I was thinking about a holiday party I attended just a couple of years ago. The guests were gathered around the kitchen island, snacking and catching up. I was new to the group and didn’t really know anyone so I mostly stood there and listened. The house is what I refer to as a mini McMansion. It was a large home in a very nice community. It’s the kind of home that I could only ever wish for. The owners of the home were older and their children had left the nest and were in college. The conversation then turned to questions about their son in college. At this time the party goers all began to reminisce about their experiences in college and all the opportunities they had. They talked about sororities, ball games, studying abroad, internships, etc. The McMansion owners were able to provide the full college experience to their children in large part because they had the full college experience as did their parents and their parents’ parents and so on. My college experience was not the same. I had to pay my own way through school. I didn’t join sororities or study groups because I had keep my full time job. My classes began at 7am and then I headed to work for the rest of the day. Some nights I returned to school in the evening. I couldn’t study abroad because that would leave me without money to pay for school or help my parents. I didn’t have the full college experience because my parents didn’t have a full college experience. They both dropped out of school to help their parents. I wasn’t able to inherit the college experience because there was nothing available to pass down. Tragically, the only thing I inherited is a make-ends-meet life. I don’t want this to be what my children inherit.
According to a US News report, a 2014 survey conducted by Country Financial suggests that “most people (59%) believe it isn’t possible or no longer certain that it’s possible to live a middle class existence and be considered financially secure.” This study is a few years old and regrettably it is still remains in a downward trend. The fact of the matter is that if you are at the lower end of the middle class bracket financial security is an existence you may never achieve. Everyday life is like trying to pull yourself out of quick sand. The more you fight, the harder you struggle, the deeper you sink. Financial security isn’t just about a savings account, retirement plan, college savings and the equity you build. Financial security blankets everything in your daily life from paying bills, buying groceries, affording health care and unexpected car repairs or emergencies.
Financial security is not just about saving for the future but meeting your needs daily. Providing a good home is essential for a family. What happens when you are unable to provide this. The National Low Income Housing Coalition released a report stating “affordable rent is becoming harder to find for many households across the country.” It also stated that “30% of income is considered the most one should pay for housing if you want to manage your money responsibly.” For us, the percentage of income that goes toward rent is closer to 45% for an old, very modest home in a neighborhood where crime happens just down the road. Along this street I see two or three families sharing a home. Affordable rent is not affordable if more than one family had too share a home to be able to make rent.
In America, 35% of the country’s total wealth is owned by the richest 1%. The wealthiest 20% of Americans own about 84% of wealth. The rest of us fall at the bottom of the totem pole with no chance of changing that fact. Inequality.org stated, “over the past quarter of a century, only America’s most affluent families have added to their worth.” There is a huge disconnect from the wealthy. They have no idea what the average person struggles with on a day to day basis. They don’t realize the physical, mental and social strain and pain we face. Not long ago the NYC Food Bank posed a challenge to live on a food stamp budget of $29 a week. Gwyneth Paltrow proudly took on the challenge and was unable to complete even one week. Lucky for her she had the option to revert back to her lavish meals and lifestyle. What about the rest of us who don’t have that option. Gwyneth like many other celebrities and millionaires were born into fortune and don’t know any differently. If only they would trade places with a real middle class parent for a year. Maybe then we would truly see change for the middle class.
I see so many families that work so hard to try and provide a good life and a future for their children. We hold down several jobs, cut corners on costs, live modestly, limit our worldly experiences and still fall in the red. It grows ever so much more difficult to remain optimistic and hope for change. I don’t begrudge families who have been able to become successful I just wonder why it is that my family isn’t entitled to the same opportunities for a successful future.