staples that we'll draw on for the next couple weeks. That bill runs between $40-60. Then in between there are smaller shopping runs where I'm picking up a handful of ingredients for meals in the next few days.

-Over the weekend I plan out the meals for the week. Two or three are vegetarian - relying on beans or just not including meat, like pizza or pasta. Meat costs are really low. The meals that do use meat use a small portion as a main serving, or they mix the meat in small chunks into a larger dish, like chilaquiles, stew, soup, or pasta with sausage chunks. The meals are planned to make use of or build on what's already in the pantry and fridge so there's no waste of food. I only purchase what I don't already have.

-I have a breadmachine and once a week I make bread with it, and also pizza dough. I make 2 pounds of pizza dough at a time and pop one in the freezer for later.

-I make most desserts at home.

-We use few prepared foods. The exceptions would be: ice cream, something frozen which is designated for a weeknight we know is going to be busy - such as frozen pizza, pierogies, tortellini or ravioli, etc.

-I buy very few branded foods, and more whole ingredients or minimally processed staples that I can cook stuff with. Like, rather than buy cookies, I usually make some cookies or gingerbread or whatever.

-A few expensive things that seem to be real budget-suckers we just don't really buy: boxed breakfast cereal, snacks, power bars, most chips, boxed frozen entrees like Lean Cuisine and Buitoni and the like, prepared foods like pre-cut veggies or mashed potatoes, marinated meats, washed salad in a bag, sodas and juice drinks, frozen veggie burgers and sausage, etc

-I shop at the lowest cost grocery store in town. It's not as fancy, not as recently decorated, and has no olive bar, 'natural' foods section, etc. It's basic, and the prices reflect that. It's about 2 miles from my house. I compare prices and choose the lowest priced version any time I have reason to believe the quality is not that different. I am unable to detect much difference, for instance, between black beans that are $1.59 a can and black beans that are $.89 a can once they're served in a meal.

-We use the farmer's market a lot, and buy stuff that's really in season so it's not that expensive. Sometimes it's cheaper than the grocery when it's the peak of the harvest for whatever the item is.

-Every now and then I'll pick something up at a discount store that's a lot cheaper than it would be in the grocery - like, if we are near Ocean State Job Lot I might check out the marinated mushrooms, the sundried tomatoes, etc. Same brands as in the store, but much cheaper. That way there's always a good pantry with stuff to work with that adds a bit more feeling of luxury.

So this week, for instance, the menu was:
Breakfasts: Wheat bread toast with jam, bananas, coffee with milk
Lunches: Leftover suppers, plus I made a big batch of quinoa salad with oranges, cilantro, onions, and cooked beets to take each day.
Snacks: Crackers with goat cheese, baby carrots, white bean and rosemary dip
Sunday - Steak salad with a couple seared 4 oz. portions of steak, lettuce, red cabbage, cilantro, carrots, red onion, and 1/4 a package of udon noodles
Monday - Chicken sausage (2 links) sauteed with garlic, tomatoes, and kale over polenta with Parmesan cheese.
Tuesday - Spinach, potato, and chickpea curry over brown rice
Wednesday - cornmeal crusted chicken tenders with blackberry/mustard sauce, and frozen broccoli with a little garlic and lemon
Tomorrow - turkey enchiladas in mole sauce. Turkey is frozen leftovers from Thanksgiving, with corn tortillas, black beans, and I'm gonna make the sauce myself. Side is zucchini and yellow squash.
Friday - I'll be meeting a friend after work and we'll probably eat out.
Saturday - Butternut squash and beef stew over some kind of starch.
Sunday - as yet unknown since I'll plan another week's round then and do any needed shopping

Finally, I think you might have to be into food and enjoy the challenge of putting great meals together on a reasonable budget in order to focus on it to this degree. I've always been this way, and my mom is too, and it's just how I grew up. I think a lot of people are just not as interested in food and would rather not give it the additional thought. Even though it seems daunting, I doubt I spend more than an hour, maybe hour and 30 minutes a day, on average, dealing with food. Sunday is about 2-3 hours between planning and shopping, but then during the week there are times when it's more like 15 minutes active time at each meal to get some breakfast ready, dish out the lunches, and then get dinner in the oven or sauteed up on the stove. There have been times in my life I've been way more pressed for time, but this remained a priority - it's one of the last things I'd give up. That may just not be true for everyone. However --- again, when you have to cut the budget, some of these strategies really work. Barring exceptions for various kinds of hardship (each person works multiple jobs/long hours, no transportation, food desert etc) two people don't have to spend $500 a month on food; they choose to.
posted by Miko at 7:54 PM on January 5, 2011 [18 favorites]


rich is employing a housekeeper.

That's the line, at least for me. Having someone else clean up after you.

i cannot understand the mind of one who employs servants.


oh you know the good ones you barely notice. Its only the uppity ones who make themselves seen.

)Nobody who has a housecleaner calls them "servants." You make it sound like upstairs downstairs. Its more like hiring a mechanic. They provide a service, you treat them with respect like you treat any other service provider.
)There comes a point where the cost of a cleaner relative to the marginal benefit you derive from 3-4 hours a week of spare time becomes big enough to justify the cost give you level of disposible income. Is it a luxury? of course. Would I complain about not being able to afford one? of course not. But I'm not a plutocrat because I want to take my dog to the park on Saturday morning instead of washing my floors.
posted by JPD at 8:06 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had a family member who was pulling down 300k a year. He lived enormous paycheck to enormous paycheck- Is this a cause for sorrow? No. He had a too expensive house, 2 too expensive cars, sent two daughters to too expensive private schools.

Th inability of the rich to adjust their lifestyles to more normal means is goofy and ridiculous, but do understand that there are people who find a way to spend all $250,000 of their bloated paychecks.
posted by GilloD at 8:12 PM on January 5, 2011


On the cost of food, when I was in Tulsa for Christmas I was struck just how much cheaper groceries are there than in Seattle. Sweet potatoes, for example, were 89 cents a pound; in Seattle they're usually $1.49/lb. Prices were, on the whole, 25-50% less.

I had to buy groceries instead of ordering through Amazon Fresh due to the November snow storm, and my jaw dropped when the bill came to $150 -- and it wasn't like I'd bought junk. I asked my wife about the prices, and she said, yeah, that's what she usually paid per week through Amazon Fresh.

So the whole "it can never be so!" complaints about these numbers is ludicrious, as a number of us have pointed out. The issue to me really is that these presumed costs are rarely exactly as they state they are. These numbers are a "perfect storm" assumption that in reality probably only affects a family with two doctors with an infant and a 2nd grader who must drive expensive cars for status and must send their kids to sleep away camp in their hothouse neighborhood lest they be seen as depriving their kids. In other words, total d-bags.

In the real world, people who live in $250k households have to make choices. They're not the hard choices of $25K households, but they still are choices. These numbers assume the $250k folks are prohibited from making choices (e.g. holding onto the old car just another year so they can pay for Tommy's braces). This must be a wonderful world where Mom gets a Lexus and Tommy gets straight teeth and everyone goes on expensive vacations, but it's not this world.
posted by dw at 8:14 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


my tiny violin isn't playing for this family because it's given up in disgust.

their income is FIVE TIMES or 500% of the median household income in the US.
posted by jb at 8:31 PM on January 5, 2011


Miles Long:

"I cannot understand the mind of one who employs servants."

We have a house cleaner who comes in every two weeks to lay down a comprehensive base level of clean that allows us to keep things reasonably neat the rest of the time. And when I say "us" I mean my wife, since my own tolerance for disorder is so much higher than hers that we can literally look at the same room in the same state and have to wildly differing opinions as to whether it is acceptably clean.

Do we need a house keeper? No. Is it nice to have one, and does it help make us happier because our house is incrementally but noticeably cleaner and more ordered, both on the day she works and for several days afterward? Yes.

JPD has the right of it when when s/he notes that most people who have things like housecleaners/gardeners, etc see them as pros doing a service, not as servants. That being the case, their mind is pretty understandable: Here's someone doing a job for me that I can't/won't do myself, but want to have done.

Nor is this a new mindset; my mother cleaned houses when I was growing up and those who hired her were happy for her work, not getting off on treating her like dirt.

To briefly address the actual article this thread is discussing: It's full of stupid.
posted by jscalzi at 8:36 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fiscal Times is really a propaganda outlet created and funded by Wall Street billionaire Peter G. Peterson, a former Nixon administration cabinet member who has long used his wealth to promote cuts in Social Security and other government entitlement programs.
posted by any major dude at 8:57 PM on January 5, 2011 [12 favorites]


So yeah, 250K is a lot of money, but to me rich means being able to take your eye off the bank balance month to month, or not giving a shit over a sudden 5K dental bill, or never thinking twice about a summer vacation at the beach. At 250K for a typical family, none of that is happening

I don't think being rich by your standards depends on the amount of money you make, but on how you choose to spend it. Practically any amount can be spent - there are celebrity bankruptcies, examples of the super-rich buying what they don't need and going into millions of dollars of debt, etc... So, someone making this amount of money can certainly spend it. But it's really hard to accept the argument that they need to.

First of all, savings aren't expenses, they're money you're giving your future self or your kid - great to do, but if you honestly couldn't afford it, you'd save less. But beyond that, the idea that you must live in a home that costs a certain amount or drive a car that costs a certain amount just shows the central issue - these Jones are too concerned with "keeping up with the Jones'". You can claim that if you work in an area you have to live in that area, but there are always less expensive neighborhoods within a reasonable distance. Again, nothing against living where you want, but you're not forced to pay the mortgage you pay. All those housecleaners, child care providers, waiters at the restaurants, etc etc, have to live somewhere too.
posted by mdn at 8:59 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


"After all, rich is what heiresses and lotto winners are. By golly I'll keep buying that ticket and hoping I have a secret royal uncle..."

Hellooooooooo new band name.
posted by mreleganza at 9:03 PM on January 5, 2011


OMG! Did their personal accountant have to fire his personal accountant?!
posted by Brocktoon at 9:06 PM on January 5, 2011


Just want to say that anyone making over 250k/year should be required to have Miko take over their kitchen for two weeks and school the living hell out of them.
posted by chaff at 9:16 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised at how bad at math people are. The numbers in the columns are yearly numbers, not monthly.

I think the only thing these stories are intended to do is keep the poor arguing with the upper middle class while the top 0.1% make off with 40% of the wealth.

Wealth is not equal to income.

"I cannot understand the mind of one who employs servants."

The act of purchasing a service is "employing servants". They aren't talking about personal valets.
posted by gjc at 9:26 PM on January 5, 2011


You are infinitely naive if you think the job market is the same in every town in the US.

Yeah, that's true, but the tech sector wasn't hit the same way other professions were after the crash. And you really do not have to live in Silicon Valley to find a job. I live in a town of 5000 which employs dozens of software developers. It's true, you won't make the money you would in CA, but you also won't have to pay as much to live, and you will still live very comfortably.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:38 PM on January 5, 2011


The act of purchasing a service is "employing servants". They aren't talking about personal valets.

Hiring people to do the day-to-day drudgery the rest of us do for ourselves is a luxury.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:40 PM on January 5, 2011


There's this thing called the "tv and movie industry" that you may have heard of. it only exists in one of those two places and employs a million people, give or take.

The movie industry is quite big here and employs a lot of people. No, I don't live in CA.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:41 PM on January 5, 2011


Just another observation; good quality nutritious fresh produce was generally (much) more expensive in poor neighbourhoods than rich when I was living in Iowa 2000-2004. IOWA! A fucking farm state. The least affluent city neighbourhoods had the most expensive and worst-quality produce. The meats selection was equally crappy. That's if "good quality produce" was even available. This essentially denies lower-income families healthful foods and encourages them to eat an unhealthy diet. The cheapest pre-made stuff/fast-food/microwaveable crud was.. well, cheapest at those stores compared to other stores. Man, I miss being able to buy a handle of cheao vodka at 10am in the morning for $12, though.

Wonder if that trend has changed? Or has it been intensified?

Childhood nutrition is quite well correlated with general health and intellectual capability in adulthood.

I'm really curious now that I think of it; how available/affordable is fresh produce in highly latino (implicit; low income) neighbourhoods? Family-owned (predominantly essentially Asian) produce stores in Vancouver BC, even in very high-cost neighbourhoods (ie., Kitsilano) have far far far better prices on produce than the supermarkets and seem to be able to keep in business.

Even in the winter, I can get red/yellow bell peppers for $1.50/lb compared to $3-4. Or 3 limes for $1 compared to 1 lime for $0.89.
posted by porpoise at 9:44 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


The only way these figures make sense is if the family invented them to cover up a massive cocaine habit.
posted by quarsan at 10:12 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


The US federal tax system is more progressive than most people realize, even taking into account the regressive nature of social security taxes (set of 6 slides from CBO):

http://www.cbo.gov/publications/collections/tax/2010/graphics.cfm


But the rich can afford their taxes: The fifth slide in the set shows the "Cumulative Change in Real After-Tax Average Income", and how the growth for the top quintile has far outstripped the growth for the bottom four quintiles.
posted by etherist at 10:21 PM on January 5, 2011


JPD has the right of it when when s/he notes that most people who have things like housecleaners/gardeners, etc see them as pros doing a service, not as servants. That being the case, their mind is pretty understandable: Here's someone doing a job for me that I can't/won't do myself, but want to have done.

Oh, it's easy to understand people not wanting to clean up after themselves. I, personally me, cannot imagine having the option to not to.
posted by Miles Long at 10:30 PM on January 5, 2011


it's easy to understand people not wanting to clean up after themselves. I, personally me, cannot imagine having the option to not to.

This statement seems willfully obtuse. There is abig difference between paying someone to come twice a month to dust the ceiling fans and other nooks and crannies to keep the place looking new, and having them "clean up after you". No guilt or class struggle needs to be brouht to bear.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:50 PM on January 5, 2011


It's not willfully obtuse. Lots of us can't afford to have someone "dust the ceiling fans" twice a month, and in fact lots of us think the idea of doing so is kind of grotesque and extravagant.
posted by chaff at 11:40 PM on January 5, 2011


I make $230,000 a year in New York City and I manage to support my wife, our child and a cat with no problems.

We aren't frugal but we don't live outside our means, which in this city means we don't have a car, we take public transportation, and we cook our own food and we still saved $86,000 last year.

We realize that we're incredibly fortunate and we don't attempt to live like gazillionaires, which is probably why this article makes my blood boil. I'd be happy to pay more taxes if it meant that we lived in a more equitable society. Wouldn't you?
posted by ged at 11:45 PM on January 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


Jesus H Christ. They can't be serious.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 12:05 AM on January 6, 2011


They always try to fool you into thinking that all $250,000 will be taxed at a higher rate. Since only income earned over $250,000 is taxed at a higher rate, these people making $250,001.00 will pay approximately 5 cents more in taxes, literally.

A thousand times this.
posted by heathkit at 1:51 AM on January 6, 2011


Just get out the fucking guillotines already.
posted by fullerine at 2:01 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Boo-fucking-hoo.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 2:19 AM on January 6, 2011


To offer a contrasting opinion to some of the comments on this thread ...

My partner and I make about $80,000 a year between the two of us. In my opinion, by any sensible standard, we are rich.

Admittedly, partly through luck and partly through choice, we have no kids, no debts, some windfall savings. But even if that weren't true, we'd be better off than most of the population of the world, and even more so if you take a historical perspective.

We don't really have to worry about affording food. We don't really have to worry about affording shelter. I can buy whatever books I like. We can take in a show or go to a restaurant pretty much when we feel like it. We can travel across the world when we have vacation time, even more than once a year if we want. And all this is true even though we've sometimes lived in relatively expensive areas. That's wealth almost unheard of in human history.

Now, could we be richer? Would it be nice to have even more money? Of course (although if your standard for being rich is that not being true any more, there are few if any rich people in the world.) And we often comparison shop or go for cheaper options, especially on big ticket items. And if we had more money, I bet our expenses would go up a bit just because we'd feel free to get a little more careless about that, or decide we can have a certain kind of luxury. Although I doubt our expenses would go up as much as our income.

And you could say, well, if you had kids, your expenses would shoot up, and you wouldn't feel so well-off. Well, that's fair. But even if our expenses doubled, that means we'd need to make about $160,000 a year (roughly speaking) to feel this rich. And that is rich. Well above the median household income in a wealthy country. Heck, we're above the median household income now.

So that hypothetical family in the article? They're rich. Me and my partner? We're rich. You, if you're middle-class in a first world country? You're rich.

People who make millions and millions every day? That's not "rich" so much as obscene, when there are so many people in want.

I guess what I'm saying is, from my perspective, it's not necessary to plead poverty or feel class envy to think this article was written by an asshole.
posted by kyrademon at 4:17 AM on January 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


Stop comaining about how rich this guy is an realize how foolish you were for thinking yourselves middle class. A secure middle class existence healthcare, childs education, retirement, housing, quality food and a couple weeks vacation is pretty average. Having a housecleaner, a lawnmover, and other professional services like child care during non-school-working hours isnt some luxuriant world of wealth. Today the fact that these things are out of reach for many middle class wage earners, that's the crazy part. Meanwhile the super wealthy live lives in a new guilder age. Look at that top 3% and then delve into the top 10% of those. True reality is 99.9 are living off crumbs with 3% gaining some secure place in the economy while the rest is just increasingly poor.
When oil hits $150 and gas is 6:gallon this summer you will see how rapidly the small relents of the middle class vanish.
posted by humanfont at 4:50 AM on January 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'd be happy to pay more taxes if it meant that we lived in a more equitable society

If only this were true. You're assuming that higher taxes = more equitable = better society. I'm not saying you're completely wrong on this, but remember: correlation does not mean causation.
posted by tgrundke at 4:59 AM on January 6, 2011


"Just want to say that anyone making over 250k/year should be required to have Miko take over their kitchen for two weeks and school the living hell out of them."

I think I've maybe made $250 in my entire lifetime, but I'd love to have Miko take over my kitchen. Maybe when I start making them beaucoup bucks, I can afford to hire her. Not as a servant, of course. As pure awesome.
posted by Eideteker at 5:21 AM on January 6, 2011


I promise to use public transportation, Eide, to save on those parking expenses.
posted by Miko at 6:16 AM on January 6, 2011


i cannot understand the mind of one who employs servants.

I feel the same way about plumbers and contractors.
posted by electroboy at 7:22 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the real world, people who live in $250k households have to make choices. They're not the hard choices of $25K households, but they still are choices. These numbers assume the $250k folks are prohibited from making choices (e.g. holding onto the old car just another year so they can pay for Tommy's braces). This must be a wonderful world where Mom gets a Lexus and Tommy gets straight teeth and everyone goes on expensive vacations, but it's not this world.

I think this hits the nail on the head. There are infinite things to spend your money on; hence, no matter how well your basic needs are met, there's always going to be something else you can't afford. Conversely, the things you do spend your money on that seem like luxuries at first (eg housekeepers) are quickly going to seem like normal requirements of your standard of living, rather than luxuries. on You're going to feel poor in comparison to those above you that you see around you (either neighbors or through the media, especially in a money-obsessed town like NYC), even if you are rich compared to the vast majority below you. As compared to everyone in your immediate social circle (you probably all graduated from college or business school together), you're just going to feel "normal," not rich, because you're all "struggling" on $250k. It's all about relative income, not actual income.

I'm really curious now that I think of it; how available/affordable is fresh produce in highly latino (implicit; low income) neighbourhoods? Family-owned (predominantly essentially Asian) produce stores in Vancouver BC, even in very high-cost neighbourhoods (ie., Kitsilano) have far far far better prices on produce than the supermarkets and seem to be able to keep in business.

In DC, the latino stores do seem to have good, cheap produce selections, and also much better meat sections. The Salvadoran cleaning lady at my work turned me on to the fact that at the Tienda Latina, there's a butcher who will trim your meat to order! You can't even get that at Whole Foods... So now I'm practicing, "Por favor, saca la grasa de los costillos, gracias!"

Just get out the fucking guillotines already.


Sharpening...
posted by yarly at 7:34 AM on January 6, 2011


...and hairdressers and Jiffy Lube. And dentists.

Some services are more or less essential, but they are work offered in exchange for compensation. I used to be really shocked at the idea of someone paying someone else to clean at their house. I've changed my opinion on that for one simple reason - I've gotten a lot busier. I get home late and work a lot of evenings and weekends, and so does my partner, and the house is a bear sometimes. When we do get the miracle of time off together, it's not always so much fun knowing we need to clean the bathroom and mop the kitchen instead of some other pursuit. I don't pay anyone to clean my house, but at this point, I think it would be a lovely luxury if I decided to do it.

A friend of mine, a similar working-class-background-person who is now a college professor, received a biweekly housecleaning session as a gift from her husband on her 45th birthday. She has grown to treasure this over the last few years. The housecleaner is a lovely woman named Lisa who loves her job - she works for nice people and forms really pleasant relationships with them, can set her own hours and wages, and runs her own business. Not too shabby, and a smart way to make an income if you're willing and enjoy cleaning like some of us do. it no longer seems like some sybaritic indulgence to me, and it's not the retro-Hollywood situation of some starched-apron maid being ordered around by an imperious rich kept woman - it's a pragmatic choice that results from saying "On the one hand, I can set aside $60 a month that I take out of some other part of the budget, while on the other hand, I would really like to get an extra four hours back from cleaning so I can do more work/ spend time with my kids or spouse/ take a class / whatever." It's a fair trade to give money you've earned for a service you hope will improve your life, not that different from taking a car in for an oil change (we all used to do that ourselves, too) or getting a manicure. Is it a luxury to use the services of a housecleaner? Absolutely yes. Is it in itself a terrible or exploitive thing? No.

I wouldn't say that about one of those Merry Maids type of services, because those jobs are fucking awful. But independent housecleaning has some real positives as a way to make a living.
posted by Miko at 7:38 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


My grandparents have a cleaning service come in every other week. It lets them stay living at home, because at their age pushing a vaccuum cleaning and getting down to dust more than the tippy-tops of the furniture is a big issue (exhausting and painful). They're 94 and 86. Its probably still a 'luxury', but one that is cheaper than having them live in a 'home' or residential facility.

I know someone else who is in her 60s, works when she can (she can't afford to retire but is having a hard time finding full-time work because of her age, so she temps), lives in reduced cost housing, and requires a cane to get around. She gets in a cleaning service about once a month, to do basic cleaning for her because its hard for her, physically, to do it all herself. A luxury that she has decided is worth it, and she can afford.

I make about 1/8th of the salary of the people in this article. I think I live pretty damn well, personally. I have a nice apartment, I eat out, I have a car (used, of course, but its all mine), I can afford the occasional vacation. I'm thinking of getting in a cleaning service because I work long hours and I'm a terrible housekeeper. I like a nice, clean place but I suck at keeping it that way. I just have to figure out if I can afford it (a choice I'm glad I have the chance to make).

This article makes my head pound with anger & frustration for many of the reasons stated above. One of them is the cleaning services - if you can't afford it, then you work around it. But the idea of hiring a cleaning service is not, to me, a bad or evil or 'unfathomable' thing. It is a very useful thing, for many different kinds of people. And its not necessarily an indication of being 'rich'.
posted by sandraregina at 7:54 AM on January 6, 2011


Hiring people to do the day-to-day drudgery the rest of us do for ourselves is a luxury.

Like Miko reiterates, it is a luxury for some. But it can be just good economic sense for others- there are only so many hours in a day. If someone can net more money by working more and paying someone to do their laundry, it is silly not to. It gets that person more money, and it gives some other person more money. Win win.

Maybe I'm misreading something, but there is a vibe of "I wouldn't want to force someone the indignity of cleaning my house and folding my underpants." Which is pretty damned judgmental. Let them decide what work is dignified or not. Someone who cleans houses and washes clothes for other people surely needs the money, and denying them work because *we* think their work is beneath them is the height of arrogance.
posted by gjc at 8:37 AM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wealth is not equal to income.

Yes, the disparity in wealth is even more enormous. The top 20% control 93% of the wealth. They only get 61% of the income.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:45 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


i cannot understand the mind of one who employs servants.

I think this says a lot more about you than anyone else. And honestly, your use of the word "servant" made me angry. The level of angry that, if you referred to the lovely woman who we pay $90 a visit to come clean our house twice a month as a servant? I would ask you to leave my home.

I bet you think you mean well, but that word and your (and other folks above) tone when you write about folks who choose to spend their discretionary cash on cleaning services... you really communicate a disdain for the job of cleaning other people's homes, and by implication for the people who do that job.
posted by phearlez at 8:49 AM on January 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


I listen to conservative types, and I get the feeling they are always fighting old wars. Libertarians quote things said about kings and dictators to "prove" the US government is wrong. Conservatives complain about the rich being "soaked with high taxes".

That battle was won in the 80's- for the last half of the 20th century, the top bracket WAS awful. But their hero Reagan "solved" that problem. Bitching about 35% really doesn't win them any (legitimate) sympathy. ESPECIALLY when the FICA taxes top out at $100k-ish.

For your edification:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_tax_in_the_United_States#History_of_federal_income_tax
posted by gjc at 8:57 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Por favor, saca la grasa de los costillos, gracias!"

Did you mean "...las costillas..."?
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:57 AM on January 6, 2011


I had a long comment all drafted but decided to delete it down to this:

Income restrictions on student loan interest deductions suck ass.
posted by pencroft at 8:58 AM on January 6, 2011


Yes, the disparity in wealth is even more enormous. The top 20% control 93% of the wealth. They only get 61% of the income.

What's the point? Their wealth (or income) doesn't harm us.
posted by gjc at 8:59 AM on January 6, 2011


Isn't the entire basic premise here completely fucked. The argument seems to be that they spend all their income, therefore they aren't rich.

Which can be applied to someone on $10k a year or someone on $1m a year. The fact that the money is spent (essential or otherwise quite frankly, the fact that the remaining 97.1% of Americans don't have as much money as the Jones should kill the essential requirements argument though, of course) is no measure of how rich you are.

I'm quite capable of spending $1m a year (I haven't got anything like that of course). If I earned that and spent it does that mean I am not rich (thats a salaried $1m btw, so I get another one when I spend it).

Not just a bunch of ignorant thieving wankers, but stupid ignorant thieving wankers.

On the other hand how stupid are the rest of us for letting this whole world view become acceptable ? And before this community tells me that it isn't acceptable please look at the world and tell me that it isn't happening. Because it is happening. Clearly. Lets not confuse acceptable (which it clearly is because we seem to have accepted it) and outraged which it seems is how we feel about accepting such a kick in the bollocks.
posted by Boslowski at 9:03 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Income restrictions on student loan interest deductions suck ass.
posted by pencroft at 8:58 AM on January 6 [+] [!]


No kidding! It's crazy how the only major investment the tax code really incentivizes for most Americans is buying a home.
posted by yarly at 9:05 AM on January 6, 2011


Miko, thanks for taking the time to lay it out more explicitly. It was illuminating for me, but not perhaps in the way one would think. (I also ruminated on this a lot last night in bed before falling asleep, quizzed my sleepy husband even, like a dork.) As I suspected, it's not to do with the things people dismissively say, some sense there's a magic number to feed 2 people anywhere in the country that if you're over, you're doing it wrong. I figured out what it is mostly, and I feel much better now and know to take these proclamations people make with a shrug and a grain of salt.

> Finally, I think you might have to be into food and enjoy the challenge of putting great meals together on a reasonable budget in order to focus on it to this degree. I've always been this way, and my mom is too, and it's just how I grew up. I think a lot of people are just not as interested in food and would rather not give it the additional thought.

Every single thing you outlined is true for me too--I too love to cook, and I too have an unspoken household rule that I cook 5 days a week minimum (I give myself a break on the weekend; we eat out once a week and graze on any straggling leftovers the rest of the weekend). I too grow things on my own--my entire fresh herb collection and leafy greens mostly, and a few other random things (working on tomatoes but it hasn't been successful so far). I use even fewer prepared foods than it sounds like you might, definitely not more, and none of the pricey trappings you caution about (good god even crappy supermarket ravioli and tortellini is expensive, etc.). We eat seasonal because I did growing up and we did the cheapest CSA in town last season and go to farmers markets, aaaand make sure we're not getting trapped into a sense things are cheaper or better there when they aren't (upstate NY has one of the finest of these markets in the country so moving here I was spoiled and very disappointed by the local produce scene's prices and lack of variety compared to all the posturing done about locavore this and that...) I know about going to the Asian grocer's for spices, produce, grains, etc. (Winchester Farmers Market is a dream come true), and wholesale restaurant supply for frozen goods and bakeware at a deal etc. etc. I too never buy branded products if cheaper ones are available for the many many staples where I don't think the difference in quality is noticeable for cooked dinners. I know about going to the cheapest barebones-bordering-on-dingy markets in town, but we simply do.not.have the sort of Publix or Price Right-style spots I'm aware of elsewhere. We also don't have Wegman's or Trader Joe's, and Aldi at least here is geared towards frozen and packaged goods, not staples, so it doesn't do much for me. I know about organizing frequency of grocery hauls--we follow a similar pattern of roughly-weekly carefully planned staple hauls combined with occasional quick runs for produce or whatever that needs to be super fresh. I price scan, do the kind of coupon clipping that works for me, and remain always mindful not to get suckered into buying something because it's a good deal despite it otherwise not applying to me as useful or whatever. I don't buy what can't be eaten in time, but I've got the frozen meats and staples thing down and am all about the pantry roomy enough for goods when they go on sale to wait out periods when they stay pricey for months. Etc. We too do not keep overvalued (or any) snack foods or cereals in the house (good god it took my forever to get my husband to see the light about how expensive cereal is for what you get nutrition-wise). I know how to recreate Monday's cheap roast into Tuesday's lasagna into Wednesday's soup into Thursday's fajitas, etc.; leftovers are a given. The idea of buying prewashed and precut salads or veggies cracks me up because I know it takes 5 seconds to do that stuff. I buy tough cheap cuts of meat because I have the time to make them tender and tasty, know it's almost always better to buy bone-in slabs meat and know how to bone it and cut it properly for dinner, make all my own stocks from leftover bones and whatnot, make my own yogurt, make my own seasoning and condiment blends which in the long run are cheaper and healthier, the list goes on forever...

Which is to say, I am mindful, and food value-aware. The more I thought it over the more I realized it's a few factors at play.

First, yes, the tax. Here the tax is over 9 and includes your entire bill--I was pleasantly surprised visiting home for the first time in years over the holidays, buying some stuff at food sources and them telling me tax didn't apply because it was this kind of item or that or whatever. That distinction isn't made here. Nearly 10 percent on everything adds up fast.

Second, it DOES matter where you are. It does. And as someone upthread mentioned, it's not always what you think. I've noticed places we think of as America's farmland or whatever often have atrocious pricing no matter where you go, and yes, poor neighborhoods too. It's weird, and real.

Partly an aside but it connects to the location issue: I'm not willing to shop at Wal-mart or Sam's, and my understanding is if I was I could maybe make that sort of budget in the town I live right now. Choices of where in town you can save your money vary a lot depending on location. Don't get me wrong, I don't shop at Whole Foods or Fresh Market, I've done my due diligence around town. But it still varies, the choices and limits you've got in the city and even town/suburb you're in (there's the gas and time factor/tradeoff too, which I've analyzed for myself already).

In mine as you fleshed out (thanks) I include everything you get at the store for the month, which can include paper products, toiletries, cat food and litter, detergents and soaps, garbage and storage bags and plastic wrap and aluminum foil, cold or stomach medicine or whatever, tampons, the seasonal air filter, drano, bug spray, whatever. Not that that alone could close the gap, but it's something. The biggie eureeka that dawned on me this morning was remembering oh right, my husband's beano and lactaid and acidophilous. That shit is expensive, even generic and shopped around for and stocked up on when cheap, and he burns through it. THAT alone solves most of the mystery for me. (And yes, it's worth it to us--him being able to enjoy everything I could possibly cook for him is important.)

I think saying we feed a standard house of 2 on this 500 is deceiving. The more I thought about it the more I realized how freakishly more my husband eats than most people, he's like a growing teenage boy still--and he's still thin--where a recipe that says it should serve 4 is gone for dinner, and I only have one serving. Or something huge, like it should serve 8 people easily, only lasts for dinner for us one night and a lunch and a nibble for him the next day. That's combined with something else--we go to potlucks and dinner parties at least twice a month, and I wouldn't have it any other way--sharing food with people is my favorite form of social bonding, and an expense in time and money worth everything I spend on it right now. I always cook and bake loads for them, using just what's on hand already. I've inadvertently been including that. So I don't know, it's more like feeding at least 3 if not 4 people on that budget. Your daily menu thing reminded me of all this--the food production in our house is way more than that, and does get eaten one way or another.

Lastly, on the topic of your daily menu: that was a big "a ha!!" moment too. We are not anything like vegetarian/vegan right now, and that was a conscious choice I made and am very happy with and was aware would make food more expensive. We go through 2 gallons of milk a week, I find myself buying a dozen eggs every other week, I eat tons of yogurt, and lunch and dinner ALWAYS have a big shot of protein in them. This means I don't buy or bake bread in any form hardly ever anymore, but processed grains/carbs are much cheaper than animal/dairy stuff. I looked at your breakfast and the rest of your menu and yeah, there'd be protein all over the place and fewer grains. That's a big reason for the difference, and I am totally ok with that. Every real reason for the difference (a diet focused more on protein than carbs, making more food and feeding more people than I realized, including items such as supplements that are important to my partner) as opposed to just "you must be living on gruyere from Whole Foods, you clueless wasteful spoiled shopper you" I am okay with now that I've identified them.
posted by ifjuly at 9:10 AM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]



I think this says a lot more about you than anyone else. And honestly, your use of the word "servant" made me angry. The level of angry that, if you referred to the lovely woman who we pay $90 a visit to come clean our house twice a month as a servant? I would ask you to leave my home.

I bet you think you mean well, but that word and your (and other folks above) tone when you write about folks who choose to spend their discretionary cash on cleaning services... you really communicate a disdain for the job of cleaning other people's homes, and by implication for the people who do that job.


It does say someting about the original poster, as your comment says something about you.

At the end of the day its an empirical fact that what you might call a domestic worker has also been called historically a servant. You can be as outraged as you like but your grasp of the facts is wrong.

What your anger says about you is that deep down you are quite dissapointed with the fact that you have hired a servant and you are trying to reconcile that FACT, by pretending that the word cleaner, or domestic help, or 'lovely lady' is more accurate than servant.

They are different words for the same thing. Different emotional loads too, of course, but still factually accurate.

I have a lovely lady who cleans my home too. I don't refer to her as a servant, and she is a wonderful and valuable part of my life. If you told me that you considered her a servant I wouldn't ask you to leave my house though. If you treated her like crap and expected her to behave like a disrespected and worthless servant to your instruction, I might break your legs before throwing you out (not really I am not a violent person, I might say some nasty things to you though). But that would be in response to you behaving like a prick (which I gather from your post is highly unlikely).

So why am I making this important distinction. Because it is partly the normalisation of servants, BY NOT CALLING THEM SERVANTS, that allows idiots like Karen Hube to believe that a quarter of a million dollars annual income is not rich.
posted by Boslowski at 9:18 AM on January 6, 2011


to me rich means being able to take your eye off the bank balance month to month ...

To me, rich means owning your residence, which lots of people were once able to do. Today, the only people who can buy a house without having to go in debt for 20-30 years are ... the rich. If you don't own a home/residence outright, you're not rich. (I guess that excludes me, even though I already outed myself as rich ...)

two people don't have to spend $500 a month on food; they choose to.

but... the stupid fake family in this article has 4 people not 2. if you double your food budget, some of your months you'd be well over $500.

$500/mo. for a family of 4 doesn't seem ridiculous to me, especially if you cook dinner at home and make lunches. that's about ... $4 per person per day. (I believe my college meal plan cost $11 per day for only 2 meals.)

you actually would be surprised how much those kids can eat. even though they're small, they are people.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:30 AM on January 6, 2011


Because it is partly the normalisation of servants, BY NOT CALLING THEM SERVANTS, that allows idiots like Karen Hube to believe that a quarter of a million dollars annual income is not rich.


uhm you realize having "servants" was actually much more normal in the past then it is today. Like pre-WWII pretty much every truly middle class family would have employed "help". And that "help" probably would have lived on premises and actually been treated like "the help"

signed - a guy who grew up with a cleaning lady and had a grandmother who moved out of the house at 13 to be a maid for a middle class family in NYC.
posted by JPD at 9:38 AM on January 6, 2011


And I guess I should mention it's all a wash anyway because housing/rent prices where I live are ridiculously cheap given the size of the city. I've friends who lived in nice neighborhoods in cute little duplex apartments where rent per person was on the order of 200 dollars, maybe as much as 300. I was absolutely floored when I moved here at how cheap it is. Tons of friends I've got here who work jobs barely over minimum wage bought houses last year--you can get a damn fine house in a good historic popular neighborhood here that could comfortably house you, your partner, and a kid or two plus pets for under 150k, and if you're starting out more bare bones than that and are ok with one of those less soulful new development deals (not my thing at all but you know...) we're talking more like under 100k. Heating/cooling bills are also much, much cheaper because of the climate than they were in New York, and while the city is more spread out and car-centric than I was used to (grrrrgk) gas is also waaaaay cheaper than up North (I'm sure that's no coincidence by the way, the two go together in part). Eating/drinking out is markedly cheaper here too, which I think combined with climate is one of the reasons people eat out so damn much in the South. Just things like that. There is no income tax to counter the enormous sales tax on freakin' everything, but lord don't get me started on that regressive-progressive regional can o' worms...

I suppose my point is these things where people try to break something down in a vacuum or through the lens of where they live as if it's universal across the country always rub me the wrong way. It varies way more than people think, and I think that gets ignored too often. I can afford our grocery bill here without a smidge of worry; if we lived somewhere where housing was much costlier I might have to rethink things, but then the chance I'd have better options for groceries would probably go up too, countering it...

And it's not just that but also personal opinion and differences in what constitutes value. For every time someone balks at my grocery bill or my conscious splurge for season tickets to the local theater I am reminded I can't believe anyone still has cable television. My friend's yearly Sephora bill has me reeling; I'm sure she thinks what I spend on art supplies is redonk in return. My husband's expenditure on music equipment/synthesizers and trips/tickets to music performances would have most guys shaking their head in bewilderment, but he feels the same way about cars and sporting event tickets.

And I get that the point here is more, "these people aren't making choices period", I do. But it still bugs me when we act like we can just universally line-item veto things in a vacuum and feel superior doing it. That's all. Sorry if that's a big honkin' derail, but these class warfare threads (which pop up all the time here) always have an element of that stuff in them somewhere.
posted by ifjuly at 9:47 AM on January 6, 2011


but... the stupid fake family in this article has 4 people not 2. if you double your food budget, some of your months you'd be well over $500.

mrgrimm, I took that into account and adjusted for it. I'm not making a direct comparison of their budget to mine. In the article is a mention of a USDA document listing various tiers of food spending for your family size, based on age and gender of the members. They used the "moderate" section for the budget. Their family size is different, but adjusting for my family size and using the "moderate" section says I would be spending on food twice what I am spending.

but these class warfare threads (which pop up all the time here) always have an element of that stuff in them somewhere.

And yet as you've seen, it's very enlightening to critically query spending habits when talking about class status.
posted by Miko at 9:56 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


They are different words for the same thing. Different emotional loads too, of course, but still factually accurate.

If you think that two words with identical definitions differing only in emotional load are therefor interchangeable they why don't you re-integrate "nigger" into your daily vocabulary, or perhaps "negroid." How about "bastard" for children born to unmarried parents?

Your assertion that servant is not judgmental upon the person holding that position is inane.
posted by phearlez at 9:56 AM on January 6, 2011


Also, ifjuly, aside from the taxes it does sound like the budget differences here are not really a regional grocery-price issue, but more of a question of what each of us purchases, which was my original point. It's not that it's wrong to choose what you want to purchase, just that given an amount of money, grocery purchases are influenced, more than any other single factor, by choice.
posted by Miko at 10:14 AM on January 6, 2011


No, there'd still be a significant difference. I was crunching the numbers--I have no idea why this has consumed me last night and this morning, I think the months of these threads where people come up with a hard limit have just gotten to me or something--and if I remove the "extra food production" and "everything not-food" including the pricey gut supplements and go as far as halving the protein/dairy (which is unrealistic frankly) I'm sure it's still not 250. More like maybe 300, probably closer to 350. There is a real regional difference, and I don't understand why people don't acknowledge it.

And my point is a set number we all agree is "ok" and sensible doesn't work, and I still believe that. Hidden costs too. I realize I'm a gambling woman here, but I do tend to subscribe to the notion a diet thoroughly thought out/considered and tailored to one's nutritional needs and quirks is an investment in health, and in the long run will end up a wash or even saving money, but there's no simple way to measure that and of course there are too many lurking variables anyway.
posted by ifjuly at 10:23 AM on January 6, 2011


to clarify, is "ok" and sensible for this-and-not-that categorization, say, groceries over healthcare, or whatever. it's more muddled than that.
posted by ifjuly at 10:24 AM on January 6, 2011


There is a real regional difference,

It's more like a town-by-town, store-by-store difference. I could certainly spend that much if I shopped at the more expensive store and bought a lot more animal products. I think you'd have to compare an exact grocery cart with another exact grocery cart, item by item, to demonstrate the difference as a price difference. I've seen those comparisons done and they are fairly complicated and variable; I basically simplify my life by just shopping at the least expensive grocery store on average, I don't obsess and go to one place for the peanut butter and another for the coffee, or anything like that. Fortunately, in my area it doesn't mean I have to shop at a Wal-Mart, which I wouldn't do either - on the other hand, no industrial-food grocery chain is going to have practices I heartily endorse. At the bottom of it, though, even if you halved the meat and animal products that wouldn't get you to my budget, no; we go through a half gallon of milk a week, maybe a pound of meat per person, and a dozen eggs might last a month. So you'd have to maybe quarter the amount spent on animal products to get closer.

a set number we all agree is "ok" and sensible doesn't work

I think there is probably a range we can agree is ok and sensible, and a range that is probably excessive, and a range that is probably inadequate.
posted by Miko at 10:31 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


No kidding! It's crazy how the only major investment the tax code really incentivizes for most Americans is buying a home.

The tax code crazy incentivizes direct ownership investment versus direct lending or using a bank (or working for wages). Warren Buffett as a lower marginal (and probably average) rate on income than his secretary does. This applies to average people too: my (taxable) retirement fund is in a basket of stocks partly because of the immense tax advantage even though a community bank could probably do more efficient things with the money than dumping it on the large-cap equity pool.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:42 AM on January 6, 2011


Here's the USDA Cost of Food chart - you find the ages/genders of people in your household, add up, and then adjust the total by a percentage for the size of your household (because food is shared and the base calculation is for a 4-person household which is more cost efficient) - so ours as a two-person household came out to $489.94.
posted by Miko at 10:47 AM on January 6, 2011


> It's more like a town-by-town, store-by-store difference.

Yes, exactly, that's what I really meant/was getting at and was struggling for a way to concisely name it; thank you for that. The stores at your disposal can make or break you, and the choice of them varies more than I think people realize. And I don't even know why I'm going on and ON about this, I guess partly because my family is the one of those "call each other up to ramble about how ham was 39 cents a pound this week here vs. 69 there" types, big time, so it's infiltrated my BRAIN and left me crestfallen at times as I moved away from the much-easier-to-shop-right upstate. My mom still balks at how much the cheapest meat here is per pound when it comes up in conversation. But again, it ends up a wash because they pay something on the order of well over a dollar more per gallon in gas no matter what (the difference never fluctuates even as the absolute prices do) and the idea of being a married couple living comfortably in a nice stand-alone apartment in a good part of town for under 500/mo total is unthinkable. Stuff's complicated.
posted by ifjuly at 11:05 AM on January 6, 2011


Stuff's complicated.

It is, but as others have noted, in this example it's like they took the worst-case scenario from everywhere, cherrypicking the highest numbers in all categories even though it's unlikely anyone would live anywhere or in such a style where every single one of these costs was at the maximum.
posted by Miko at 11:08 AM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think of "servants" as full-time workers, if not actually live-in. Many house cleaners are part time and freelance, which is really a different lifestyle.

I grew up in a house where a woman was paid to clean two or three times a week, and she was not a servant. I guess you could argue and say that she was a servant, and I just didn't realize it. But you would be wrong. She had flexible hours, multiple clients, and pretty much free reign over how to do her job.

Although I've never employed someone to clean up for me, I often think about it, even as a first-tier discretionary service, e.g. something that might be preferable to eating dinner out regularly. And I did pay part of my last roommate's rent in exchange for his agreement to do all the cleaning (his idea).
posted by bingo at 11:11 AM on January 6, 2011


I would stop eating at restaurants and going to movies and getting cable TV before I stopped getting my housekeeper to come over. The different in the quality of our lives before we paid for help cleaning the house and after is like night and day. We're both somewhat slobby and both somewhat offended by the other person's messes (although blissfully content with our own). It was an endless source of strife and unhappiness. Furthermore, we both work long hours and the devotion of big chunks of our all-too-rare free time to cleaning was something we both resented. The predicate mindset of those opposed to hiring cleaners is that the relationship is inherently exploitative and demeaning to the cleaner, but I don't see it. She has worked as an independent contractor for us for 9 years now and has a long backlog of potential customers. She fires customers from time to time whom she judges too difficult or demanding or unpleasant to work for. She only takes new customers from the ranks of those suggested by her current customers and most of those don't make the cut. I've suggested three friends and she didn't deem any of the three suitable for her. She doesn't seem exploited to me -- she seems like a savvy businesswoman who does exemplary work and charges a premium for her services. The real exploitation happens with the services who hire people for the lowest possible wages and work them as hard as they can to maximize the corporate income for Mega-Maids.

Frankly, I'm much more concerned about the subjugation of the average factory worker employed by the big multinationals than the "servants" that I employ directly. Hiring another human being directly leads you to know them as people, the names and stories of their children and the lifestyle that they can lead. I firmly believe that corporate America does a much more effective job of treating their employees as servants than I do.
posted by Lame_username at 12:30 PM on January 6, 2011


DEAR METAFILTER:

Congratulations! You just got trolled by a bunch of conservative assholes representing a ridiculous hypothetical family for the purposes of driving home their bullshit point about marginal tax rates.
posted by kdar at 12:58 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


So there's trolling that should be ignored and there's trolling that needs to be repudiated. When assholes come out saying stuff like " are lazy" you could ignore it, but that's nearly as dangerous as agreeing with it. This bullshit with spreadsheets must be denounced.
posted by GuyZero at 1:52 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


uhm you realize having "servants" was actually much more normal in the past then it is today. Like pre-WWII pretty much every truly middle class family would have employed "help". And that "help" probably would have lived on premises and actually been treated like "the help"

signed - a guy who grew up with a cleaning lady and had a grandmother who moved out of the house at 13 to be a maid for a middle class family in NYC.


Sorry JPD, i didn't make my point clearly enough. I am making absolutely no statement on how many servants / help / maids / lovely ladies are in employment now compared to how many used to be in employment in the past.

I am merely pointing out that we use different words today to describe the jobs held by a lot of people who might also be called servants / help / maids / lovely ladies etc.

The work is the same work. So deciding that the job is ok, or not ok depending on what name you use for it is ridiculous. To get angry with the people that do not make such a facile distinction is also ridiculous, or possibly as I mischieviously suggested, covering up latent guilt.

That said I am absolutely not suggesting that we should revive the word servant to its former usage. Its an ugly word.

Its not a word I would use to describe the cleaning lady I grew up with. I'd be horrified if I did.

That, however, doesn't change the fact that what we pay for, if we hire a 'help' are the execution of duties that are the same duties carried out by a group of people called servants. It doesn't matter whether we use the slightly more polite phrase, 'in service', the less polite phrase, servant, or the nicer and friendlier 'help' its the same job.





If you think that two words with identical definitions differing only in emotional load are therefor interchangeable they why don't you re-integrate "nigger" into your daily vocabulary, or perhaps "negroid." How about "bastard" for children born to unmarried parents?

Your assertion that servant is not judgmental upon the person holding that position is inane.
phearlez


Firstly I hope you realise, now, that I don't in any way advocate using the word servant. I don't like it any more than you do. I'm also sorry my post was aggressive towards you, I was actually pretty angry when I read the piece by Hube and that came through when I posted. So sorry, really, I could have made my point in a much more polite fashion.

That said I do stand by what I said.

The normalisation of servanthood, is aided by the fact that we have all found lots of different ways to describe people who earn their livings in domestic employment (and for a lot of other contributing reasons too, of course).

There are lots of people happy to hire home help, that would not hire a servant. You and me, for a start.

A part of this problem, for some people, is that the name servant is associated with the rich. And we don't really see ourselves as rich, therefore it can't really be that the lovely lady cleaning my skivvies, dusting my shelves, cleaning my toilets and washing my curtains is a servant, she's the help. Phew, thats ok then.

Thats the reason why the use of the word servant in this thread is relevant. We all have emotional connections with that word and notions of what rich is. But rational discourse trys to get beyond emotional notions, and rationally if you clean my house you are doing the same job that the rich man employs a servant to do.

There is a real distinction between using the word academicly, as we are here, and commonly using it in normal social situations. Hopefully you now know the answer as to whether or not we should call bastards bastards or not.

I should point out that in fact, today, in the UK and the USA at least (and of course there will be some exceptions), those working in the domestic employment world, that are actually called servants, those employed by the super rich, are likely the best paid and, ironicly, the cream of the crop.

Your assertion that servant is not judgmental upon the person holding that position is inane.


If you are still unsure I can tell you that this is something that has been properly studied in the UK. We can move beyond conjecture on some matters.

JPD - You, by the way, were actually completely wrong in your key assertation that there were more people employed as 'help' or whatever, in the past.

Rosie Cox (pdf) has published 'The servant problem: domestic employment in a global economy'.

The first sentence states, "There are perhaps 2 million domestic workers in Britain today - more than there were in Victorian times...."

The problem that the whole book refers to, the servant problem of the title, is that ...

"Today's servant problem is different: It is that domestic employment exists and is growing".

So, we have good reason to consider the word servant, alongside, the help or domestic worker in an academic discussion.

I hope you can see that I am not in any way judgemental about where you sit in the social gradient, how rich you are etc etc, as reasoned by you telling us that you employ a lovely lady.

I'm in the same place, I wouldn't dare think of my lovely lady as a servant. But it is correct to use that phrase here in this thread. Not exclusively, of course.

The link above also offers a view on why domestic and cleaning work (of all kinds) attracts low grade status in society - a link between dirt, cleaning and status - which I don't currently have time to explore, sadly.

Every job name or designation in the world is, superficially, judgemental by the way. Its up to you if you want to see past those associations, or not, of course.
posted by Boslowski at 2:13 PM on January 6, 2011


When oil hits $150 and gas is 6:gallon this summer you will see how rapidly the small relents of the middle class vanish.

A friend of mine is in the oil industry, and we've been talking about whether we'll see $150/barrel oil this year. And... we just don't see it. There needs to be more demand in the system for that to happen.

Now, a terror attack on a Saudi oil terminal or a category 5 hurricane hitting Houston, that could do it, or else the Tea Party's grandstanding on the debt ceiling crashing the US bond market and creating a mass devaluing of the dollar, yeah, $150 is possible. But a normal year with sluggish to stalled growth and a possible double-dip recession looming, no, we won't see $150.

A barrel of oil is running about $90 right now. A year ago, it was $80. Futures suggest prices will continue rising, but January 2012 futures are at $94 -- $6 more than February 2011 futures. Futures are not very predictive, but it's clear that no one expects a substantial rise in the near future.

And anyway, $150/barrel maps to about $5 a gallon for gas, not $6.
posted by dw at 2:23 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Except this has nothing to do with spreadsheets, GuyZero, it's all about bogging people down with the discussion about who is and isn't rich. Go back to the top of this thread and read downwards. You might find a dozen comments that examine the real dollar repercussions to that family of the proposed tax changes. Changes that wouldn't impact their sob story in any real way - if they're having trouble now they're going to have trouble when they have to pay an extra 4 cents on the dollar for their above $250,000 income.

kdar is dead on in calling it trolling. Its not just misinformation, it drags opponents into the role of creating noise distracting from the real issue. It helps provide fodder to convince the top percentage that crazy marxists hate their success and want all their money. It gives this trash more legs so it can convince gullible folks farther down the ladder that golly gosh, things are hard all over.

If that's not trolling I don't know what is.
posted by phearlez at 2:26 PM on January 6, 2011


Also, my grandmother had a maid from when she took the job at the power company until my grandfather died and she moved out of that small town. She did it because she could not work and keep house at the same time. My grandparents were far, far from rich (my grandfather was a door-to-door salesman), but they could afford to hire a maid because they needed one.

Having a house cleaner makes you rich enough to afford a house cleaner. That's all. If you're rich enough to afford a house cleaner, you're already richer than more than half the world. If you're rich enough to afford stuff to be cleaned by a maid, you're already richer than half the world. Etc. etc.
posted by dw at 2:31 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Boslowski - 1) britain's population in 1900 was ~40% less then it is today, so saying there are more domestics employed today is actually a meaningless figure 2)There are a multitude of texts out there that examine the positive economic impact of people leaving domestic service post WWII

from a random googling leading to a BBC site
First, it opened up a wider range of occupations to female workers and hastened the collapse of traditional women's employment, particularly domestic service. From the 19th century to 1911, between 11 and 13 per cent of the female population in England and Wales were domestic servants. By 1931, the percentage had dropped to under eight per cent.

According to the statistics.gov.uk there were 1mil woman 2005 employed in "Elementary cleaning and food service jobs" compared to ~30 mil woman? so 3%. I would say that is lower. http://www.statistics.gov.uk/downloads/theme_labour/UK_Emp_SOC_spring03_to_spring05.xls


So ACTUALLY its you who is completely wrong.
posted by JPD at 2:34 PM on January 6, 2011


ETA - the data collected by the government would say there are 1.5 mil domestic servants in the UK. For the sake of my little argument i was just using woman, only because I found that historic data pretty quickly.
posted by JPD at 2:36 PM on January 6, 2011


The work is the same work. no, no it isn't. and the manner which the people are treated is entirely different. There is an entire class of apartment built in NYC that have small closet sized rooms designed expressly as "maid quarters" that are largely unused. Very very few people have a service person who makes their bed and irons their clothes. It just isn't the same thing.
posted by JPD at 2:39 PM on January 6, 2011


JPD, please do better. You have provided only one referenced data point, and that is the number of women employed in "elementary cleaning and food service jobs", which could involve anyone working in McDonalds presumably ? Maybe it is an accurate descripton, but considering the scant information you have presented you need to do a better job, sorry. Too much space in the definition given I'm afraid.

I also love unreferenced 'random googlin' especially when it leads a BBC site. Would it have killed you to post the link. It might help of course if it had numbers for today, not just 1911 and 1931 as your quote mentions. Just not data that leads to any conclusion.

You'll also need to show credentials for your information sources please. I have quoted the academic standing of my source. I do hope the BBC journalist you read is similarly qualified.
posted by Boslowski at 3:03 PM on January 6, 2011


There is an entire class of apartment built in NYC that have small closet sized rooms designed expressly as "maid quarters" that are largely unused

Why don't you actually read some of the information I posted. If you did you would find that the author of The Servant Problem first got interested in her chosen field by exposure to just such a set of maid's quarters.

There are lots of different jobs that are materially different. That are all also servants. In the classical sense you will see it, but probably struggle to transfer it unemotionally to today's landscape.

But, gardeners, porters, butlers, maids etc etc all did very different jobs. Some lived in. Some did not. They were all servants though.

You are making an emotional call on how well employers treat their employees depending on how rich they are (because very rich people still call their 'help', servants), and correlating that with the bad name 'servant' or the good name 'help'
posted by Boslowski at 3:12 PM on January 6, 2011


that bbc article is sourced and footnoted, my defintion is broader than your definition and appropriately sourced. My current data is sourced from the government, and finally and most remarkably - your own figure is two million people, divide that by the UK population and you get a bit more than 3%.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/britain_wwone/women_employment_01.shtml here is the bbc post.

Domestic help was more widespread in the past. It is a fact. I'm not having this argument anymore. I've presented you with appropriate data. You could argue "those current numbers under represent undocumented workers" and I would agree with that, but in order for that to disprove my point you would need there to be around almost 5x the number I gave you and 3x your own number for current domestic employment to be equal to pre war domestic employment as a function of population.
posted by JPD at 3:21 PM on January 6, 2011


krinklyfig : Hiring people to do the day-to-day drudgery the rest of us do for ourselves is a luxury.

You mean, like growing/collecting our own food, cutting/gathering firewood, and building a shelter that might let us live through another winter?

(Actually, I agree with you, but probably not quite how you meant it).


etherist : even taking into account the regressive nature of social security taxes

Regressive??? You've badly misinterpreted that graph (well, not your fault, the graph's explanation doesn't even bother to explain the falloff in the top quintile. The sudden drop occurs because FICA caps at $106,800 (in 2011) - But don't worry, benefits also have that same cap, so no one gets more than their fair share. Except, that doesn't quite hold true, because most people hitting the yearly FICA cap will never collect a penny of SS (due to too high an income from their retirement savings), and as a result we have just about the most pro-lower-class biased tax in existence, one the wealthy pay into but rarely draw benefits.


yarly : It's crazy how the only major investment the tax code really incentivizes for most Americans is buying a home.

That actually has a pretty obvious reason - Name another interest-bearing loan that results in a perpetual income stream for the government. Yes, cars have yearly excise tax, and yes, your education might make the government more money via increased personal income tax; But you and your car will eventually turn into dust. Real estate starts as dust, and will outlast all of us.
posted by pla at 5:28 PM on January 6, 2011


What to call the people I pay to do things—repair the roof, vacuum the blinds—is such a first-world problem.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:45 PM on January 6, 2011


I no longer believe the bullshit coming from politicians' mouths when they talk about tax rates. They sound like adults in the Peanuts cartoon.

The system is rigged. Read Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich--and Cheat Everybody Else.

When people say it would be great if we could fund X or Y, but there just isn't enough money, they're lying. They just have different priorities. Sometimes is really is as clear as a rich person getting a third home instead of 100 kids getting healthcare.
posted by 4midori at 11:12 PM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


I see Metafilter is once again falling for the bullshit and eating its own. Look at all the hate! You'd think it was a Glenn Beck production here, if it weren't for some dark faces in the crowd.

Why can't you otherwise intelligent and educated people get it through your heads that a high salary does not make you a "rich" person? Oh, wait, I just remembered why. Because it hurts really bad to even think about that kind of income.

I wonder, do people earning livings at that high level understand, they are going to be the ones that get hauled out of their homes and torn to shreds by the masses, while the real rich people disappear? Oh dear, maybe THAT's why so many vote Republican. Because they're afraid of all the dumbass proletariat that can't tell the difference between upper middle class and ownership class.

Of course, it's not like there aren't plenty of messages crafted to assure the professional class that they are now rich, and must now support the causes of the rich. When in fact, they aren't rich. Why, if they believe themselves to be rich, they may even surrender to the blood-thirsty masses, when the riots come. Then the enraged masses will satisfy their demand for blood before they even get to those responsible for their plight. At least then everyone will have to pretend, for awhile, that everything is better. Until the ownship class again starts squeezing. Not because they are inherently evil, but because we've all been programmed that money the ultimate.

The mistake is very basic and shockingly simple. Money is the ultimate. But only when nearly everyone has more than they need.
posted by Goofyy at 11:16 PM on January 6, 2011


If I drove into work every day, I'd spend a fortune on parking. As it is, I only go in 3 days a week and I nearly always take public transport.

However, the cost of the train was pretty awful. In Philly, a monthly rail pass to my neck of the woods costs $120/month. That's a lot of money for just around 12 round-trips/month.

So what I've started to do is take the bus, followed by the subway. $1.55 per token + $1 for the transfer = $5.10 round trip, close to what it costs for a one way trip by train. My cost for 12 round trips is closer to $60 without having to worry about gas or parking, and because neither the bus nor the subway is right where I work I end up getting around 15-20 minutes brisk walking time each way.

It's pretty clear that taking the train is a choice that wealthier people seem to make. It's not that I never see poor people on the train. It's just that I very, very rarely see rich people on the bus (or on the subway, really). It's almost all people of color, old people, and working class. And then me, an unjustifiably scruffy-looking programmer who is solidly middle-class.

Oh, and by the way, I don't have kids, and I know they're frikken expensive, but if I had around $170,000 after taxes I'd be ecstatic and over the moon. Figuring expenses of around $50k per child per year I'd still have around $70k of tax free money to play with. That would be super.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:42 PM on January 6, 2011


Why can't you otherwise intelligent and educated people get it through your heads that a high salary does not make you a "rich" person?

Probably because anyone with half a brain, looking at someone making 1/4 million dollars a year (remember, that's a million bucks in just four years!) thinks, "Wow, that's a lot of money."

If I made $150k/year, less than the couple in the article, I would consider myself rich. In fact, I'd pretty much consider myself an asshole if I didn't acknowledge that I was rich.

It's possible to live on a lot less. Like, a lot, lot less. Given that, considering that your criteria for being rich is "Ownership", why don't these poor indigents making $200k or $300k per year try living on just $50-70k of it and squirreling the rest of it away on things like stocks, bonds, shares, and property.

BOOM. Ownership.

None of that alters the fact that there are some preposterously rich people out there. But if you're making six figures and you're going to be like, "Nuh uh, not me. I'm just a working-class schmo like yourselves." That's delusional.

Oh dear, maybe THAT's why so many vote Republican. Because they're afraid of all the dumbass proletariat that can't tell the difference between upper middle class and ownership class.

I mean, really, if all people making under $100k per year turned to those getting a salary in the $200-300k range and said, "Hey, it's cool. We now consider you poor like us!" Do you think they're going to respond with, "Oh great! Solidarity! I totally feel like giving all my money away in taxes now!" or are they going to say, "Exactly! That's why I need to hold on to every cent I've got!"

Also:

upper midde class

I've said it before and I'll say it again: no such thing. "Upper middle class" is just a bogus term that people made up to pretend that they're not actually rich. Everybody wants to be middle class (it works both ways; there are plenty of people who are actually poor but identify themselves as middle class. I'd never in a million years call myself something other than middle class but my household's salary actually qualifies me for the "reduced income" rate at the local YMCA. Note that this does not mean that I actually think I might be poor. Just that the ranges of income can be a lot more variable at the low and middle end than you'd think). I kind of have a pretty firm cutoff point: if you are single and making more than 5 figures (US currency, obviously, in Russia you can easily go through "5 figures" in a single month) , you are wealthy.

I actually find these stories pretty boring (when I don't silently rage at them). I'd be much more interested in finding out how someone making minimum wage manages to feed themselves and their children. I'd really love reading an article about a family of four making less than $50k per year and how they manage to do it, because an article like that would offer excellent advice on how to live thriftily.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:03 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Because we intelligent and educated people get paid a tiny fraction what this family does, for doing work that is usually as difficult or more difficult than highly paid positions. And many of us still count ourselves among the fortunate, because we know that those without the same level of education work even
harder and are paid even less.

We are angry because high incomes have increased for 40 years, while median and below median incomes have decreased in real terms. Our society looks more like the late 19th century than the 1960s. This family are not the robber-barons, but they are the equivalent of the upper-middle class whose nineteenth century voting kept workhouses full and wages so low that working families were still close to starving.

And by complaining about their tax burden, they are a) abdicating their patriotic and civic duty to support the government that makes their priviledged position possible, and b) supporting the modern robber barons who want to bankrupt the governments of the world.
posted by jb at 5:07 AM on January 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I may be an idiot, but at least I understand how changing the denominator in a fraction works.

My definition is broader - go to that link and read what the jobs are there is a line-item for domestic help inside of the categories I've included. Tell me how this is wrong and what line items that I am not including should be included. There almost certainly are a few items that I missed, but again my original number needs to be off by magnitudes for you to be correct. Magnitudes.

there was an "l" left off the end of that link. Apologies, hardly a reason to call someone a name. Indeed if you were the intellectual heavyweight you like to think that you are you probably could have figured that out on your own.

I don't know why you persist in making your claim that servitude was not more widespread historically then it is today. In 1925 a family with a similar relative income level to those in OP would have had several servants, who actually would have been treated like servants.


Here are the sources ok - Books

Working-Class Cultures in Britain: Gender, Class, and Ethnicity by Joanna Bourke (Routledge, 1994)

Out of the Cage: Women's Experiences in Two World Wars by Gail Braybon and Penny Summerfield (Pandora Press, 1987)

Women Workers in the First World War: The British Experience by Gail Braybon (Croom Helm, 1998)

Working for Victory: Images of Women in the First World War by Diana Condell and Jean Liddiard (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1987)

Working-Class Culture, Women, and Britain 1914-1921 by Claire A Culleton (Macmillan, 2000)

Feminism and Democracy: Women's Suffrage and Reform Politics in Britain, 1900-1918 by Sandra Stanley Holton (Cambridge University Press, 1986)

Fighting Forces, Writing Women: Identity and Ideology in the First World War by Sharon Ouditt (Routledge, 1994)

Nice Girls and Rude Girls by Deborah Thom (IB Tauris, 1997)

On Her Their Lives Depend: Munition Workers in the Great War by Angela Woolacott (University of California Press, 1994)

About the author

Joanna Bourke is Professor of History at Birkbeck College and the author of a number of books, including An Intimate History of Killing (Granta, 1998) and The Second World War: A People's History (Oxford University Press, 2001).

posted by JPD at 6:31 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


jb : And by complaining about their tax burden, they are a) abdicating their patriotic and civic duty to support the government that makes their priviledged position possible, and b) supporting the modern robber barons who want to bankrupt the governments of the world.

Sorry, I agreed with you right up until that last sentence. You can only call taxes "patriotic" in the sense that we separated from England largely over them.

We have a civic duty to starve the government to the greatest extent possible. Never, in the history of this planet, has a government actually taken money from the people to do "good". Sure, we get roads and schools and bread and circuses, all to keep us complacent. And dwarfing those for total outlay of our money, we also get napalm and cluster bombs and landmines and fighter jets and nuclear weapons and outsourced torture and dead Iraqis and a war on the save international drug trade that we funded for half of the 20th century and a war on privacy and a war on kids with plastic butter-knives in their backpacks and old people denied basic medical treatment but kept alive and in pain as long as medically possible.

The founding fathers knew that every government eventually grows abusive, and wrote the tools to slow that right into the document read for the first time, and redacted, in the US House of Representatives yesterday. And we've let them government remove those tools one by one to keep us safe from the bogeyman of the week.

But when it comes to taxes, each and every one of us have a duty to do everything in our power to starve Uncle Sam - He has grown old and fat, running up quite a bar-tab in the process, and a diet would do him good.
posted by pla at 6:44 AM on January 7, 2011


http://www.victorianweb.org/history/work/burnett5.html

[These passagee have been excerpted from the introductions and other editorial matter in John Burnett's superb collection of working-class life-histories, The Annals of Labour: Autobiographies of British Working Class People, 1820-1920. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1974. GPL.]

Victorian households built up their staffs of domestic servants in accordance with a well-understood pattern: this was based on a natural and logical progression from general functions to more specialized ones, heavily reinforced by an outpouring of literature and advice on domestic economy and household management. Domestic help began with a daily girl or charwoman. The first living-in servant would be a 'general' maid-of-all-work, almost always a young girl often of only thirteen or fourteen: the next addition a house-maid or a nurse-maid, depending on the more urgent needs at the time. The third senant would be the cook, and these three — either cook, parlour-maid and house-maid, or cook, house-maid and nurse-maid — then formed a group which could minimally minister to all the requirements of gentility. At this point, the first manservant would usually appear, whose duties would combine indoor work such as waiting and valeting with care of the horse or pony and carriage; J. H. Walsh placed the income level necessary for this at £500 a year in 1857. Beyond this, the progression was not so predictable. The fifth servant might be a lady's maid or a kitchen-maid to act as assistant to the cook, or a nursemaid if there was not one already. The sixth would almost certainly be another man, acting as butler and releasing the other as a wholetime coachman or groom, which would be necessary with ownership of a four-wheeled carriage and an income of £1,000 a year. Beyond six servants, increases would follow as a result of increasing specialization — on the male side footmen, valets, a chef and a housesteward, and on the female a housekeeper, a governess, more lady's-maids, upper and lower parlour-maids, a laundry-maid and additional kitchen- and scullery-maids. On landed estates, there would, of course, also be outside staff such as gardeners and gamekeepers, as well as many more men and boys working about the stables.[176]

Thus, in a very wealthy town house there might be up to about twenty servants, and on a country estate up to thirty or forty. Great establishments like this could still form in the nineteenth century very much the same kind of total communities they had in the Middle Ages, highly structured, authoritarian and inward-looking, largely self-sufficient and independent of the rest of society. [145]


More data on wages in victorian england to put that 500 GBP number in perspective. http://www.victorianweb.org/economics/wages2.html
You notice that the "Typical rising professional man" on 700 GBP per year in 1860's London would have had 2 maids living with him.
posted by JPD at 6:51 AM on January 7, 2011


Sorry the 700 GBP guy would have been in the early 1900's - so actually given inflation, made much less money then the hypothetical 500 GBP in 1857, of course the 1857 person had FOUR servants.
posted by JPD at 6:54 AM on January 7, 2011


Nor is this a new mindset; my mother cleaned houses when I was growing up and those who hired her were happy for her work, not getting off on treating her like dirt.

One conversation heard and completely grok, after I learned the cost of time.

"Why do you pay for a cleaner to come clean your house? Why don't you do it for free?"

"Because while they're cleaning, I'm doing billable work."

People asked me why I used to fly to Chicago, when driving was so much cheaper (and before I moved back.) My answer was that it was three hours more work, and at what I'm making, the flight was more than free thanks to those three hours of work. And, I could do some more work on the flight.

Time is a currency (along with space, people and money.) There are exchange rates between the four. You need to understand them -- otherwise, you're going to spend an enormous amount of one of them and lose badly on the rest.

Oh, and they change over time.
posted by eriko at 7:08 AM on January 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


We have a civic duty to starve the government to the greatest extent possible. Never, in the history of this planet, has a government actually taken money from the people to do "good". Sure, we get roads and schools and bread and circuses, all to keep us complacent. And dwarfing those for total outlay of our money, we also get napalm and cluster bombs and landmines and fighter jets and nuclear weapons and outsourced torture and dead Iraqis and a war on the save international drug trade that we funded for half of the 20th century and a war on privacy and a war on kids with plastic butter-knives in their backpacks and old people denied basic medical treatment but kept alive and in pain as long as medically possible.

Fact FY 2010 DOD Spending is: $663.7billion (including wars) out of $3.4 trillion budget. Social Security, Medicare and Medicade 1.3 trillion. Then there is the Department of Education, Housing and Urban Development, EPA, and HHS taking up $200 billion.

That's about 1.5 trilliion going to GOOD vs. 663.7 billion going for EVIL. We have no civic duty to starve the government so that some millionaire can load up more cash that they will never spend in some hidden account in the Caymans.
posted by humanfont at 7:56 AM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


[few comments removed - save the idiot/fuck you stuff for some other website, or MetaTalk]
posted by jessamyn at 8:18 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The other issue with the "they're not really rich" argument is that people at that income level are at a liminal point where they, quite unlike the majority of people, have the potential to become "really rich," using the resources they presently have. As someone pointed out, they are capable of saving $41,000 a year. They don't have to spend it on college - they could require their kids to fund their own college educations, and/or go to public colleges - and they don't have to retire at a set age. Because the bulk of their income is completely discretionary, they have the opportunity to invest - either in the stock market, in ventures, in real estate, or whatever - and achieve significant gains. They also have the opportunity to take the security established with their present income and transition it into some more entreprenuerial style of work in which they can generate more income and net a much greater percentage of it. In addition, by owning the assets they do and amassing the savings, they are creating an inheritance which canthen pass to another generation of their family and shore up that generation's total assets, making it even more possible for their children to become "really rich" than the parents are. It's not the hard dollars, but the flexibility of opportunity to put those dollars to work to generate even more wealth, that makes these people distinctly rich in a way that lower-income people simply cannot be.
posted by Miko at 8:27 AM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Rich in opportunity, but poor in spirit.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:32 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


pla: did you drive, ride or walk on a free road today, or do you always pay tolls? Can you eat food (shipped on those roads) secure in the knowledge that it rarely contains containminations? Did you, your children or your employees attend public schools? Do you live secure in the knowledge that your house will not be bombed by a warlord or that neither you nor (hopefully) anyone you know will be gang-raped by a private army? If you answered yes to any of these questions, thank your government, and pay your taxes. Refusing to pay taxes sufficient to cover the services provided by the government is unpatriotic. It undermines your country's ability to survive -- see Greece for example A, and Somalia or the Congo for the worse case scenario.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't argue about what services the government provides or what policies it persues. Getting involved in politics with an intention to increase the quality of life for most in society is very patriotic (as opposed to being involved in policy to persue your own private self-interest, of course). Voting (number one way to make a statement on politics) is patriotic.

But starving your government? that is against the public good of yourself and your fellow-countrymen, and that is unpatriotic.
posted by jb at 10:17 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Starving the beast is a conservative meme that's been around for a while.
posted by electroboy at 10:20 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I actually find these stories pretty boring (when I don't silently rage at them). I'd be much more interested in finding out how someone making minimum wage manages to feed themselves and their children. I'd really love reading an article about a family of four making less than $50k per year and how they manage to do it, because an article like that would offer excellent advice on how to live thriftily.

The Planet Money podcast can certainly be maddening at times, but overall I think it's one of the best resources out there to get good detailed examinations of parts of our economy in context. Not that long ago there were some about the various assistance programs and interviews with a few people who use them and with someone who grew up in a household using them. One was here.

Perhaps not useful for personal lessons, and as I recall I worried about the message it might send to people that some risky borrowing would be a good idea. (The banks offer 0% deals because enough folks fuck up repayment and then the terms are horribly onerous) But it was an interesting insight into the life of someone that the FT/NYT/WSJ could never manage to write up without a ton of undisclosed bias.
posted by phearlez at 10:34 AM on January 7, 2011


I guess what this article is really saying, is that 'all y'all's poor people, gotta be trying to keep up ... with the Jones.'

I guess the 50's not only never existed, but never died, either.
posted by LD Feral at 11:19 AM on January 7, 2011


Starving the beast is a conservative meme that's been around for a while.

Yes, and if you read that Wikipedia article, you quickly get the sense that the term "taxpayers" is a dogwhistle word that this group uses instead of "citizens" or "people" to differentiate those hard-working 'Merkans from the lazy, shiftless po' folk and illegal aliens, e.g., we have the tax relief plan [...] that now provides a new kind -- a fiscal straightjacket for Congress. And that's good for the taxpayers,
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:03 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


etherist : even taking into account the regressive nature of social security taxes

pla: Regressive??? You've badly misinterpreted that graph (well, not your fault, the graph's explanation doesn't even bother to explain the falloff in the top quintile. The sudden drop occurs because FICA caps at $106,800 (in 2011) - But don't worry, benefits also have that same cap, so no one gets more than their fair share. Except, that doesn't quite hold true, because most people hitting the yearly FICA cap will never collect a penny of SS (due to too high an income from their retirement savings), and as a result we have just about the most pro-lower-class biased tax in existence, one the wealthy pay into but rarely draw benefits.


Dear pla: So you agree that a tax that affects the poor disproportionately, and whose benefits they will not live long enough to collect is regressive? I think your kneejerk anger may have interfered with reading comprehension temporarily.

If you look at the total federal tax burden overall per quintile, there is no denying it's progressive. The overall tax rate rises with each quintile (slides 1 and 6). Look on slide 1 how the lowest quintile effectively pays a negative income tax (because of tax credits, etc.) . They pay an income tax of negative 7 percent or so. On the other hand, they pay "social insurance taxes" of positive 9% or so, resulting in a total federal tax rate of about 3% of income. (slide 6). Note that the employer's share of social insurance taxes ought to be counted as a tax on the worker, so really the total tax rates ought to be charted as higher.

So I haven't misinterpreted anything, pla. The tax rate may not be as progressive as you like, but that wasn't my point.
posted by etherist at 3:37 PM on January 7, 2011


humanfont : That's about 1.5 trilliion going to GOOD vs. 663.7 billion going for EVIL.

Ah, looks like I misinterpreted this chart from the back of this month's SciAm. Using the right numbers, the military doesn't look quite so bad - Though the "official" number doesn't quite cut it (and not talkin' about black ops or anything like that). Simplest add-ins, 100 billion for the department of veteran's affairs and 95 billion for military pensions. Then mix in a good portion of NASA, DOE, State, and arguably Homeland Security. I would also point out that we have somewhat different definitions of "good", as you'll see below.

We have no civic duty to starve the government so that some millionaire can load up more cash that they will never spend in some hidden account in the Caymans.

You realize that we have just a wee bit of middle ground there - Like perhaps not taxing the middle class (yes, even the morons who can't afford to live on $250k a year) out of existence on the way to getting at those accounts in the Caymans?


etherist : So I haven't misinterpreted anything, pla. The tax rate may not be as progressive as you like, but that wasn't my point.

Okay, I'll apologize for the knee jerk - I took your comment in entirely the wrong tone, mea culpa. I still don't quite see how you can call SS regressive, though.


jb : did you drive, ride or walk on a free road today, or do you always pay tolls? Can you eat food (shipped on those roads) secure in the knowledge that it rarely contains containminations? Did you, your children or your employees attend public schools? Do you live secure in the knowledge that your house will not be bombed by a warlord or that neither you nor (hopefully) anyone you know will be gang-raped by a private army?

Transportation: 107 billion
Education: 157 billion1
USDA: 135 billion2
DOJ: 27 billion3
General operating costs: 31 billion
Random nice things: 109 billion4
Interest on our crushing existing level of debt: 187.8 billion5

It sounds great to defend taxes with roads, food, schools, and (sometimes) police. Those numbers just don't add up to 3+ TRILLION dollars, though.


1: The "real" cost of education comes from property taxes, not at the federal level
2: Of which "Eighty percent of the USDA budget stems from mandatory programs including most nutrition assistance programs and farm support programs."
3: Again, the actual cost of our police - and fire - protection comes largely from property taxes, not Uncle Sam
4: Expand the "other" category in my 2nd link
5: Plus the inflation built into our economic system to devalue our liquid assets over time by 2-3% per year

posted by pla at 8:10 AM on January 9, 2011


Ack, before someone calls me out on it, make that 95 billion for the department of veteran's affairs and 55 billion for military pensions. Not sure how I screwed that one up.
posted by pla at 8:14 AM on January 9, 2011


Did you include social security and Medicare? or do you plan to forgoe both when you turn 65?

The interest payment is, of course, too high. But if you are truely concerned about government debt, then you would be advocating for an increase in taxes, not a decrease.

I'm a deficit-hawk, myself. Which is why I support raising taxes and paying taxes. I also support social programs, because getting money and resources to the poorest means that they will be able to spend money, and thus fuel the economy. "Burning up" is a much better way to stimulate an economy than "trickle down". But we have to pay for those programs, so we tax those with the most, the income that isn't going to be immediately spent on lots of housing and food and beer and chips and all that stuff that drives our economy.
posted by jb at 9:36 AM on January 9, 2011


But if you are truely concerned about government debt, then you would be advocating for an increase in taxes, not a decrease.

I was going to say the same thing. How would you recommend tackling this issue? By sacrificing the poor and the last few shreds of programming that makes what's left of middle class able to stay productive? Makes no sense.
posted by Miko at 11:16 AM on January 9, 2011


jb : Did you include social security and Medicare?

Suffice it to say, I didn't forget them.


or do you plan to forgoe both when you turn 65?

I have planned for a future with a basically insolvent SS program. I'll probably get something, if I live to my likely "full retirement age" of 117, but I have no hope of it even covering the least of my living expenses... More like the insulting $50 xmas bonus your company gives in a tough year that you laugh at but don't turn down. That said, if given the opportunity to completely drop SS and put the same money into my 401k, even if it meant giving up every penny of my contributions so far (about a third of the way through my working years), I would do so without a moment's hesitation.

As for Medicare... That one amounts to basic math. You just can't have a resource drain grow at literally 2-5x the rate of the resource itself over time, and no amount of empathy or compassion can fix that. Nor, in this case, will the US economy magically start growing at 10%* to keep pace with healthcare spending.


if you are truely concerned about government debt, then you would be advocating for an increase in taxes, not a decrease.

No, I advocate a reduction in spending. After that, and only after that, I agree with you that we need to actually pay our bills, even if that means more taxes - As I said, I personally think I should pay more than I do, if I accepted the current budget as even remotely valid.



I also support social programs, because getting money and resources to the poorest means that they will be able to spend money, and thus fuel the economy.

(Miko, you can consider this a response to you as well on the same topic)

True, yet not true. Our current social support services leave the poor no better off, just needing another fish and another loaf the next day, the next week, the next month, the next year. That doesn't look like a safety net, it looks like a treadmill.

Now, if you want to propose something not fundamentally broken, I'd truly love to help people in a way that really helps them. But I have no interest in keeping people alive just so we do it again next month and so on 'till death do we part.


* In fairness, per capita healthcare costs "only" rose 4% per year during the recession (with the economy contracting), but went back up to 6% last year as the economy recovers
posted by pla at 2:46 PM on January 9, 2011


. Our current social support services leave the poor no better off,

This sounds like something spoken by someone who never used them - or knew they were using them.

Now, if you want to propose something not fundamentally broken, I'd truly love to help people in a way that really helps them

If you mean this, I think the onus is on you to propose something; the rest of us aren't the ones proposing to throw the existing system out. You are.
posted by Miko at 3:11 PM on January 9, 2011


Miko : If you mean this, I think the onus is on you to propose something; the rest of us aren't the ones proposing to throw the existing system out. You are.

Okay, perhaps I distracted from my core point by making it overly broad. Consider just Medicare spending.

At realistic 6%/3% growth rates, that gives us roughly 48 years until healthcare spending consumes the entire GDP (starting from its current already massive 16%). And that gets worse fast if healthcare grows faster (which it does outside a recession) or the economy grows slower than average... 10%/2% gives us a mere 25 years to having the Federal government effectively declaring medical bankruptcy.

This issue will obviously come to a head before we reach that point, because we won't literally spend ourselves to death just to keep the weak and elderly alive (even though, quite rationally, we will spend almost anything for just a little more time on this planet). But when we near the point of absurdity, what do you think we'll cut first?

You don't have to answer that, because the answer doesn't particularly matter, only the timeframe - We have that long to come up with something better. I don't need to propose we throw the existing system out, because within my lifetime (within even my prime, quite likely), it will crash and burn just fine without needing any help from us.

Me, I'd rather have a fix ready before that happens. We can either deny the problem exists, or we can start looking for solutions.

Huh... Funny how much that sounds like human-induced climate change with the roles reversed. Perhaps the two will cancel each other out with a nice plague that we can't afford to fight, thus lowering the human population by 90ish percent.
posted by pla at 6:21 PM on January 9, 2011


We can either deny the problem exists, or we can start looking for solutions.

Right. Some of us have a solution to offer, but folks like you don't like it.
posted by Miko at 7:57 PM on January 9, 2011


yes, pla is definitely ignorant of poverty, and what a social safety net means.

Subsidised housing and welfare kept me fed and housed for 9 of the first 12 years of my life. I could have been homeless and hungry. instead, I was well-fed and had stability in my life; I had space in which to complete my homework. My glasses, without which I could not see the blackboard, were paid for by welfare, as were my dental cleanings -- I have no cavities and all my own teeth, so unlike my aunt my mouth does not betray that I was once poor.

When I had a fever of 105, my mom didn't hesitate to take me to the hospital; when I broke my arm, I had the service of one of the finest fracture doctors in the city. All of this was paid for. (Socialised medicine, yay! I love you Tommy Douglas, and thank you, Grandma & Grandad, for campaigning for him).

I graduated from a publically supported school, and was able to attend a good university for a reasonable tuition because it was subsidised. I now have a master's degree, and I have had a quality of life unimaginable for my mother, or my grandparents -- and I'm not even earning at my full potential.

Welfare has left me substantially better off. It didn't teach me how to fish, but it kept me fed and housed and healthy and with a loving parent while I learned how to read and write and do maths. I still don't know how to fish, but I can afford to buy my own fish.

that's the child's story. the adult's story is one of a girl who married at 16 to escape parental abuse and was abandoned at age 23 with two small children. She had no education, no skills, poor literacy. Welfare let her get on her feet; subsidised housing gave her and her children a decent home. She worked some of those 9 years (still on welfare officially, because the jobs paid less than welfare, including working for the government as an inhome-day care provider); other times she was in school to learn how to read and write, then to complete high school, then some college courses. Today she is a highly skilled bookkeeper and accounts manager. Welfare gave her the hand-up she needed to break out of poverty. It wasn't immediate, in a few months or a few years; being a lone parent is insanely difficult. But she now earns twice as much as she ever could without a high school diploma, and pays it back in taxes.

Welfare isn't just about helping families get by -- it's about investing in the future.

I don't know what would have happened without any welfare. Maybe my mom would have committed suicide. Maybe we would have bounced around homeless shelters, or moved in with her abusive mother; maybe she would have ended up in prostitution instead of office management. My brother and I would have probably ended up in the foster care
system, costing the state more money per year, and having all of the very serious disadvantages that children in that system face. I doubt I would have graduated high school, let alone university.

And this is, of course, assuming that there are still elements of a social safety net such as homeless shelters and foster care. it's hard
for anyone in Canada or the US to imagine a world without any social safety net whatsoever, because there has been government based social welfare in the English speaking world since 1601. But still people fell through it's gaping chasms -- starved and frozen under bushes, unmarried pregnant women being carried (literally) out of the parish while giving birth so that her baby will be someone else's burden.

my life in that world would have been malnutrition, inadequate housing and no education. I would have grown up possibly retarded from lack of nutrients, instead of attending a gifted program and graduate school.

I should clarify that I grew up in Canada in the 1980s, and when you say that "our social welfare system" leaves the poor no better off, you may mean the current American system. I agree with you that the current American system
is not very good -- but that is because they do not spend enough money. They need to spend more -- end lifetime limits for welfare, extend more housing benefits, get socialised medicine already like the rest of the developed world and subsidise state universities more. Give people hope for the future, and invest in that future by investing in families and their children.
posted by jb at 8:45 PM on January 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


I agree with you that the current American system is not very good -- but that is because they do not spend enough money.

Amen. I'm not sure how the information/PR campaign was won, but my mind boggles that people think it's OK to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on business subsidies while reserving a pittance for the worst off among us.
posted by mrgrimm at 7:53 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


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