Number 6: Pleading Poverty at $500,000 a Year
As Mother Jones has reported, the average American family in the bottom 90 percent of income earners makes just $31,244 a year — and, to reiterate, that’s the average, meaning many make far less. Similarly, the median net worth of American families is a mere $120,000 — and remember, “net worth” means the sum value of all of a family’s assets liquid or otherwise, from income to home to car to furniture to the kids’ dirty undies.
So when you see a newspaper article during the recession about how difficult it is to live on far more than the average American’s income, you can be forgiven for thinking you are reading either (a) the Onion, (b) the in-house newsletter of 18th-century Versailles or (c) an old clip of NBA guard Latrell Sprewell infamously saying a $7-million-a-year contract was an insult because “I have a family to feed.” But in 2009 two such articles appeared in a pair of our nation’s supposed journalistic beacons.
The Washington Post’s article headlined “Squeaking By on $300,000” was absurd enough, but a Sunday Styles piece in the New York Times took that cheeky, gee-whiz journalism a step further. Daring readers to attempt the supposed hardships of affluence, the piece was titled “You Try to Live on 500K in This Town.” (The story naturally fails to mention that the city’s median household income is about $38,000 a year, meaning that most New Yorkers take the headline’s challenge on a yearly basis.) Instead, it reported on a proposal to limit bailed-out bank salaries to a half million dollars a year, and then proceeded to try to cheekily illustrate how impossible that would be in the Big Apple.
According to the Times’ “cold hard math,” this is virtually untenable given expenses that include $32,000-a-kid private school bills, $96,000-a-year mortgages, $96,000-a-year co-op maintenance fees, $45,000-a-year nanny tabs and, of course, the undebatable requirement that very rich people take “at least two vacations a year, a winter trip to the sun and a spring trip to the ski slopes.” And mind you, the Times was quick to inform us, this doesn’t even include other “prerequisites” to living in New York City like “restaurants, dry cleaning… kennels for the dog when the family is away, summer camp, spas and other grooming” and $1,000 suits from Brooks Brothers.
Read the whole list for a proper teeth-grinding.