How much do we make? March 8, 2019 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Between the discussion of the average American and the previous FPP about parental aid and class and the discussion of grocery cashiers in another thread leading to a comment from a person to the effect of not feeling like a real MeFite because of salary, I've been thinking about class on MeFi. What is the range of incomes and class experiences here? Where are we, collectively, coming from? And how can we handle things better when we discuss class?

Class is a loaded topic period, and it's harder to figure out how to handle it well when we don't know how to talk about it. There's a lot of shame around the topic, and it's very easy to assume that everyone is coming from the same class background and context that you are, personally. Certainly I often feel a lot of shame about my class background and my current status, in fairly different directions--and I imagine other people do, too.

The trouble is that MeFi does not, traditionally, handle class super well. Oh, I don't mean in the sense that we talk about how lazy working-class people are; I more mean in the sense that we tend to assume everyone in the room is coming from the same background we are. And that's rough, because class identity at least in North America is nebulous and difficult to describe, especially when your class and your family's diverge, and almost everyone wants to reflexively self-describe as middle-class.

But I see people who are broke here frequently commenting that they feel alienated by the way MeFites sometimes make assumptions about class, salaries, and resources that they assume other MeFites have access to. The recent automotion thread is a good example, but I see those sentiments communicated frequently here.

So let's talk about where we're collectively coming from about finances, salaries, family contributions, and how that shapes our approach to the site. What do you imagine the salary of the average MeFite is?
posted by sciatrix to MetaFilter-Related at 10:54 AM (246 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

(I should note: I stated in one of these linked FPPs that I make less than $35,000, and that is true. My salary is currently approximately $28,000 per year, up from the $24,000 I made when I started working here seven years ago. We got a cost of living increase in there! I come from a wealthy family and I'm in graduate school, so I have some class advantages behind me related to my education and not having taken out student debt for my undergrad, but I don't receive financial help from my family at all. I am doing better than a lot of people I know and worse than some others, but my barometer for "people I know" is "most of my friends have roommates including me, both of my roommates work hourly retail jobs, my partner is in school for nursing, ages range from mid-twenties to mid-thirties, and incomes range from about $18,000ish up to $50,000ish.")

If I had to guess, I would guess a mean salary of around $75,000 on this site. But hey! I could be wrong. I mention my salary here now and again because I think that numbers and references to standards of living are useful benchmarks to communicate the kind of life I'm living. I thought about including an anonymous survey, and if people want, I will throw one together. But I'm really interested in the assumptions we're bringing to the table about how we collectively live and talk to each other.
posted by sciatrix at 11:05 AM on March 8 [6 favorites]

I'm not going to discuss my current situation, because that'll put my colleagues in an awkward position, but I came from a two-professional income household with some caveats. Until the early 90s, my mom was a reasonably successful talk therapist and my dad was a white-collar worker at Allstate. Then Hurricane Andrew happened, my 50ish-year-old father got offered an "early retirement" package that was essentially a layoff with continued access to (although not subsidy for) the corporate health insurance plan, and my sister had a significant health issue. Five years later, Dad's 401k was gone to pay medical bills, he was too old to retrain and never found really significant work again (he currently drives for Uber! Which... yeah) and I declined to go to college because it didn't seem like a good use of the extremely limited family money since I had no actual ambitions.

So yeah, I definitely relate, in a lot of ways, to the upper-middle-class identity, but I also did not have much family financial support once I moved out and I'm currently focused on setting myself up in a position to care for my folks once they can't work any more, since they have very little in the way of retirement savings and they're in their 70s. I spend my 20s almost entirely in pretty broke-ass social circles and let me tell you, video games are not a way to jump-start your earnings. Nor are traditionally-female, emotional-labor-based professions. (Surprise!) So I'm not where I grew up, by a long shot.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 11:11 AM on March 8 [14 favorites]

I have never made $75k in a year in either USD or CDN. I came sorta close in CDN in 2017 due to a solid contract and a fat bonus. I chose to make less to be happier after that, hooray happier!

I am doing less well than my parents were at my age, by a lot, and there are a lot of contributing factors, including moving countries. I have a master's degree, a fancyish way of speaking 90% of the time, and a crapton of privilege so I probably read as having more money than I actually have. Unless you look at the faded Old Navy dress I wore to work today, which I love dangit.

My greatest privilege may indeed be being debt-free, and I could not have done that without my upper-middle-class-identified upbringing (didn't have loans as an undergrad). But I will never be able to fully retire.
posted by wellred at 11:22 AM on March 8 [5 favorites]

I'm a lobbyist, nonprofit administrator and down-ballot elected official (unpaid Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor.) I have a Bachelors degree. Mrs. Bastard (who has a Masters degree) also works with me at the nonprofit. Our positions are grant-funded in a sector that does not provide much funding. We make less than $50,000 combined. I've still got student debt, we've still got mortgage and car-payments. We're always pretty broke.
posted by Cookiebastard at 11:28 AM on March 8 [6 favorites]

This is perhaps a bit tangential to the question, but since we're talking about how to handle things better: I often sit up a little straighter when people come over the the Green and ask advice about large sums of money. Fairly recently, someone came in and said something like (here I paraphrase), "My partner and I are both in a high-earning white collar profession and we have a combined income of around $800,000 a year. What's the best way to invest our money?" And then there's the "I'm about to receive a small inheritance, somewhere in the high six figures -- what should I do with it?" questions. First of all, if you're a high-earning white collar professional, you have about a zillion friends and colleagues who can steer you to an experienced financial adviser. Why in the hell are you coming around to a website and asking a bunch of anonymous mooks for advice on handling that sort of money? I'm going to go ahead and guess it's very likely not because you think this is the best place for financial guidance. I mean, come on.

And more to the point, if you've spent even a reasonable amount of time here, you know there are not a few people here who are struggling financially, some of them desperately. At least a few people here have been homeless, or probably are still homeless, or have had to move back in with their parents because of job loss, and so forth. It strikes me as unseemly to walk into a group that represents a wide cross-section of socioeconomic levels and announce that you just don't know what to do with your $800,000 a year salary or your $900,000 inheritance. I just wish people would be a bit more mindful of the audience here.
posted by holborne at 11:47 AM on March 8 [55 favorites]

First of all, if you're a high-earning white collar professional, you have about a zillion friends and colleagues who can steer you to an experienced financial adviser. Why in the hell are you coming around to a website and asking a bunch of anonymous mooks for advice on handling that sort of money?

Never hurts to get more opinions, especially especially outside your "peer" group. Trying to keep up with everyone else can often be disastrous financially.

It strikes me as unseemly to walk into a group that represents a wide cross-section of socioeconomic levels and announce that you just don't know what to do with your $800,000 a year salary or your $900,000 inheritance.

People also ask questions about their spouses who love them, their non-abusive parents, their living children, etc.
posted by ODiV at 11:58 AM on March 8 [129 favorites]

Just want to say I'm strongly against any type of cultural norm here discouraging asking questions about financially privileged situations or questioning people's motivations for asking about financially privileged situations.
posted by lalex at 11:58 AM on March 8 [81 favorites]

I asked this question because I think more discussion about where we are coming from and what our financial assumptions are is a good thing, even when that's uncomfortable. Maybe especially when that's uncomfortable.

I suppose my question about that scenario, holbourne, comes down to "would it be better for the person who wants to know how to spend a $800k inheritance to not ask, or would it be better to encourage a culture in which people feel okay saying "shit, I could live for 30 years on that alone! Do whatever you want with it, but spare some thought for others," or would it be better to not make the recipient of the wealth uncomfortable with an eye to allowing the questions to continue, so that people who will never receive such an inheritance know that there are people--people right here!--who do?

I'm really not concerned with what is and is not unseemly. I'm concerned with how communities feel, and I do want to point out that knowing just how much other people are playing with can highlight disparity in a way that really clarifies the situation. Just because it's not the done thing doesn't mean it isn't potentially useful to see and know.
posted by sciatrix at 12:06 PM on March 8 [10 favorites]

Talking about what we make is, IMO, a crappy taboo. I found out accidentally that a colleague doing similar work to mine was making literally double. What genders do you think we might be?

We're not going to make any progress toward an equitable society if we don't talk about the inequities.

(I'm not a good person to ask about the giant inheritance questions because I'm oblivious and always assume people are not being disingenuous.)
posted by wellred at 12:11 PM on March 8 [34 favorites]

First of all, if you're a high-earning white collar professional, you have about a zillion friends and colleagues who can steer you to an experienced financial adviser. Why in the hell are you coming around to a website and asking a bunch of anonymous mooks for advice on handling that sort of money?

If you don't come from money, if you've gotten to a position where you have it through education and luck, there's a good chance you don't have friends who can steer you to an experienced financial advisor, and asking for that kind of advice from colleagues may mark you as an outsider who doesn't belong. Not our kind, you know. Whereas the anonymous mooks on the Internet might seem to be less likely to judge you for not knowing. Or at least less likely to have it in the back of their mind when they decide whether or not you make partner next year.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:15 PM on March 8 [67 favorites]

I make $79K a year and live in the DC area. My wife makes a fair bit less on a government salary. We have a toddler and spend roughly $1200-$1300 per month on childcare. We do ok.

There are a lot of bits and pieces that add up to our economic picture. The DC area has a high cost of living. We have a lot of student debts to pay off. On the other hand, my mother-in-law is local and has been able to help with babysitting, which she does a couple times a month, and that's huge for us. And my job considers "35 hours a week" full time, and I don't take my work home with me. That's an immense privilege. And a full benefits package on top of pay.

And we're financially privileged in a more significant way: my parents decided a long time ago they didn't want to wait until death to begin sharing their savings with us, so they were able to help us buy a house: something that, even with our stable family income, we wouldn't have been able to manage in a *long freaking time* otherwise. And they helped us financially again last year when we moved to a new home, which enabled us to keep our former place and rent it out. Our house is small but it's in good condition, and it's ours.

I thank you for asking the question, sciatrix, and I agree with wellred that this is a shitty taboo--perpetuated, and to the primary benefit of, people who possess above-average wealth and earn above-average incomes.
posted by duffell at 12:19 PM on March 8 [11 favorites]

Even rereading my own response, I can see my own assumptions: my parents decided a long time ago they didn't want to wait until death to begin sharing their savings with us, so they were able to help us buy a house -- one doesn't necessarily follow the other, of course. They had the money to share in the first place. And we had a good relationship with my parents, so they not only were willing to give us the money, but we didn't feel like we were going to be pressured into making particular life decisions as a condition of accepting it.

And in my choice of words, too: they helped us financially again last year is a little euphamistic, but really = "they gave us a whole bunch of money."
posted by duffell at 12:24 PM on March 8 [15 favorites]

My husband has worked in SAP programming for more than 10 years. I re-entered the full-time workforce about six years ago and currently work in non-profit. Combined we bring in over $150,000 a year. We also have two kids in college who we help with tuition (they both have scholarships that cover most of their tuition and they both have taken out small loans and are working to help pay the rest), and we help my parents and his mother financially when they need it. I was incredibly fortunate to not have any student loan debt when I graduated from college (combination of state school, mom getting a full-time job to help out, me working as well, and the fact that it was the late 80s/early 90s when state schools were relatively affordable), and we paid off my husband's school debt rather quickly by living incredibly frugally in our early marriage. I was the first person in my family to go to college. I supported my husband and me when he was in grad school, and his degree was paid for by the university + a teaching stipend.

We live in an area that has a low cost of living and we don't spend extravagantly because 1. my husband is terrified of not having enough to live on as we age so a lot of our income goes to retirement funds, 2. we prefer to focus on our children's educations, 3. we make charity a priority, and 4. it's not in either of our natures to do so.

I grew up solidly lower class until my dad got a big promotion when I was in middle school and suddenly we were taking vacations and buying cars and my dad was buying all this stuff for the house (fancy tv, home computers, etc.). When I had my first born in 1997, my dad was downsized and took an early retirement and the reason we have to help my parents financially now is because he basically pissed it all away by moving several times, building a house, buying a boat, etc. I learned very important lessons by those things that he did, namely: money will not always just magically be there, and stuff doesn't buy happiness.

My husband grew up poor. He didn't know it at the time but looking back, he sees it. He remembers at a very young age learning that his mother would say no to every asked-for purchase because they didn't have the money, so he stopped asking. He was the youngest of four and his parents spent all the (very little ) college money on the other kids and didn't have any for him, so he had to work and take out loans and use credit cards for college.

We have friends and family in all different positions, from "starving artists" to "large double income no kids". I hope that I am sensitive about class issues, and I hope that I have never offended anyone here or elsewhere w/r/t class or income or whatever. I am deeply aware of the privilege that I hold and I try to do my best to help others up the ladder or just flat out help them, period.
posted by cooker girl at 12:29 PM on March 8 [11 favorites]

It's a tough question for the site because class markers aren't entirely associated with wealth, but often education and other background markers as well. Pretty much everyone here has an interest in involved communication and subjects that act themselves as something of markers to separate people, including people with more wealth but less intellectual curiosity.

That said, the wealth/class issue does often still feel very relevant and much just in discussions about jobs or money per se. Almost every food thread manages to make some feel uncomfortable for the assumptions they see being made about eating choices or taste. I myself often get a "class-like" feel regarding threads on choices for the home and living, not that those bother me exactly, but they do seem to signal a very different lifestyle than my own current situation.

My own background was one of coming from a lowerish middle class background as child, becoming upperish middle class as a teen, going to private school, then public school, and having friends from a variety of backgrounds, from poor to quite well off, though none super rich. From being one of the wealthiest of my peers as a teen, I'm now the poorest of all my friends as an adult by a large margin, but at the same time one of the better educated in many non-practical ways which makes for a unusual dynamic from the perspective of the more traditional ways of thinking about class as my means and my treatment and my values don't really align as might be expected. I imagine that isn't unique for the site in any way.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:29 PM on March 8 [11 favorites]

My mother comes from a large, poor family in the south - she was 17 when she had me. My grandparents on that side were retail workers, before that my grandfather was in the Air Force and was a bricklayer. My grandfather is retired. My grandmother still works at Target. My father was 18 or 19 when I was born, comes from a poor Mexican family, my grandmother was a housecleaner. I believe she's retired mostly now. My mom graduated from high school, my father didn't. Neither went to college.

They divorced when I was super young, I grew up very very poor, and now I'm 38 and still pretty much very very poor. I went back to school full time at 36 (I'm 38 now), when I was in a relationship where my partner made much more than I did. He had a bunch of affairs last year and then left me at the end of the year, so I had to get a part time retail job immediately to keep a roof over my head. I'm still working there while looking for something better. I make 15.50 an hour and work between 20 and 30 hours a week, while still going to school full time. I have student loans so with that combined with my income, I should be able to pay my rent until I graduate in May. After that I literally have no idea because I live in the Bay Area and my rent just got raised, and there's no way I can afford this place after that.

I feel a HUGE disconnect here when it comes to issues of class and wealth/income. It's so huge that I don't even bother trying to push back against it usually, because I feel like I'm the odd one out.
posted by primalux at 12:31 PM on March 8 [26 favorites]

This topic is interesting. It points to the heart of exceptionalism and notions of entitlement. It's a mistake to demonize anybody for his financial worth, but knowing something about a person's relationship to "money" is something rarely dealt with like this.

Until I joined the Army (in September, 1963) I literally never knew anybody who didn't live from month to month, or instead, took some sort of food assistance or outright money from one or another echelons of our government, that is welfare. After the Army I never worked at a job that let me feel financially secure (farrier, truck driver, laborer). Right now I've retired from working (some years ago) for various infirmities, and I get the best health care plan on the planet, a small military pension, and Social Security benefits.

This has levered me out of statistical poverty and well into the middle class. I get more in benefits now than I ever earned in wages. If you think I take all this for granted, I beg you to pause and consider that my folks died poor, lacking the medical care I have enjoyed. I am the first among my siblings to have graduated from high school. Only one of them got past the fifth grade. My mother was first married at age 13.

My somewhat quirky experience with universities (I attended two) have broadened my perspective, but the so called upper classes in our society are as opaque to me as they ever were. My life as a child and young man made it impossible for me to think of myself as being above any person of color. I, and indeed most of my family, have spent too much time working beside other working poor people in cotton fields, orchards, vineyards, to have any pretensions of this sort. Yet I recognize "otherness" as a sickness that infects us all to varying degrees.

This thread is about class. I'm a pretender to the middle class.
posted by mule98J at 12:43 PM on March 8 [31 favorites]

I’m having a hard time seeing how this isn’t a quick way to make MeFites, rich or poor or in between, feel worse about themselves.
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:50 PM on March 8 [36 favorites]

I feel personal finance is one of those fraught areas like health and parenting where honesty is frequently met by some sort of "gotcha," "you're doing it wrong," or "that's not really a problem, what are you complaining about."
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 12:51 PM on March 8 [16 favorites]

we are all rich with knowledge
posted by bondcliff at 12:52 PM on March 8 [18 favorites]

I feel personal finance is one of those fraught areas like health and parenting where honesty is frequently met by some sort of "gotcha," "you're doing it wrong," or "that's not really a problem, what are you complaining about."

Perhaps yes. And just as in those cases, I suspect the people who are already relatively disadvantaged in society are the ones who are most frequently targeted with those messages.
posted by duffell at 12:56 PM on March 8 [6 favorites]

Yes, the negative messages go to the disadvantaged, AND the disadvantaged are given less assistance and advice.

We can boost each other up by talking about stuff.
posted by wellred at 12:57 PM on March 8 [6 favorites]

while I can't think of any mefites offhand that I wouldn't be willing to discuss my work, finances, background etc with, I am allergic to the idea of posting this information on a permanent searchable archive.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:58 PM on March 8 [98 favorites]

My family background is working class, but my Dad was in a good union. My mom has been underemployed her whole life, and has never made as much money as a person as smart as she is probably should have. Resource extraction economies aren't terribly kind to working moms. We lived in a small town with a low cost of living. We drove nice-ish cars and beat-to-hell pickup trucks. We took vacations, usually in a motorhome or truck-top camper, but we also went to Germany a few times to visit my Dad's family and one year we went to Disneyland. Rich or urban people probably would have thought we were poor, but we weren't -- we were rural and our priorities did not run to the outward display of money, but we did pretty okay on my Dad's union wages.

Educationally, I'm the first in my family to have a bachelors degree and I also recently went back to school and got a JD. My father never finished high school and my mother went to community college for awhile, but didn't finish. My brother went to an Institute of Technology, which is somewhere between a college and a university, I'd say? He's got a really great job and is a seriously good software programmer, so his lack of a full university degree hasn't hampered his career choices -- software can be more of a meritocracy that way than a lot of other fields.

I used to work as a Community Manager for not quite 6 figures, but I quite that job to go to law school and after 3 years of extra education, now I make ... significantly less than that. I wasn't able to find a job in private practice where the big bucks are, and while I am appreciably happier working for government, the pay is not nearly so good. Because I work for The Man, my pay scale is basically public knowledge. I'm a CO-01 and while I don't know my salary off the top of my head, it's somewhere in the middle of that scale.

In terms of financial help, I would point at three things that made a real difference for me:
1. When I went to University, I borrowed money from my Uncle instead of from a bank. I paid off that loan with the proceeds from an internship I did at IBM, which I would not have been able to do if I had to pay interest on it. That allowed me to graduate from University basically debt free.
2. When my Grandmother died, my parents gave me some of the money they inherited from her, which I used as part of a down payment on my condo. It was less than half of my down payment and I could have swung the mortgage without it, but it sure added up to a lot of breathing room.
3. When I decided to go to law school, my parents had just sold their house to move in with my brother, and they gave me about two years worth of tuition. Without that money, I would have needed to find loans to fund my schooling or to sell my condo. The combination of that money and money pulled from my savings and retirement accounts and bringing in roommates to live in my condo with me allowed me to make it through three years of law school.

I am sometimes still conscious of the things that divide me from other people I encounter in my urban, white-collar professional life, but they are just as often urban/rural splits as than wealth/poverty splits. People in rural areas, I think, get sorta dropped down a class in how they are perceived.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:03 PM on March 8 [7 favorites]

Yeah, I think it would be great to share this sort of thing if it weren't searchable on the internet forever afterwards.

I will note that when I first joined metafilter in 2007 or so (different account) I was making around $10,000 a year and sharing a very tiny apartment--ten years later and I am now firmly entrenched in the lower upper-middle class. Thanks MetaFilter!
posted by skewed at 1:04 PM on March 8 [10 favorites]

While I always love learning more about everybody, I think a long list of people summarizing their current and past financial situations is extremely alienating.

Is there some way to refocus the conversation? Or is kind of a class-based roll call the goal right now?
posted by rue72 at 1:11 PM on March 8 [14 favorites]

My husband grew up poor. He didn't know it at the time but looking back, he sees it. He remembers at a very young age learning that his mother would say no to every asked-for purchase because they didn't have the money, so he stopped asking. He was the youngest of four and his parents spent all the (very little ) college money on the other kids and didn't have any for him, so he had to work and take out loans and use credit cards for college.

So I think this is exactly sort of thing this post is talking about. To you and your husband, that's "poor". To me that situation (with no other contextual details) is "comfortably middle class". Being able to send any kid to school without having to take out loans is something my parents could only dream of. Depending on your age, this could also be a generational difference.
posted by runcibleshaw at 1:17 PM on March 8 [16 favorites]

The problem is, if I talk about finances without saying I had advantages, I'm not having the real conversation.

I think the poor vs. broke distinction helped me think about how I talked about money, maybe it will help others who have privilege.
posted by wellred at 1:20 PM on March 8 [16 favorites]

I'm privileged as all fuck but there was a time when I was destitute as all fuck in my mid 20s but then privilege helped me bounce back from there relatively quickly to a place that others have had to work much much harder to get to.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:23 PM on March 8 [7 favorites]

Speaking personally... I'm open minded on where the conversation goes, except that I think this is a good conversation to have. (God knows I feel pretty vulnerable setting it up, too; I'm actually not sure whether I feel more defensive and concerned about talking about my class origins or my decidedly less lofty current income and friends circle. I'm in about 40k of student debt now, and I feel guilty and ashamed about that, too.)

There is a lot of shame about this topic. I don't want to amplify that, but I think it's valuable to think about where we are coming from, and I am personally choosing to trust y'all with this information about me. I want to get a sense for how we can be more aware and inclusive about this topic, and I'm not sure that we can meaningfully participate without explaining where we stand--whether baldly in real currency or in terms of what getting by or broke or poor or wealthy even look like to you.

It's a complicated topic, and here in this space I see a lot of places for shame and self doubt and discomfort. I wouldn't force anyone to participate, but I also think that shame is a product of what we say to each other, and I'm hoping that talking openly might alleviate some of the shame and generate a useful conversation. I don't have direct goals for that conversation beyond "this elephant sits in the room."

But. Well. I notice that elephant. I thought you all might, too.
posted by sciatrix at 1:24 PM on March 8 [13 favorites]

Salaries are not useful markers until you know where the person lives, and what their circumstances are. I make about $75,000. In the Boston area. My mortgage in a teeny condo is about half my take-home pay. I'm 49, and I have a decent career but am not cognitively able to ever bump that number exponentially.

I don't have a romantic partner to split any utility bills with. And women's deodorant and dry cleaning cost more than men's. Also, my mother was allergic to working (she grew up rich and spent her inheritance like water), and my sister is a hippie who lives on the edge of poverty, so if I want to do anything with my family I have to pay for it all myself, with probably more help for them coming in the future. I never have that "six months of savings" that we're all supposed to have. At my age, I'm fucked if I get laid off.

I think the issues of class apply to the basic rules of metafilter: just don't be an asshole. Don't say "Woo-hoo! I'm better than you since I have a cleaning lady!" But we shouldn't skip most questions that will help some people. (Even though child-rearing questions upset me, I just skip over them. I don't demand that they never happen because "they're insensitive to people who wanted children and couldn't have them.")
posted by sockerpup at 1:25 PM on March 8 [20 favorites]

Being able to send any kid to school without having to take out loans is something my parents could only dream of

To avoid making my stupid-long comment even longer, I omitted that they didn't put ANY of their kids through college debt free. They just ran out of any "college money" to help in any way at all when it came to my husband. And by "help" I mean a bus ticket home or fronting the money for the occasional required textbook or sending a $10 bill in a "thinking of you" card. They never paid tuition for any of the kids or room and board or anything like that. And yeah, we went to college in the late 80s/early 90s, when going to our particular state school in central Indiana meant $1,200 a semester for a full course load.

I'm sorry for the confusion.
posted by cooker girl at 1:28 PM on March 8 [5 favorites]

But because I'm feeling defensive now, I feel like I have to say that my husband and his brothers often felt hungry after meal times; their father would portion out their food to make sure they all got equal amounts but it was never really "enough". He didn't have a new piece of clothing until he got his first job in high school and could pay for it himself. I mean, I could go on, but FFS, he grew up poor. Just because I didn't put in every single detail...yeah, I can see now how this thread could go very badly and I already regret my participation.
posted by cooker girl at 1:34 PM on March 8 [28 favorites]

Salaries are not useful markers until you know where the person lives, and what their circumstances are.

Yeah, someone in the thread that inspired this talked about how neoliberalism has convinced us somehow that to learn about someone's wealth you only look at what they earn, own, or have in the bank. When really, we should be looking at it across a life cycle and across generations. You might be earning a good-on-paper salary now, but that salary might also now be backfilling a lot of years of low-wage labor or a lot of college or medical debt or a lot of parental support or child support, etc. I think a lot more now about class as the standard of living and access to resources a person might reasonably expect to have averaged out over their lifetime. You can be "broke" and still have a pretty good guarantee that you'll never starve or lose a place to live, and you can be flush and still pretty panicked about your later years or the potential fallout of an illness or accident, especially with such a minimal safety net as we have. A lot of "wealth" isn't about what you personally might have but what you have (and had) access to over your lifetime.
posted by Miko at 1:34 PM on March 8 [39 favorites]

I don't have a romantic partner to split any utility bills with.

Yeah, this is a factor I meant to mention in my post. I'm single and thus without the safety net that comes from someone else's income. It's freeing in some ways -- quit my job! go back to school! move to Ottawa! don't have to ask anyone if that's okay! -- but it makes finances more precarious in a lot of ways.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:35 PM on March 8 [13 favorites]

I think you'll find that metafilter people come from all over the class scale - and since we also come from different countries, that class itself is defined differently in different cultures.

Also, some of us have slid around the class hierarchy. In my life I have been:

- on welfare (ages 3-12) - Family income ~10k to 18k CND - obviously very low income, but also sheltered from the deepest poverty by the fact that we had subsidized rent and I was a child - so I don't remember going hungry.

- working class / low income (ages 12-25) - Family income ~20k-30k CND - my mother was working and we had a low income that went up over time; we never went hungry, but I also didn't participate in any extracurricular activities that cost money (lessons, camp, etc) and definitely didn't live a middle class lifestyle (my SO still jokes that I once called him "so bourgeois" for expecting to have running water in your apartment all day and not to have it turned off during the day for months on end for repair work). A lot of my expectations around living conditions were set at this time in my life - that is, I don't need fancy, but I really like it when we don't have roaches.

- 'grad student poor' (ages 25-32) - single income ~18 USD - I was low-income, but also deeply privileged by having access to cultural and social capital that no one of a similar income would have had - I traveled to Europe, visited great libraries and museums, got to do the sorts of things other people would have done on a gap-year trip, made great connections - but we also did not invest in any retirement savings or property.

In the meantime, I also married into a professional family which is middle-class in background and culture (i.e. not from money, not well-connected) but who also now have a household income in the top 5%. They aren't in the local elite at all (would only attend a gala if their org paid for it), but close association with them have furthered my cultural and social capital well past what I would have ever had from my birth family and graduate school alone (in fact, I would probably have never made it to graduate school without them).

- 'gigging it' - (ages 32-40) my SO and I made between $3k and 42k as a couple, depending on the year, but probably averaged about $20k; we lived with family for part of that time, so that was a subsidy, but we weren't otherwise supported by them (so our lifestyle was by necessity modest); during this period we did odd jobs, short contracts, and I revived my market research and coffee shop skills.

And now we are middle class-ish. (ages 40-42 - personal income $70k, household income $100k - wow, it's high when I write it like that). In the last 2 years, I've had a job that pays well above the median and our household income has also exceeded the median for our city ($78,373 in 2015). But we're still a household of 4 adults (myself, my SO and two disabled relatives), we rent a small house with basic fixtures and the thought of buying property is absolutely laughable. I bought new boots, but still can't bring myself to pay retail for most clothes and end up at the thrift store again.

My SO and I still cross-class lines regularly. We have relatives who live luxury condominiums and who have caterers and servers for a Christmas party; we also have close relatives who live on disability and/or have recently been homeless. It's a strange place to be sometimes, but I think I value the breadth of worlds I have seen, and that diversity of life patterns.


I have also thought a lot about class as class and poverty were one of my research areas in graduate school. Poverty is always relative. Even Adam Smith (far from a social justice progressive) agreed with this: poverty is lacking that which your society deems necessary to be decent.

But what you perceive to be 'your' society changes based on your experiences. I grew up on welfare in subsidized housing; when my middle-class boyfriend first saw where I lived, he was shocked by the conditions (size, roaches, etc.). But I never went hungry, unlike other kids in the same building, so I didn't feel poor. I knew we weren't middle class, because we didn't have a dishwasher.

But neither of us was right, and the other wrong. I was poor, compared to him. And I was better off, compared to others.

Maybe what we all need to do is to try to put aside judgement (of ourselves, of others), and understand rather what some of the societal patterns are. Personally, I like to give myself data-check-ins, by googling things like the median household income in my city. That's how I know that I'm now "middle-class" (above median, even), even if it doesn't look to me like any middle-class the television would sell me. But it makes me remember that over half of all families in my city have less than me.

Similarly, the median household income in NYC is about $50k USD per year. It puts things into better perspective.
posted by jb at 1:39 PM on March 8 [17 favorites]

I want to say officially: nobody should feel pressured to give information they don't want to. This is a request for personal information in a very public forum - as always, Metatalk is fully public and google-indexed.

This is the kind of info I personally absolutely don't want to be default-public. What I enjoy about forums like this is that we can talk to each other and block out revealing/perceiving certain identities, at least some/much of the time. It creeps me out to even have people know I'm female, jebus I don't want bank account info out there.

It would really suck if anything shared here were used to make someone feel like they shouldn't be on the site. I don't want people to feel like they need to be either a certain amount rich or a certain amount poor to be here. I hope people will handle info given here with grace.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:49 PM on March 8 [30 favorites]

re student debt: I realize that this may be a big national difference between the US and Canada, given that American tuition costs more than room & board, while Canadian tuition is the smaller of the two bills,

but there are people who don't have student debt not because they had help, but because they made sacrifices to go to university/college as cheaply as possible. Most lower-income people I know chose to go to a local university/college and live with their parents, thus incurring less debt. We obviously had resources in the form of parents who could afford to allow us to live with them rent-free (or, in my case, low rent), but we also gave up a lot of what people expect from the 'university experience': I did very few extracurricular activities and almost no socializing that cost money. I didn't even know Thursday was the 'party night' until I got to graduate school, and I currently know no one from my undergraduate institution.

Whereas, the people I knew who had student loans were all from higher-income families and were paying to live in another city (and did spend more money on entertainment, etc.).
posted by jb at 1:56 PM on March 8 [8 favorites]

I had a very weird upbringing with regard to class. My dad grew up barely working class in rural PA while my mom grew up very upper middle class in Riverdale, Bronx with a maid and such. So family holidays could be at my Uncle Seldon's farm in PA or my mom's cousin's mansion in Basking Ridge, NJ (her cousin was CEO of a huge tech company that you've heard of). My cousins on my dad's side are mostly in pretty bad shape and quite a few of them have passed away from drug and alcohol related issues. On my mom's side, everyone is super successful in business, accademia or arts. My one cousin on that side had a #1 record on the UK singles chart and US dance chart in the 90s and is a very successful record producer.

So growing up was weird. We never had money but our dinner table talk might be about Chaucer or Picasso and I got dragged around to museums and cultural events and art movies my whole childhood. My parents took me to movies like Cabaret or Lady Sings the Blues when I was fairly little because they thought that they were culturally significant. But at the same time, my dad was taking me to Indy car races and ball games.

Elementary school was hard because I was often the only kid from the poorer part of the district in the advanced classes and this was suburban NJ so a lot of my classmates came from super privileged backgrounds. I got picked on because my dad was a mechanic and not a fucking drug company CEO. Our cars were always jalopies that my dad had cobbled together and I wore Sears clothes at best and thrift store stuff most of the time.

So I've always felt a little alienated from both blue-color and middle-class worlds. I dropped out of school and worked construction for years and definitely never fit in with those guys but now that I've built a reasonably comfortable middle-class professional life, I don't really feel like I fit in with the more tony surroundings that I find myself in.

Obviously, there's a lot of white privilege in my ability to blunder from working class into middle-class comfort and there's also the issue that I'm not sure that my kind of mobility is available to anyone much younger than me. I took two tries to get through school but didn't incur much in the way of loans along the way and was lucky to live in a city that was dirt cheap to get by on. I mean we bought a huge house in 1990 for $40,000 in the middle of the city when I was 26 and was making $6.50/hr and my ex was probably making $20K a year. Zillow says that house is worth $250,000 now.
posted by octothorpe at 2:04 PM on March 8 [18 favorites]

I was going to make a joke about how now I know which MeFites to catfish, but I really do think this post is not a good idea. I know I'm not the only one who has picked up some weird harassment from here, so it doesn't seem like a good idea to post so much personal info in one place.
posted by betweenthebars at 2:10 PM on March 8 [10 favorites]

Here's a story for you:

It's review season at my job. Almost exactly a year ago I asked an anon question on the green about my job, my role, and my compensation so I could go into my review prepared. I was super super low man on my company totem pole, with a relative-to-colleagues salary to match, but I was having serious responsibilities stacked on me (like payroll, for instance, for the whole ass company--effectively adding an entire second job to my job) with no promotion in sight. I was seeking guidance for what title I should ask for and what kind of raise I should ask for.

You know what people on metafilter told me? Metafilter told me I was already overpaid for my position and that I should be grateful I should be making as much as I was, and that really doing this extra stuff could conceivably fall into what my current title was, and that I was lucky that I was being given more work. And that going in and asking for (example) $2000 more dollars was not going to go well.

So I ignored that extremely shitty advice and made demands. I asserted myself and my worth. I was told we would reevaluate in 6 months. I continued to assert myself and my worth and threatened to quit.

A year later and:
-I'm already getting paid 25% more
-I've been promoted out of the first job I was previously doing
-I have 2 people who report directly to me
-I'm going into this review period knowing that I'll be getting a raise on what I'm already making, another promotion to meet where I'm going to go instead of just what I'm doing now, and a salary adjustment to that promotion.

I realize that I'm in an extremely privileged position to be working at a company where any of this was even an option, but I promise--promise--you I would have received absolutely NONE of this if I hadn't advocated for myself.

Like honestly I have thought about those answers I got on that question SO MANY TIMES over the last several months because that advice is so bad and so toxic. You have to advocate for yourself!! Always! Every day! No one is going to just give you things. If your salary isn't what you want it to be, ask for a raise. If your title isn't what you want it to be, ask for an adjustment. If your role isn't what you want it to be, ask for a promotion. The worst that can happen is you get told no.
posted by phunniemee at 2:19 PM on March 8 [101 favorites]

I grew up with a mom that stayed at home and a dad with a PhD who taught at universities. Our family of six was at the poverty line or below, including stints on welfare, until I was in high school. As a kid I was acutely aware that money=class and that, thanks my obvious poverty, my expected role in the classroom was to be the physical and psychological punching bag for kids that were better off. I think most kids understand class very well from a young age, poor kids uniquely so. Now it's 2019, I'm unemployed and my wife, with a masters degree, has a good job here in the Bay Area but with only one income (and two kids in daycare) things are tight. But when I compare it to my youth and the rest of California, I consider us to be upper middle class. Our debt is for things we chose to take on, like cars that are newer than 15 years old and grad school. I get to buy groceries when I want. Our kids wear a lot of hand-me-downs but we can afford to buy them new shoes. We're cash-poor but still privileged.

I always wonder if Metafilter as a whole might follow the same financial/class pattern that most people I know in 2019: a handful of people fall on the ends of the financial bell curve, with most people clustered around the "making ends meet but we're fucked if there's a major emergency" center.
posted by not_the_water at 2:35 PM on March 8 [7 favorites]

One way I think that discussions of or related to class could go better on Metafilter is if people didn't feel as much pressure as they apparently already do to preface their comments with a list of their bonafides. I think that right there is already an alienating tendency, because it inevitably devolves into the MeFite listing all the ways in which they differ from some imaginary Pleasantville "norm." If the point is not to assume that that Pleasantville norm is the default, then we shouldn't go around listing all the ways that we don't comply with it before we even get to the meat of what we want to say.
posted by rue72 at 3:01 PM on March 8 [22 favorites]

I am not sure I think it is wise to base the convo on salary even tho I am the one that puts out that I live on 14,000 a year constantly and that's mainly cause I feel like I need to voice that there are poor people here. I've come to accept that the average mefite is upper middle class with an education that is beyond me. So the assumptions of class markers is just too much some days. Like the majority of people I know don't have computers, cannot afford to have a phone and are desperate for work that others seem to consider dispensible because of the convenience of automation. And I live in a country that at least pays me disability and free health care. But yet every time there is a raise in disability rates rent also goes up so expense of living costs affect poor people just as well.

I grew up in a mill town and still live here. My family are generations of loggers so once we were middle class even tho neither of my parents graduated from high school so I can fake it but then my dad died at 13 and I've been in poverty ever since. I'm 43 and have never really had a real job since abuse and mental illness destroyed my life. I've accepted that society thinks I'm a red neck white trash loser but reading comments that I'm somehow better off not having a job (as if I could get one with now bachelors degrees now being required everywhere and also physical disabilities). That hurts. Like the ability to self-check is better and less inhumane than paying people who need these jobs to do them.

It comes up a lot on MF and it is just another blind spot and that's why I state that I make 14000 a year so people talking about these mythic "working class" people realize they are in the room with me. Not so that anyone feels ashamed they make more money. Good for you. I'm honestly really happy and wish you the best. So if it comes out that I lashed out about poor issues occasionally I apologize but also as a person at risk of having to move back to abusive family if another part of my funding ends as I would have no money left for food I get a bit more stressed than anyone who is ickily forced to deal with a cashier.

Just be a little more thoughtful of your thought experiences is all I'm asking.
posted by kanata at 3:22 PM on March 8 [51 favorites]

I think a discussion about being aware of not assuming income/class is a great idea.
I think asking people to divulge this kind of information is not a great idea.

How are we ever going to come together as a society if we keep being classified by our differences? I'm a human, I'm here to talk about stuff. If I ever say something insensitive, thanks for pointing it out and I'll try not to do it again, but I don't believe professing my demographics is going to make anything better around here.

And finally, didn't someone do an anonymous survey about our demographics here already? For a project or something?
posted by NoraCharles at 3:25 PM on March 8 [12 favorites]

I'm cool with people not wanting to give out their financial info and I personally have no problem with people being wealthy or being poor or, really, anything as long as they treat people well, but even this thread seems to have some weird class related stuff to it. Telling people they shouldn't post in the thread kinda speaks more pointedly to some people than others since, for example, there is no real issue I could face with telling people how poor I am, and I gather that's at least somewhat true for others in similar positions given how readily they also volunteer the info. The comment then isn't a universal, but a narrower warning. That too is fine as long it isn't sort of thrown out there as being one that has equal validity for all situations.

Comments on improving one's financial situation aren't really what I'd be expecting in this thread as I think they trend towards the "eat less and exercise" comments in threads around weight issues and can be seen as sort of unintentionally insulting for that.

The idea that one should feel bad for being a success, which is the vibe I'm getting from some of the comments, is, to me, foolish. No one should feel bad or somehow lesser for being successful in their fields or family history. The hope I'd have is that the thread brings better awareness of the differences in class and the issues connected to it and more care is given about making assumptions in conversations. There is often a point where the need to note one's status does become relevant when the conversation doesn't appear to give proper weight to that perspective and speaks to an issue from a theoretical position or otherwise misses out on the alternative experience actually being poor might provide.

I know the subject feels fraught, but, from my perspective, it really shouldn't be any more than in dealing with other life experiences any one of us may not share, but would want to show respect for. I don't want people to be poor like me, I just want them to respect that a life from a low income perspective might be different than they might know and to maybe try not to assume likeness where there may not be.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:36 PM on March 8 [18 favorites]

As for it not making me feel like a real mefite. The class assumptions, like the transphobia, come across as a signal that people don't truly have the backs of poor people here despite the talk about socialist revolution. So a little more examination of the privilege you bring to discussions before tossing off your hot takes and maybe understanding that people not like you might might have a different perspective would be a good start. Having money isn't something to feel guilty about or ashamed unless you are a billionaire committing fraud and hurt and breaking the law.
posted by kanata at 3:46 PM on March 8 [14 favorites]

Do the search-ability of the site, I won't give out a specific number, but I make enough that I'm fairly certain I'm out on the far right hand side of the site's bell curve. I make no bones about the fact that this is down to a small amount of luck and a large amount of privilege. I try to be mindful of that whenever I'm reading discussions of class or personal finance online, and even more so when I contemplate the possibility of speaking up in those discussions.

That mindfulness usually leads me to NOT speak up, because I'm very aware that I am in no way qualified to offer advice, nor in a position where I should be imposing on strangers to ask for it.
posted by Ipsifendus at 3:49 PM on March 8 [11 favorites]

Telling people they shouldn't post in the thread kinda speaks more pointedly to some people than others since, for example, there is no real issue I could face with telling people how poor I am, and I gather that's at least somewhat true for others in similar positions given how readily they also volunteer the info. The comment then isn't a universal, but a narrower warning.

You're not seeing the people who don't have much money but don't want to let anyone know that. There's even a comment in this thread explaining why someone might not want to make it public that they don't come from money:
[telling colleagues that you aren't familiar with having lots of money] may mark you as an outsider who doesn't belong. Not our kind, you know. ...judge you for not knowing. Or ... have it in the back of their mind when they decide whether or not you make partner next year.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:21 PM on March 8 [5 favorites]

I shared how much money I make because I believe that transparency about incomes is a way of combating inequality. I share my income with colleagues because I know that some - especially women - are being paid less than others for the same work. It makes me feel vulnerable to do so publically (the catfishing comments) but if I don't, then the employer class would use my reluctance against me and others - and I'm someone with privilege so I use it to advocate for greater income equality. If I could forgoe a raise and someone with a lower income would get it instead, I would do so.


It's very true to point out that income !=class. Class is very complex and culturally specific. But socioeconomic status does track pretty closely with income.
posted by jb at 4:31 PM on March 8 [11 favorites]

Once I worked at a very fancy place where, a few days after I started, a colleague remarked re: my interviews, "You know, you're not from around here but we could tell you came from a good family."

Truly, I think about that every day. What that meant. What a "good family" meant, to the people there, and how they decided that their elite circle included me.

Someone earlier in the thread mentioned that "poor vs. broke" distinction, which is something I talk about with people a lot. Yes, there were a couple of years in my twenties when I made well under $20k, but I went through those years with a) the knowledge that if I asked, my family would give me money, and b) the visible evidence of my accumulated privilege: straight white teeth, nice clothes, standard upper-middle class grooming (hair, makeup, etc.), a basically regionless accent, and confidence around rich people. I know that b) is how I got that job. I looked the part, and it's really hard to learn that shit if you're not born to it. Because of what my dad did, I was frequently exposed to people who were much, much wealthier than us (and we were always firmly upper-middle class), so I knew how they dressed and talked and behaved, and I knew that it was important to follow their lead. And my parents had the money to make sure I would always look like I fit in, too.

I think a lot about the opportunities I've had and the chances that I've been given. I think a lot about how little I've actually earned, and how much I've gotten because someone decided I looked like I "came from a good family".
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:49 PM on March 8 [42 favorites]

The idea that one should feel bad for being a success, which is the vibe I'm getting from some of the comments, is, to me, foolish.

I mean, in the course of a sentence you have called someone who hesitates before bringing up their success foolish.
posted by Celsius1414 at 4:51 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]

You're not seeing the people who don't have much money but don't want to let anyone know that. There's even a comment in this thread explaining why someone might not want to make it public that they don't come from money:
[telling colleagues that you aren't familiar with having lots of money] may mark you as an outsider who doesn't belong. Not our kind, you know. ...judge you for not knowing. Or ... have it in the back of their mind when they decide whether or not you make partner next year.

Sure, and there's no problem with that, but for those of us who have no illusion about being seen as "partner material" or otherwise have to worry about passing for anything but low level wage employees there isn't much left to take from us or lose. We simply are what we are and while we may wish to improve our place, aren't really caught up in the game of hiding our status since that just isn't possible. If people don't want to say what they make, that's cool with me. I'm not in any position to judge their concerns, many of them just aren't going to be shared by some for being out of the bounds of our own levels of worry and experience.

I'm gonna bow out now since I've said my piece, but just let me add that I just would like people to do better at recognizing that when the conversation turns to jobs like cashiers or other hourly wage earners that it isn't talked about as an abstraction, as some group of people "out there" since we're right here too and sometimes smart at being discussed as if we were only a theory. At the same time I'd also suggest that the notion that sometimes arises in various threads that there is some connection between virtue and income isn't really true all that true either, save for perhaps at the very highest level of wealth that almost certainly requires some chicanery to achieve. Poor and pure don't correlate any more than wealth and wisdom.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:04 PM on March 8 [21 favorites]

Class is a loaded topic period, and it's harder to figure out how to handle it well when we don't know how to talk about it.

I think that since we don't know how to talk about it, we won't be handling it well in this thread. Class isn't going to become an unloaded topic simply by spitballing about it.
posted by 23skidoo at 5:09 PM on March 8 [10 favorites]

Like Jacquelinne, I work for the government so my salary is a matter of public record (EC-3 here). It puts me at right about the median for the city (which is high relative to the cost of living), but my spouse makes more than I do so household-wise we're above the median. We both have PhDs. My family history is complicated and contradictory enough that I'd need paragraphs to give enough information.

One thing money-related that troubles me is that we will shortly start making significantly more money than we need (or maybe already do, I don't know, everything is complicated right now for $reasons and will take a year or two to sort out) and figuring out what to do about that.
posted by quaking fajita at 5:12 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]

I'm struggling to phrase this clearly, but I think inequality inevitably forces people to harm other each other, wealth and class are a particularly acute facet of that, and while I agree with the aim, the focus on individual experience here is going to cause more pain than progress.
posted by lucidium at 5:22 PM on March 8 [10 favorites]

Google's ads, which I think are shown through AdSense here, I believe can be targeted to audiences and demographics by household income. They use public IRS information (logged-in Google users plus other hints as to users identities). So I think there's probably a way to get some really snazzy graph showing how much we all make.
posted by floam at 5:37 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I’m going to remove this thread from recent activity. Feels like one of those with the potential for multiple buttonings and a bloodbath of emotions. It’s creeping me out.
posted by Celsius1414 at 5:41 PM on March 8 [6 favorites]

Although I'm sure it was started in good faith, this thread does feel like the "Just Share Something Bad" counterpart to "Just Share Something Good" below.

It does, however, remind me of something Jessamyn once wrote, one of the few things I've ever read on the internet that actually changed the way I think:

Everyone’s hardest struggle is their hardest struggle.

Having empathy for people who are dealing with suffering, even if I perceive that they’re more privileged than me, is a way of being gracious. I might think I can determine the “relative difficulty” of people’s problems (in that “Awww boo hoo your Porsche is in the shop!” way) but it’s still snotty and not useful. It’s easy to generalize, to minimize. I might think I can see and understand their struggles, but I probably cannot, not entirely. I can just listen to and understand other people’s feelings, I don’t have to share them or agree with them. I have sleep anxiety. It seems stupid and petty compared to “real” problems but it’s really real to me.

Hard struggles are hard struggles. Competitive suffering is a terrible spectator sport and it’s even worse for the players.

posted by neroli at 5:56 PM on March 8 [41 favorites]

More than the Vice-President. Less than the President.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 6:04 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]

I’m all of the above. Family was mid-upper middle class. I know how to sit down to dinner with the queen and fit right in. Went to a high end private school. Live as an artist in RV parks and spend most of my time drinking wine with people off the mainstream, because their stories are way more interesting than ordinary lives. I own a very expensive house I can’t afford to, and don’t want to, live in, wasn’t able to afford all the food and heat I wanted the last two months, and belong in every class and no class.
posted by MountainDaisy at 6:56 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]

Also, I am glad that people who have $800,000 to invest look to the wisdom of Metafilter for respected advice.
posted by MountainDaisy at 6:58 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]

My dad is in his mid-70s, and still speaks seriously -- and visibly moved -- about the amazing help that an aunt provided to him and my mom back in....1964? '65? giving them the thousand bucks for a down payment on their first house. His salary could pay the mortgage just like he had been paying the rent, but they needed that little shove to go from renters to owners. She recognized that she was quite old, and what good would an inheritance sometime in the indeterminate future do, compared with solving their immediate need?

He said it made all the difference in the world, and basically gave them their financial start in life.

On one hand, it was only a thousand bucks. On the other hand, it literally kick-started their whole economic future...and the aunt was right, and he never forgot.

Some day I want to give that kind of a hand-up to my kids. I am trying, thanks to working in higher ed (so they have access to affordable college education), but like...the scale of what would constitute these an equivalent boost to what that aunt gave my parents feels like it would be A Metic Butt-Ton Of Money.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:07 PM on March 8 [21 favorites]

I think an interesting thing here is that quite a few of us have personally experienced class mobility, at least in the financial sense.

I grew up quite poor, with a family income of about $30k for 5 people. I was mostly shielded from this as a child, but I eventually learned my parents had a tremendous amount of credit card debt. My mother did a lot of small jobs for cash, and I am mostly sure these were under the table and that's how we managed groceries and such. (My mother died when I was a teenager, and my father is a horrible person I disowned twenty years ago, so none of that financial mess affects me now.) I remember that when I applied to college, FAFSA's conclusion was that my family could afford to contribute about $30 per year to my education.

But I was fortunate to be quite smart and to have school work come naturally. And I'm white, so people were extra eager to help me, even in small town Texas. My guidance counselor set me up with $20/hr tutoring gigs and took me shopping (I'm pretty sure with her own money) to buy professional-ish clothes for academic competitions. My school paid for me to go on trips for such competitions. To this day, I have no idea if they paid for everyone or if some special deal was worked out just to cover me.

Because I was poor and smart and lucky and had a sad story about my mother dying of cancer, I had all of my college expenses covered, including basic living expenses. I was the first person in my extended family to earn a bachelors degree, unless you jump over to some second cousins once removed or something like this. I later went on to get a PhD and now I have a rather cushy academic job and fall pretty solidly into the upper middle class financially, even in the very expensive SF bay area. Including the freelancing I do, my income is a little north of $100k. This is a somewhat recent development for me, to have such a high salary, but I have always been optimistic about everything turning out okay for me.

While I have had periods with a low income, I have never felt the despair of feeling like it would be forever. So I understand a little, but there are many aspects of being poor that I've never had to live through. So I try to listen more and talk less. I remember that a lot of luck and a lot of kindness from others went into my success, and I try to pay that forward. I usually feel like I ought to be doing a better job of that.

I've got no idea where the average would fall for mefites, but I feel confident there are people who make noticeably more money than I do and people who make very little and pretty much everything in between.
posted by ktkt at 8:20 PM on March 8 [11 favorites]

> Truly, I think about that every day. What that meant. What a "good family" meant, to the people there, and how they decided that their elite circle included me.

A long time ago, I participated in a three-day Bridges Out of Poverty training that included discussion of the "hidden rules of class," which sounds a lot like the markers of class described in the comment above, i.e. at 21 "Hidden rules are the unspoken cues or habits of a group that let you know if you do or do not belong."

One of the things I like about the MeFi Wiki Get a lawyer page is how it includes insight into things like how to find an attorney to help enforce rights and fairness and equality, which is one of the 'hidden rules' - the wiki incorporates MeFite comments that break down the process and make it more accessible, and I think it reflects the spirit of the Bridges Out of Poverty training, which essentially is to identify barriers and figure out ways to constructively address them. I feel similarly about the ThereIsHelp, Homeless Survival Guide, and Disaster Planning & Recovery pages.

The Bridges Out of Poverty Study Guide also includes, at 22:
Observations About Hidden Rules

* Don’t criticize another person’s hidden rules; instead, talk about additional hidden rules that might be effective in certain settings.
* All of us bring with us the hidden rules of the class in which we were raised.
* One set of rules is not necessarily better or worse than another.
* We use hidden rules to thrive in the environment in which we find ourselves.
* Everyone, regardless of economic class, can benefit from knowing the hidden rules of the other two socioeconomic classes.
The Metafilter hive mind can be a valuable resource for figuring out how to survive and thrive in a system that includes so many barriers and inequalities, and one of the things I appreciate most about Metafilter is its diversity of voices and perspectives. It's not easy for me to assume that everyone is coming from the same class background and context, but it may be the operation of 'hidden rules' that helps create that impression.
posted by Little Dawn at 9:21 PM on March 8 [50 favorites]

I work on the cusp of part/full time and earn less than the personal allowance of £11,850 (~15.5K USD?), so I "don't pay tax". Except, of course, I do on weeks when I work more hours than usual and then have to wait for the extra wages to gradually come back to me over an ambiguous period of weeks. Fun times.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 9:28 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]

Fwiw, most people either assume I'm middle class or affect to.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 9:31 PM on March 8

I wrote a long reply, but I'll cut most of it away and leave this.

"At age 52, I make 120-130K USD. I am exceedingly lucky to do so. This wasn't always the case but even through years with low income, I was never really poor. I grew up middle class even though my parents grew up poor or very poor and working class or lower. Anyway, class gets messy and I'll probably never feel settled about it. Contextual whiplash at times. And, being an immigrant makes it even more complicated. But, I am very fortunate to have all the financial and social resources I need."
posted by Gotanda at 9:34 PM on March 8 [6 favorites]

I posted before reading the thread, because I didn't trust myself otherwise. Forgot about debt. Because I've got enough to get by but am broke enough not to ever pay for the use of money. Ask me about my credit rating!
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 9:43 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]

I grew up wealthy, upper-upper class, and then lived broke (not poor - I had a financial safety net available through family) and lower middle class. My kids come from family that is literally starvation level poor and I worked with and for people living starvation poor to emerging country middle class, while fundraising from millionaires and billionaires. I am now a broke-ass student panicking about my budget but with some safety net of social and family resources. A chunk of my budget goes to family who are otherwise at extreme-poverty level, as in there will be one meal that day.

I have the social resources of upper-class and my youngest goes to a school where 80% of her classmates' families are millionaires. She is on financial aid, as are seven other children in a theoretically public school of other 2,000. She gets bullied openly for being poor. I think it helps that we have clearly family members who she has met and stayed with living in extreme poverty to family members living in giant mansions related to actual nobility, and it's all a giant weird tapestry. My older kids have a very peculiar mix of class markers now.

When you're confronted with absolute fucking poverty, people think you have to either choose to give everything over or throw your hands up and turn your back. The only thing that's worked for me has been carving out a chunk in your money and actions and go, 'this is what I can do for outside my family and myself', and then you get on mostly with life. Otherwise I sit there with every book I want to buy, thinking "this is two months of rice, this is three immunisations, this would pay for another month of school" and I can't breathe. I used to come back and just cry turning on the taps and seeing clean water at home.

Also, having worked with people from living in extreme poverty to billionaire's child, I will say my advice is to never ever fucking marry the ultra-wealthy. I can think of maybe a half dozen truly kind and thoughtful (about money and people) very wealthy people out of several hundred. The ratio for working-class and lower middle-class is massively higher. People who grew up poor or lower middle-class and got rich by a job skill and are aware that's a market reward mechanism, not some innate valuation, were way better to work with and thoughtful about poverty and social change and just in general nicer people. Charity-givers were generally ego maniacs below the surface.

The less you have, the more you give. If the rich gave at the same rate as the poor, most of our global social issues would be funded.

It is weird on metafilter to see discussions of poverty in ask, because they have to be recalibrated by American/European poverty or global poverty level. And there's still a lot of othering, an assumption that 'The Poor' do not have voices or internet access (and thus would never belong on Metafilter) because they are foreign and distant and illiterate. I get Facebook live updates on the new baby in a one-room shack and one of the cousins is selling things online via Facebook and some other local app there. Metafilter is very insular and Euro-US when it comes to money.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 9:46 PM on March 8 [26 favorites]

Just my 2 cents worth (heh!), for me (and only partly because mefi is a pure-text medium); net worth, colour, race, gender etc do not come up for me. What strikes me again and again is the amount of grace here (some tough love sometimes but given caringly) but also an extraordinary humanity, writing this makes me tearful (in a packed resort restaurant in Southern NZ).

But to answer your core I:
So far I've never made above NZ$65k, hopefully maybe I can claw up to that level again one day.
posted by unearthed at 10:30 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]

I've wanted to have a thread about this problem for a long time, but now that it's here, I just feel a little icky and can't think of anything to say. I've felt alienated from a lot of this site for years because of income-related stuff, but it feels like the opportunity to finally talk about it is just weird and awkward.

Look, I don't want to get into my job history or finances. I don't want to hash out where I fit on some class spectrum. Just believe people when they say they're struggling, and listen when they ask you to remember that they're in the room, too.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 10:47 PM on March 8 [34 favorites]

My income is also (mostly) a matter of public record (GS-13), but I also get a pension from the military and a very small disability compensation, also from the military. Not bad for a kid who got kicked out of the house at 18 with a couple of hundred dollars from a fast-food job and resolved to never ask for anything from family ever again.

What you wouldn't see, is that until recently, I did not ever think about getting old. I never learned thing one about investing money or really anything but putting it in the savings account, and I'm not very good at that. I have some emergency money in the bank, but now I'm starting to have to think about how I'm going to live when I want to (or have to) stop working. That's like... not that far away. I've got some work to do, and the good news is I've started, little by little.
posted by ctmf at 11:44 PM on March 8 [5 favorites]

This thread is a very, very bad idea and needs to be deleted. It's a honey pot for doxxing & harassment, and a deliberate attempt to make users uncomfortable.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:53 AM on March 9 [12 favorites]

¢hat filter?
posted by Cranberry at 1:05 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]

If not anything else, I disapprove of the US-centric twist here. Income levels differ (in different countries), taxes differ, benefits that one gets from one's govermentses for said taxes differ, and the idea of what defines class (and how much it actually matters) differ. As soon as you have the grace to move your perspective out of your respective front yard, it makes no sense to talk like this.
posted by Namlit at 2:39 AM on March 9 [14 favorites]

I wouldn't add to such an already massive thread except that it immediately reminded me of this question I posted almost two years ago, and how surprised I was at some of the responses, particularly the more defensive ones. (For the record: my remarks about said friend's suggested vacations were reasons why I couldn't go on them with her when she asked, not unsolicited comments I made to her on her announcing her own travel plans.)

I think the FACT that those answers surprised me is evidence of how naïve I was and still am about questions of socioeconomic status on Metafilter, because it betrays an underlying assumption that griping about friction with very wealthy friends wouldn't hit a nerve with the average Mefite, which clearly in some cases it did. I also don't know that I would say MeFi has more significant blind spots or issues around discussions of money and class than US society at large (and because discussion here is, rightly or wrongly, dominated by USians I would say that that is the relevant metric).

FWIW, living in France the past eight years has shown me that, at least in this corner of Europe, issues surrounding class markers and discrimination vary from my experience in the US only in the details. I work (in a relatively low-paying field) primarily with the children of upper-middle-class professionals and civil servants (my own mother raised us while working first as a night cashier and then as a lower-level clerical employee--a job she was so happy to get she cried for 2 days straight after being hired). The alacrity with which they will sniff out and reject people without the right credentials is striking (assuming said people even manage to make it into their presence in the first place). I get a little leeway for being a foreigner, but they still eventually notice I'm not talking about the same ski vacations and lycées they are, and freeze me out of the very inner circle. *Shrug* I still like my job, but I have come to accept I'll ultimately have to go elsewhere if I want to advance past a certain level in my career.

(And by the way, I finally did have to dump the friend who was the subject of my question after she got wasted and made extremely cruel and condescending jokes, to my face, about me and people who grew up like me. And she positions herself as One Of The Nice Ones. So. Working-class people might be prickly and annoying on this topic, but there are a nonzero number of rich people, at least the ones with inherited wealth, who have at least as many hangups in the opposite direction.)
posted by peakes at 3:55 AM on March 9 [9 favorites]

I will add another voice noting that money earnt does not in any sense equal class, nor does it equal ease in life, particularly if you don't consider where someone lives, the safety nets they have or don't have and whatever else.

I could translate what I earn into USD, it wouldn't tell you anything about my class, how easy I find it to feed myself or my past. You could make a heap of assumptions though.

If we are going to talk of things Metafilter does badly the explicitly north American framing of this post, as though that equals Metafilter, would be a way better place to start.

What a terrible thread.
posted by deadwax at 4:03 AM on March 9 [13 favorites]

Those of you with your shit in order, that's really awesome and well done.
posted by floam at 4:04 AM on March 9 [6 favorites]

This thread is a very, very bad idea and needs to be deleted. It's a honey pot for doxxing & harassment,

This is a perfectly valid opinion.

and a deliberate attempt to make users uncomfortable.

Stop with that shit, right now. Please don't pretend you have divined some sinister "deliberate" agenda behind this post just because you don't like it.
posted by duffell at 4:23 AM on March 9 [49 favorites]

I might be one of the lowest income MeFites in the history of MeFi, be it average annual income or aggregate total. I've had many years where I probably had/made less than 3k total, or even less. I don't know, I wasn't really counting the lack of money.

I've spent much of my adult life either fully or partially homeless. In hindsight I know why (above and beyond late stage capitalism!) and it's a particularly fucky set of issues. I'm a survivor of severe abuse. I'm trans. It's likely I'm undiagnosed autistic spectrum. I run from myself and my problems, a lot.

And yet I generally don't care because I also might be one of the wealthiest in terms of friendship and experiences and just richness of life. Plus free time. I spent 4 hours today meditating and getting higher than the damn sun on nothing more than my own breathing and birdsong and the cleanest air in the continental US. Another part of the day was spent recording the sound of hummingbirds.

On a whole, right now I want for very little short of a compatible and healthy partnership with someone.

And maybe my own body weight in high grade cannabis and extracts.

Sure, there's stuff I'd like to solve with money like getting laser therapy and getting my dangerously cruddy teeth fixed, but if I obsess about it it just leads to resentment, and I forget to give myself credit for what I have been able to do.

I do know that MetaFilter has a bit of a blind spot to it's privilege and status, but what mainly personally bugs me about that is what I feel is excessive consumerism combined with a lack of awareness that a lot of people can't solve their day to day problems with ready money, say via an Amazon order, going to the dentist or even simply choosing to eat healthier.

I've read some unintentionally hurtful things here that are definitely class based, things of the general "I can't believe someone lives like that? Why don't they do x?" where x is something taken for granted about being able to solve that problem with non-existent money or insurance or moving to a new house or job or whatever.

On the other other hand, I've known MeFi to be very caring and generous. I think I've paid for my own drinks or food at a meetup maybe once. When I put my ambient albums up on Bandcamp for $5 a few people were paying $50 for it. And this site saved my damn fool life.

I think we're a lot more aware of income disparity and class than most of America and most web forums out there. I think we mostly get along and are figuring it out, and that we have a lot of common ground, shared values and goals. I think we are less aspirational and gauche about income or personal achievement, and in this thread alone there are many people showing how aware they are of their luck, status and/or privilege.

As a metaphorical exercise, if we bought a town or ranch together to start a co-op and we built it to suit, I could see it being good. There would be tiny houses, maybe a few modern concrete condos, and at least one sprawling mansion in the form of an old Victorian or some ranch house. There'd be gardens and solar panels and a even a very industrial workshop. And, sure, there would be a whole lot of people hunched over computers.

There would be some people with entirely too many towels and some with only one. There would be some people with far too many musical instruments and some with none at all.

There would be a lot of diversity and differences, if mainly at either end of the Bell curve.

But of all the sites on the internet, I think we'd figure out how to share and how to get along.

Because we're already doing it.
posted by loquacious at 4:35 AM on March 9 [58 favorites]

Just a reminder, you can make every thread a place to share something good. I won't be discussing this issue here because it feels too personal and I'm not a fan of how it was framed to begin with.

But I will say this. Be kind to yourself and others. I say it to myself every moment I'm about to open my mouth or type out a thought. Cheers my MetaFilter friends. Be good to one another.
posted by Fizz at 5:03 AM on March 9 [26 favorites]

As someone up above pointed out: the numbers following the dollar sign on your paycheck is only part of the puzzle. As is the numbers following the dollar sign on your bills, that's also just part. As is the numbers on the checks your parents send you, IF they even do that. As are the numbers on the checks your partner gets - IF you even have a partner. As are the average price tags on things where you live.

Another couple pieces of the puzzle I haven't seen addressed are: "What ideas do you have about all those various numbers" and "have you been properly taught about what to do with that money when you get it". Also "how were you affected by the various ups and downs of the global economy". I've sort of seen "how did your parents think about those numbers" as well.

I grew up with a working dad and a stay-at-home mom for the first few years of my childhood, and then Mom went back to work part time when I was in Jr. High; partly for the money but partly for her own satisfaction. (She is amazingly good with tiny children and also really enjoys hanging with them, and so went back to work in child care.) Financially we did....okay. But my maternal grandparents were a little skittish about money, and so Mom was too; and that rubbed off on me, and I have had definite anxiety about money.

At times, however, that anxiety was well-founded. I wanted to go into the arts; I made a really good go of it for ten years. However, I think one of the contributing factors to my not having advanced as much as I could is that my anxiety about not having a steady income cut into my concentration and dedication to my work, and I just couldn't commit as full-weight as I probably needed to. I've accepted that that is just how I'm wired, and that that is okay. (There was a thread some time back that was a dissent against "monetizing your passion", and you'll find me all over there; that's where I am now with my art/craft/writing.)

Also, I was unlucky enough to be trying to do a job search during the financial crisis; that was the beginning of ten solid years of being un/under-employed. I was able to keep afloat, but only by taking little hits on my credit card every so often; that brought my debt up into the five figures. My parents, who always said that I could call on them for help, were at the same time trying to handle my grandfather's elder care, and were stretched themselves; the one time that I deliberately asked them for a small loan, which I was going to be able to pay back within two weeks, they were skittish, and my trust in their support took a ding as a result. (The family dynamic in everyone is complicated, though, and I'm sure that factors in.)

Smash-cut to today, where we see all of this play out in really interesting ways in 3 different recent events in my life:

* I just had a conversation with my parents last night; there was a home-repair problem with my heat that I was hoping to DIY without bugging the super. (I've since fixed it, by trying a trick my super told me a while back.) During the course of that conversation, I mentioned that my gas and electric were billed separately from the rent, and that I was responsible for both, and you could literally hear the light bulb go off over Dad's head; he hadn't realized that I'd been paying for my utilities on top of my rent all this time. I think their mental conception of my expenses shifted right then.

* I got the news in mid-January that I was going to need to find a new job because my office was closing. I kind of flipped out, because I had a bit of a flashback to job hunting in 2009 when all sorts of employment agencies were making me promises and nothing was happening. However, within only one week of me posting my resume online, someone reached out to me with a position, I rocked both the interviews, and then had an offer only a week after that - starting my new job only three days after the old one ended. At the same salary and similar benefits. My own mental conception of my marketability also shifted then.

* About a year ago I was sort of keeping my head above water making payments towards debt and keeping the rest of things going. But something prompted me to make an appointment with one of the free financial advisers paid through the city - and I started working with an AMAZING adviser, who gave me pointers on how to navigate the quagmire that is "personal finance" and re-think my entire approach to finance. I would never have been able to afford her on my own, and it is only because i live in a major city that I am able to access her advice for free. She has been an invaluable resource, and thanks to her assistance, we've come up with a debt paydown plan that not only can I manage, but that will get me out of debt even faster.

* And let us not discount luck in all of this. My parents got news of a windfall recently - someone did a random audit on my grandparents' estate and found that someone underestimated something somewhere, and my mom and her siblings are getting a sizeable payment to make up the shortfall. It was pure blind luck that that audit happened. In turn, my parents have decided that they will be sharing some of mom's cut of that payout with me, and that will be going towards my debt - to the point that at this time next year I should be 100% debt-free for the first time since I was 17. And within two years, sticking with the plan I have, I should actually HAVE that six months of savings.

You've noticed I've not talked about the numbers themselves. Because the numbers don't matter. What does matter is the luck and the other factors:

* How my parents saw money and how they passed that onto me
* How the financial crisis of 2009 impacted my savings, my debt, my employment and my emotional relationship with all that
* How caring for elders impacted my parents' own relationship with money
* How a misunderstanding about what my bills actually were may have been affecting my parents' opinions about my own financial situation
* How my address affects my expenses
* How my address also affects my access to financial advice
* How not knowing how my own emotions about money affected me may have been hindering me

Those are all things that can affect anyone at any level of income, and I think they should be part of the discussion as well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:16 AM on March 9 [23 favorites]

I did some work with my employer’s recruitment policy for a while, when we were trying to measure socioeconomic status as part of diversity monitoring of new hires. (All of it anonymous and optional of course.)

It was one of the trickiest diversity metrics to measure (and also one of the ones in which we were clearly performing worst). We used a fairly standard range of questions which were mostly around people’s situation when they themselves were grown up, not around family income specifically but around things like: did your family own their own home, were you privately or state educated, were you eligible for free school meals, what qualifications did your parents have, what kind of occupation was the highest wage-earner in your household. And even that kind of more nuanced grading than “what is/was your household income” is a pretty rough guide, because things that work well for one generational cohort don’t work so well for others (like parental qualifications).

It is hard. But income is definitely only one part of the picture, and one that doesn’t tell you a lot of other things - about access to education, social capital, cultural capital, how your expectations have been shaped by your environment, how that then affects your opportunities going forward.

One of the other things I learnt was that in terms of income there’s a really strong tendency for people to see themselves as being around average, whether they’re way above average household income or way below it. Probably me included; I know my household income at the moment is above average, but I still feel roughly average, as much as I did when I was significantly below.

(This is all U.K.-specific, although I suspect that class being messy and hard and more complicated than income probably isn’t.)
posted by Catseye at 6:02 AM on March 9 [6 favorites]

I don’t like to dwell on it, because it’s my every day, but my partner and I live below the federal poverty level. Without help from our lower-middle-class families we would likely be homeless. I live in fear of what will happen when they’re gone. I wish I could just fear missing them!

And yes, I frequently have to walk away from threads due to infuriating and inaccurate assumptions about class. I’m well-educated and speak like the middle-class Californian I once was. Don’t make assumptions based on that, please.
posted by thoroughburro at 6:02 AM on March 9 [7 favorites]

All this discussion of class and no-one has mentioned the Tatler on what's U and non-U for 2019 yet?

US salaries are meaningless to me - there is so much difference in things like cost of living (I know this varies wildly across the country), healthcare costs and so on that I just can't mentally convert them to UK versions. And that's before you get to the non-financial aspects of class. I'm solidly middle to upper-middle class, and have been all my life - but at the same time I am very aware that I don't hit class norms 'properly' in a number of areas (varying between not caring, actively not wanting to, or not able to) around behaviour, choices, and lifestyle. It's difficult to explain exactly what I mean, but it's obvious that for people for whom this matters I am sort-of but not totally acceptable as part of their social circle. Then beyond that, the phrases "genteel poverty" and "you can't buy class" exist for a reason: a change in circumstance does not necessarily lead to a change in mindset or following of class norms.
posted by Vortisaur at 6:15 AM on March 9 [3 favorites]

IMHO class and money or two different things. Having class is knowing who you are and respecting yourself and each and every other person. It is using good manners automatically as a reflection of that. Class is not being knowledgable about art, music, etc.
Money is just money. You can have money and no class, class and no money. Those who look down on others for having no money, etc. have no class. Those who look down on others that have money, etc. have no class.
posted by Sunday Morning at 6:27 AM on March 9

I don't usually get a chance to vent about this on my Internet Home, so forgive me for getting grim, but...

My partner and I joke that suicide is our retirement plan. This is very common talk among our friends, as well, who are in similar situations. It's not really a joke. I view suicide as a basic human right. If you want us (the broad us) to stick around, you can't force us, you can only help to change our environment. If you don't care, worry not; we'll be out of your hair soon enough.

We get help from our lower-middle-class parents, but both of us have legitimately upper-class relatives for whom our circumstances are an apparent mystery. My brother is a very successful musician and his wife is an actress. They recently complained that it's hard to send us Christmas gifts, because they can't ship wine to our flyover state. It was extremely hard not to reply with acid, "Brother, just send the cash. We'll say we bought nice wine, while actually supplementing our poor diet for the week or two it lasts. Doofus."

I should also say, many of our friends are even worse off than us and deal with it more gracefully. They've had more practice. And many people are even worse off than them. It's pretty dismal out there, y'all. Help.
posted by thoroughburro at 6:28 AM on March 9 [11 favorites]

Money is just money.

Wrong. Under capitalism, money is life. I know how to eat well, but we eat trash because it's all we can afford financially and emotionally. I have chronic health issues which go poorly treated because the doctors within literally 400 miles won't take new Medicaid patients. We live shorter and shittier lives for want of money.
posted by thoroughburro at 6:32 AM on March 9 [33 favorites]

I want to get a sense for how we can be more aware and inclusive about this topic, and I'm not sure that we can meaningfully participate without explaining where we stand--whether baldly in real currency or in terms of what getting by or broke or poor or wealthy even look like to you.

I think you'll find that metafilter people come from all over the class scale - and since we also come from different countries, that class itself is defined differently in different cultures.

I’m glad these things were said above; I grew up in a non-western (though white) country and these kind of conversations frequently feel like they completely exclude my experience.

Where I grew up, we didn’t have classes in quite the same way that they seem to be talked about in the UK/ US, for example. I also feel that the ways westerners talk about these things is profoundly alienating. For example, education as a privilege. Where I am, education can NOW give you a leg up (or not), but historically it was just as likely to be a huge liability politically (or an asset socially). Going beyond this, the idea that it is a privilege ANYWHERE is repugnant; it is not a privilege, it is a RIGHT, and systematically depriving people of a solid education is a social crime (both in the sense of being perpetrated by society and AGAINST society, because treating your members like shit is going to bite you in the butt at some point if you are a society).

These are some of the factors that distinguished people and groups where I come from:

• We had politically empowered, politically neither-here-nor-there, and severely disenfranchised (like, with family members being tortured in prison for decades for political reasons type of thing). Political capital was mostly inversely proportional to level of education.
• We had socially respected, socially neither-here-nor-there, and csum of the earth. This was somewhat independent of both political and economic considerations.
• Relatedly, we had highly educated people (to standards that would not necessarily completely overlap with what would be considered highly educated in contemporary US), average, and people on whom education didn’t make much of a mark. Education was free for all, but there were invisible obstacles (for example, it was hard for the politically disenfranchised to go to university; university education was seriously restricted in other ways, too). Education was socially valued but politically a liability (the situation is still a bit like this, but much less so; education is still somewhat socially valued, though significantly less than it used to be, and it’s no longer quite the political handicap it was, though you are still going to do better if you manage to downplay it).
• We had economically obscenely rich, then various flavours of well-off, and various flavours of poor. Economic standing was frequently inversely proportional to level of education. It was more often than not directly related to political standing, frequently as a direct consequence thereof.
• We had a robust rural population, with stark differences between the rural and urban populations.
• We had (still have) a very networking culture, where your standing and wellbeing depended a lot on who you are connected to.
• We had (and still have) a national health care service; access to the service and then quality of service depended on who you knew and where you lived as well as on the bribes you were able/ willing to pay.

These were some of the factors that combined into a family’s/ person’s standing when I grew up. The way these factors combined in each person’s life could be quite idiosyncratic. Though there were obvious tendencies and groupings into classes of people, there is not much that overlaps comfortably with the western lower, middle, upper class system (and sometimes I wonder even in the west how useful it is to approach these matters in such stark and simplistic terms).

For example, you could be a peasant who is known in their village as hard-working and diligent as well as wise – never rash and always thoughtful and considered when venturing opinions. That would give you A LOT of social capital and respect in your immediate environment, though you may lose a significant portion of it once you step outside even if only by virtue of being a peasant (a class of people simultaneously idealized and treated with mild contempt and in a patronizing manner). If you were from a village that hadn’t gone through nationalization, there was a good chance that you owned your land, some animals, and a garden big enough to feed your family and to produce just enough surplus for you to be able, muddling through the various prohibition and if you had the right networking capital/ ability, to procure other necessities, such as wheat. You probably didn’t have a lot of disposable income unless you had quite a LOT of networking capital – which was always risky and could quite quickly tumble you from politically neither-here-nor-there to straight-up disenfranchised. Education-wise, you could either be quite well-educated though still firmly rooted in your own, rural culture – quite different from the culture of the urban intelligentsia – or else relatively school-uneducated, but very well educated in those respects that matter in your environment (social and natural) and in your culture (obviously, you could also be completely uneducated on all fronts, but then you were unlikely to have social standing).

If you came from a family with a lot of political clout, you would be somewhere between very well-off and obscenely rich. You would be seriously undereducated (and proud of it) despite taking full advantage of the free schooling system. In fact, your lack of education itself is a class marker – it takes serious privilege to bully an entire school system into giving you high pass marks (on fear of imprisonment for the teachers) and later to get an excellent position despite you having no training beyond, with a bit of luck, signing your name. People would be brown-nosing to your face but secretly fear and despise you. You would have access to the best health care & other resources, though you might get less than where people can get away with it without being caught as a sort of subversive rebellion and preservation of their own dignity (or scraps thereof). Networking is a no-brainer for you; in fact, you are probably one of the people others try to NETWORK with.

You could be a worker, with middling political capital deriving from your profession, living in an amazing flat nationalized from its previous owners and which was allotted to you in a stroke of good luck. Quite possibly you make a fairly good income, but have pretty much zero social capital because you have been uprooted from your rural environment where everybody knew and respected you and you are now in a place where no one knows you/ gives two shits. You might be really well-educated (free schooling combined with the fact that you have a curious mind) and have a big library, which gets you SOME social capital, but not enough to translate into networking capital, so when you develop appendicitis you die because the free national health service works on bribes and corruption and knowing the right people, and you’re too unconnected to navigate it.

In my family, we were politically disenfranchised (family members in prison for decades, regular security police raids, children having to be officially ‘adopted’ to be able to go to school), socially quite respected, with a lot of education capital. Networking-wise we were laughable. Economically – my parents had a good income, but since there was nothing to buy in shops we frequently went hungry. Good bread with Rama margarine (the height of sophistication!) and a bit of soup cube sprinkled on it were rare treats. We lived in an amazing flat in the town centre. Every now and then, my family’s significant social capital tipped over into networking capital despite our ineptitude, and we would get some cheese, eggs, or a sausage, or some such from acquaintances in the country, who were much better off in terms of goods (though my parents we probably better-off in income).

The situation is very changed now, but it is still not very easy to think in terms of lower, middle and upper, and have all those factors I mention above align in logical (at least to a western mind) way. I mean, you now have a category for adventurousness that might contribute to whether you are better or worse off economically: those of us who are willing to leave everything behind and work for a while in a foreign country where you will be reviled and exploited have a good chance of coming back and building a (more) comfortable life.

At a personal level, for me, the question is not so much what class I am, but whether or not I am comfortable or struggling. I don’t feel there is a middle ground.

With regard to my own personal standing & life, I feel that the place I am at currently (as far as I am concerned, a very good place, after a decade of severe struggles which it felt at times I would be losing) is due to a mix of my advantages/ circumstances, my merits, and my biggest failings: I have huge problems with authority, therefore I have stuck to freelancing; I can work from anywhere; I live in a country with very good internet; I am seriously indolent (so I stuck it out in a very bad situation until it suddenly turned good, now I’m rewarded for loyalty); I am quite well-educated and have a good head; I live in a country where rural property is seriously cheap; I’m prone to catastrophizing (which means that the dentist who told me I need to replace all my teeth did me a really good turn even while she was doing what essentially amounts to malpractice - I started saving everything I could , counting my savings in teeth, until I found out that her advice was utter bullshit. Luckily, I freelance and can therefore work from a rural area – where I about to buy a house worth 20 teeth!), etc.

I mean, even this weird thing, I think, ultimately worked in my favour: my family was multi-dysfunctional. Other than physical abuse, there was a lot of verbal abuse, denying my needs, even denying my right to life. I remember being 9 or 10 when I first thought “you know what, fuck you, if you don’t think I deserve to live, I do just by virtue of the fact of being around and I will never again be ashamed of who I am” (in hindsight, that’s when my depression lifted, which I’d been suffering from since age 6). Things didn’t work out quite like that – plenty of embarrassing moments in my life – but I LOOK like I belong pretty much wherever I am and I NEVER feel less than anyone, deep inside, just on the basis of my background or my identity. Just by being assholes, my parents unwittingly did me a good turn.

For me, given my history and circumstances in my country, this is what makes someone comfortable: having reliable, secure homing with no strings attached and the ability to feed yourself. That’s it. By this definition, I am about to become very comfortable. So rather than saying what my income is and whether I am middle class, here’s my deal: I am about to have a permanent abode after moving a total of 34 times in my adult life, I have a very well-paying contract (for my country) for a couple of years, I’m kind of healthy and know that I can support myself in a range of ways even if my contract runs out, I don’t have to live with abusive people anymore, and I have a lot of good intentions and exciting thoughts. As far as I’m concerned, I’m good.
posted by doggod at 7:08 AM on March 9 [27 favorites]

I am upper-middle-class (two professional incomes, no kids), but that's not my background, and I definitely feel weird about it. I've definitely used Ask to figure out how this is supposed to work, so, thanks?
posted by yarntheory at 7:27 AM on March 9 [8 favorites]

Maybe in a weird position because everyone in my industry knows how much I make right now in my government job as well as how much I will make next year in the private sector, but....

I don't get being defensive about having money or having a family with money. There is literally nothing you could say to me to make me feel bad about earning a fuck ton of cash. Maybe this is a "have been broke before" thing but lol fuck: having money is the absolute best and if you feel like a victim for it that, honestly, might be a you thing.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 7:29 AM on March 9 [7 favorites]

Wrong. Under capitalism, money is life.

Maybe I should have just said this. If you feel bad about having access to something literally everyone needs and wants, well, uh, how's clean water working out for you? I mean, come on, count your blessings.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 7:30 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]

doggod, thanks for such an interesting and nuanced explanation.
posted by Vortisaur at 7:57 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]

I actually don't think that a chide to "count your blessings", however gentle, is quite fair. The problems people are wrestling with are still problems, and you can't possibly know all of the ingredients in the stew of factors that may be hampering their ability to handle those problems.

That's part of what i was trying to get at with my comment. If you look only at the salary I'm getting, I'm doing dang well. It's when you start adding in the expenses and the debt and the personal history of money anxiety and the family pattern of money anxiety and the chaotic employment history and my age and all of the other factors that you realize " it, so that salary is affecting you differently than it would hit someone else."

Before you chide someone to "count your blessings", maybe make sure that what look like blessings to you are blessings to them. Or see what they may be cursed with as well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:01 AM on March 9 [8 favorites]

I’m glad someone brought this up. To my knowledge there hasn’t been an explicit discussion of income gaps within Our Community beyond individual stories of struggles. This is such a potentially divisive issue and I sincerely hope it doesn’t become a recurring discussion. Listening to people’s personal stories over the years, I have come to see income as similar to things like race, age, gender, religion, sexuality, mental illness — highly important personal identifiers that one would be well advised to recognize the diversity in this community, that one’s own situation is likely to be almost unimaginably different than someone who might be reading your comment and to act accordingly. In fact, it is our ability to (usually) deal with each other directly, from our hearts, with our differences present but not obstructive, that makes this place special.

“From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs” is an idea that isn’t just for godless communists, it’s a guiding principle for civility.

current income: $0, but I’m fine, really and this figure describes almost nothing about my life at this moment

posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:04 AM on March 9 [10 favorites]

I don't get being defensive about having money or having a family with money. There is literally nothing you could say to me to make me feel bad about earning a fuck ton of cash. Maybe this is a "have been broke before" thing but lol fuck: having money is the absolute best and if you feel like a victim for it that, honestly, might be a you thing.

I think there’s a huge, huge difference between feeling like a victim and feeling bad. I grew up Catholic, and I don’t think there’s any way for me to feel about money that isn’t a bad feeling.
posted by eirias at 8:28 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]

I'm going to focus on relationship to money rather than actual dollar amounts, as I think the former is more interesting than the latter.

I grew up in a one-earner household, although it would occasionally be a two-earner household when money was tight. Three siblings, I was the youngest, and rare vacations tended to be road trips. Parents kept financial information closer to the vest, and didn't teach us any money management skills. First time I had $100 in the bank from my first job, I spent it all very quickly and didn't understand where it went, and they said "too bad", offering no insight
or advice. So I didn't understand money, how to get it, use it or keep it, and developed a fear of being broke and homeless that I finally shook in my 40s, although an unexpected layoff and six months of unemployment brought it back.

Moved out at nineteen, lived in other people's homes and had roommates except for one six month period I had my own terrible roach-infested place that cost 2/3 of my take-home pay to rent but it was glorious. Had an ancient car missing a window and felt safe parking it in Uptown, but the first time I parked it in an affluent area someone rifled through it, and in another affluent area it was vandalized, and that left a lasting impression on me that would take a while to unpack here.

After a change in career path thanks to some luck and opportunity, a move out to Los Angeles, and a willingness to focus on having a steady job so my partner at the time didn't need one, I managed to get to a stable place that lets me support my mother (my father kept the finances from her, too, so she knows nothing of financial management and squandered most of what my father had saved and refused to talk about money until it became dire) and raise kids.

I am on track to help send them to college, although I see that a year's tuition at a state college is ~$1200, the same as my college cost; I held multiple jobs to pay for it, since my parents claimed no money, and had no knowledge of how to navigate the system for financial aid (and no willingness to participate.) Dropped out after a few years when my grades plummeted and I realized I could work for free as one of my jobs and come out with more money each month. Find myself feeling resentful about that.

With my kids, I try to teach them about money and how to buy about-to-expire food at a discount and share day to day details transparently, and they get an allowance but have to contribute to the household to earn it. as for me, I waffle between making wise financial choices and foolish ones, as I'm still learning my own way around money that I never thought I'd have and I don't know how to use, and that none of my friends have... And if I asked my career peers i'm certain they would be embarrassed for me (I recently admitted to a very nice, outgoing, say-hi-every-day co-worker that I didn't finish college, and she hasn't spoken to me since )

My eyes are still on keeping a roof over the kids' heads, and over mine, and my ex partner's too, and I'm looking forward to the kids becoming adults so I can move into a small cheaper place closer to my job so I can bank as much money as possible before I lose the job or age out of it, as I am certain that every job I hold will be my last and I'll be on the street afterward. I'd prefer my kids didn't need to support me, although I'm happy to support my mom.

So: if you ever wonder where I'm coming from with money, there you go. More interesting than talking dollar amounts, I think.
posted by davejay at 9:02 AM on March 9 [6 favorites]

I make about 1100/mo on disability, and anywhere from 300 to 800 a month freelancing. I have just gotten a substantial settlement this year, which cancelled any debt, but i am worried that i am just spending it willy nilly.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:03 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]

I think there’s a huge, huge difference between feeling like a victim and feeling bad. I grew up Catholic, and I don’t think there’s any way for me to feel about money that isn’t a bad feeling.

understandable, but I'm referring more to what (I read as) people feeling personally attacked whenever anyone talks about money, class, income, etc. in a way that indicates that some people have it better than others. I definitely have it better than others, and thank god for that. It would be a little much for me to act like my good fortune is a legit weakness or vulnerability instead of a massive, massive stroke of luck.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 9:19 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]

Little Dawn: thanks for your comment about Bridges Out of Poverty. We have an unfunded project at work that's been languishing for years which is a similar concept for self-represented litigants and your comment has given me some great ideas about how to "sell" the project to funders and community partners.

But yes--this invisible rules of class was the experience I had growing up, as a perfectly-financially-secure white kid in a America whose friends all either came from lots of inherited money or could trace their family back to the Pilgrims or belonged to clubs where you had to have a letter of recommendation written for you as a pre-schooler. I had some fascinating conversations with my mother about that as a teenager.
posted by crush at 9:20 AM on March 9 [3 favorites]

I just wish people would be a bit more mindful of the audience here.

I think it's tricky because the site encompasses a lot of different types of people and while some people see talking about your income, inheritance or background as necessarily braggy and/or rude, other people see it as just talking about stuff in their lives. And this is part of the class divide here and elsewhere. I am fascinated by this topic, personally.

I grew up in a rural farming community next to a commuter suburb of Boston, my parents were "weird" and my mother was anxious about money to a fault. Before I had any class sensibility I assumed we were poor because my mom never let us spend any money and because a lot of my neighbors who looked/dressed like us did not have much money. But then it got confusing.

I went to high school in the commuter suburb with kids who had money, and with some who didn't and it was clear our family in some ways was like the kids with money (I got medical and dental attention including braces, my parents each had a car, I lived in a house not an apartment, I got my hair cut by someone else) and in some ways like the kids without any (I wore hand-me-downs most of the time, often from our neighbors, I'd almost never been in an airplane, I had to have a job if I wanted spending money above a small allowance) and it was confusing. I got accepted into college and didn't have to get loans because there was "Money from the grandparents." I went to Hampshire College and it was very much an introduction to class consciousness. A lot of students being very vocal about class in America and everyone's position in it, its relationship to the capitalistic system, and our responsibilities to the world because of our class.

After college I left New England and moved to Seattle where I "supported myself" (i.e. I made all my own money but I also didn't have any debt and I didn't quite understand the role of no-debt in my own privilege). I paid for my own grad school but my grandparent "helped me out" with rent until I got married (at which point they abruptly stopped). I got a lot of my mother's money anxiousness and barely spent any money, became a money hoarder almost.

I reflected more on the class history of my parents which was... more affluent than I had really known or considered, even though they "dropped out" and rejected that background like so many other people did in the sixties and seventies. And that was the thing... I grew up in this rural environment feeling I was a native (we didn't interact with my grandparents that much so I didn't feel like a two-culture kid) but to my parents, they were just playing at it, always knew there was a fallback in a way that I didn't.

I supported myself but always had a safety net. When I wanted to buy a house a parent helped me with a down payment. I saved money like there was an impending recession, always shopping at the dented can store and I still wear hand-me-downs though now they're from the thrift store. I moved to a rural farming area like the one I grew up in (which is now a very affluent suburb in MA) with almost no racial or cultural diversity but a wide amount of class diversity.

Cut to the present, more or less. I've been in the workforce for thirty years. Single (my partner and I are not married), no kids, one amicable divorce in my past. Both my parents have died leaving me and my sister two houses, two lifetimes of stuff, and two retirement funds. We have to take mandatory distributions from these funds. Today is my mother's birthday. We set it up so that the distributions happen on our parents' birthdays. I have some cash, today, that helps me pay for my health insurance.

When my mother got her cancer diagnosis and realized she didn't need enough money to live into her nineties, she started to loosen up about it. She also talked about it a lot. Where her money was, what her money plans were, all that stuff, knowing that when my father died we were really adrift figuring out his situation (I was executor for both). I work more or less when I want to and get to charge what I want (big number or small). That may change, but it's been an interesting place for me as I deal with other challenges (health, mental health, friends and family challenges) It's funny because my sister, who is on this path with me, has a different approach. Regular good job, makes and spends a lot of money. I joke that my retirement plan is her basement. She is okay with this; that idea calms me. I've never had a plan.

I am very "good with money" because my parents both came from families that had some and, my mother especially, were communicative about how it worked. I am also... philanthropic? I give money and time to a pretty long list of local and national organization because I can. It's hard to talk about it, for me, without seeming braggy so I won't. I'm embarrassed by my situation because I'm a money hoarding anti-capitalist crank who also has a summer place. If people hate me for that I totally 100% understand it.

If I can be here and help someone else out with any of these topics (your windfall, your house you don't live in, your estate planning, your class markers, your relatives and their money concerns, your own money irrationality) I am here for it.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 9:41 AM on March 9 [34 favorites]

Oh! Huh--I forgot the important part of that sentence:

But yes--this invisible rules of class was the experience I had growing up, as a perfectly-financially-secure white kid in a America whose friends all either came from lots of inherited money or could trace their family back to the Pilgrims or belonged to clubs where you had to have a letter of recommendation written for you as a pre-schooler where I did not inherit money, had over-on-the-boat-living-relatives, and could not be invited to any social clubs.
posted by crush at 9:54 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]

understandable, but I'm referring more to what (I read as) people feeling personally attacked whenever anyone talks about money, class, income, etc. in a way that indicates that some people have it better than others. I definitely have it better than others, and thank god for that. It would be a little much for me to act like my good fortune is a legit weakness or vulnerability instead of a massive, massive stroke of luck.

Are you sure you’re attributing that right, though? I mean, rich victimhood is definitely a thing, espoused for instance by the self-styled John Galts of the world, but I don’t feel like I’m seeing much of that here. I see some reflexive shame, which I think is inspired by a need that people have to feel themselves in community with the people they care about, and a fear that widespread knowledge of their difference will remove them from that community. I both share this impulse and agree that it doesn’t always serve us very well. So instead, I shut up. That’s probably not great either, for the reasons articulated by sciatrix. It’s hard to fix inequality we don’t know about. In the normal course of work a colleague who is significantly senior to me discovered that I outearn her, and shared that fact with me. It’s stupid and unfair, and probably reflects a decade or more of bad state pay policy and the related choice on my part to job hop for a few years, and it was good that she found out so that she could complain to our boss. It is also a tiny pebble in the shoe of our working relationship, now. I am not the victim here in any way. I still feel super super weird. I am not going to tell her that because it serves nobody for me to make my feelings the center of the problem. But this thread is about feelings as much as it is about money per se, and so I share my feelings here as an example.

But I worry that this framing you’ve adopted, that people who feel awkward about their good fortune because they know it isn’t shared are trying to cast themselves as victims — I worry that this framing may hurt rather than help the sense of community we are all seeking. (At least, I assume that’s why other people join MetaTalk threads. I’ve been here about a year and someone told me this is where y’all used to have knockdown-dragouts about site policy, but I mostly come here for the warm fuzzies.)
posted by eirias at 10:01 AM on March 9 [8 favorites]

I have a very traditional UK upper working class to middle class story. My dad had a skilled manual job that was enough for us to have a reasonable standard of living but not a lot left over. I went to decent state schools and got into Cambridge university (and I'm old enough to have been mostly grant supported so left with very little student debt).

I was able to buy a house before property in Cambridge became an insane proposition. I have had a great career in software and I'm now senior enough to have an income in the top few percent of UK earners. So I'm now rich by the standards of most people but I'm aware my background has affected me in a couple of ways.

I have always been very risk averse about losing my job and current situation which has definitely held me back compared to people I know who had more safety net to fall back on and are now seriously rich from founding companies. I feel this more now as I get older in the software industry and think about what happens if (when) I get laid off again.

I am also aware that since Cambridge I've been mostly surrounded by people who did not come from anything like this background so for most of my adult life I have felt a huge sense of imposter syndrome about how to behave around my friends and colleagues for whom my "being rich" level is the baseline.

I try to be conscious of my good fortune and put both money and time into ways to help other people succeed. That includes MeFites - if any of my experience will help you I'm happy to talk to you privately.
posted by crocomancer at 10:24 AM on March 9 [7 favorites]

I’m not sharing my income on a public site, and I generally feel that knowing how much other people make is not good for me. A wealthy friend told another friend how much he makes, and I told her I did not want to know.

I will say that I’ve been on food stamps, but I do OK now. I have a Master’s degree, but I’ve never made close to the $75,000 that someone upthread guessed was average. I’ve also always worked for nonprofits.

Also, I once read a study that divided people into groups by income, and the members of every single group said their lives would be great if they made $10,000 a year more. It’s very easy to feel dissatisfied in a financial situation that seems perfect to someone else.
posted by FencingGal at 10:35 AM on March 9 [9 favorites]

I see some reflexive shame, which I think is inspired by a need that people have to feel themselves in community with the people they care about, and a fear that widespread knowledge of their difference will remove them from that community.

People also tend to feel extremely uncomfortable when confronted with their privilege and hurtful behavior. And resistant. Seeing a lot of that, too.

I don't care how much ya'll make, but I do wish you would be careful when discussing the poor, the blue collar workers, the unemployed, the minimum wagers, the crappy job holders. We're right here. There is an extremely strange disconnect on MF between people hating billionaire wealth hoarders and bemoaning the wage gap, but then turning right around and displaying how offensively naive, ignorant, and biased they are about the lower class and the lives they lead - the people they purportedly worry about.

Kanata and gusottertrout mentioned this, but I don't think some of you realize just how cruel the comments seemed in the shitty automation thread. Particularly the comments about preferring machines because then you don't have to talk to cashiers. It's one thing to think that you don't care about cashiers losing their jobs because you didn't like dealing with them, it's another thing to say it. WE ARE RIGHT HERE.
posted by Feminazgul at 11:23 AM on March 9 [56 favorites]

Thank you, crush, and for your contribution to the Get a lawyer page - it was actually your epic comment about how to find an attorney that I was referring to in my comment above (and somehow didn't manage to favorite til today?!), and it helped inspire me to work on the wiki as a way to promote access to justice.
posted by Little Dawn at 11:30 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]

sciatrix, I am really glad you brought this up, even though it's a fraught topic that could go badly. That was a brave thing you did.

Something I've been trying to do a LOT lately with all kinds of questions is ask, what do I want this to look like? How does this work in my ideal world?

So in my ideal world, I want a Metafilter community where everyone feels welcome AND VALUED. I want a Metafilter community that's diverse, and is also sensitive to that diversity and how it affects others. I, personally, want to be able to learn about lives that are different from mine - and I would like to be able to do that without anyone feeling like they're having to give me a 101 course or bare their own struggles for my edification. I would like for everyone to feel like they can talk openly about their own lives as much as they wish to without being made to feel like they're a bad person.

8 years ago, I made a comment on Metafilter that I am still ashamed of. I expressed disbelief that someone could not love their library as much as I do, could not find as much richness from their library as I do. I am still surprised that I had forgotten - at least in the moment - that not every library is like the San Francisco Public Library: that not everyone has access to hundreds of thousands of items, and expanding hours rather than decreasing hours, and 50-item limits, and a voting public that tends to wildly favor funding the libraries. I forgot - in the moment - about - well, what ctmf reminded me about two comments later, and was in fact talking about in the very comment I responded to: libraries that AREN'T as well funded, as well stocked, as well supported.

It's incredibly easy to forget about ways in which other people's lives differ from our own, and it was really valuable for me to be reminded of that. And it's hard to remedy that obliviousness, even when we want to. And it's also, sadly, easy to get caught up in a topic (as you can tell, I LOVE libraries, man, don't get me started talking about libraries) and fail to hear what people are saying right in front of you, as I did in that thread.

So I'm glad for an opportunity to talk about ways in which our experiences differ - both our wider life experiences, and our feelings about how we've been treated here as we talk about those experiences.

What I would wish for is some way to remind ourselves, every day, that there are people with vastly different experiences from our own, and for each of us to practice taking a moment to literally stop and vividly imagine those differences before speaking. I'm so grateful for the gentle pushback I got in that thread, because it reminded me of how wrong I can be when I forget about how other people's lives (and libraries) are different from my own.
posted by kristi at 11:33 AM on March 9 [14 favorites]

Thanks, Feminazgul. I had not read that thread and didn’t really understand that aspect of the subtext here. Nothing says “being out of community” like overtly telling people in your community that you make consumer choices specifically to avoid talking to them!
posted by eirias at 12:08 PM on March 9 [4 favorites]

My parents were both physicians. They shouldered the full burden of undergraduate degrees for all their children. We were privileged, absolutely. They embody class and privilege: symphony subscriptions and a new car every 7 or 8 years while retired. But that isn’t the full story. My father came from wealth, my mother is a fisherman’s daughter. Her entire village put her thru medical school; she was the first in her village to go to university. They were born shortly after The Great Depression. Mama knew abject poverty most of her life, but you could never know it looking at her.

So they put us through school so we’d get good job and be safe. They put us on strict allowances in university so we wouldn’t have starvation days like she did in medical school. Her poverty marked us all. they are safe now because she saved and saved and saved. Fear drove so much of their lives. They only began to relax and treat themselves after we left and got jobs. That’s a long time to wait. They were in their late 50s.

If we wanted new shoes or candy or a beer after class, we had to work. I never received an allowance growing up. My friends couldn’t understand why I worked to get earrings or makeup. “You’re parents are rich!”. That embarrassed me. I started shoveling driveways and raking leaves and babysitting when I was 12.

I’m fortunate to be well-compensated for what I do right now. But I’ve been a bartender and a dog walker, too, because bills had to be paid. Once I hocked furniture and electronics to keep a roof over my head.

So I’ve lived at most levels of the economic strata. My family comes from old money and hardscrabble. I’ve been a file clerk for $8/hour and I’ve been an investment banker. If I can answer a questions or be supportive in one’s struggle, I will show up and aim for an answer not solely couched in my current comfortable circumstances but strive to remember my own and my family’s history and experience.
posted by lemon_icing at 12:19 PM on March 9 [9 favorites]

I don't think some of you realize just how cruel the comments seemed in the shitty automation thread

That thing is wild, I eventually stopped reading usernames because I got tired of thinking less of people.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:34 PM on March 9 [4 favorites]

I come from a family of modest means (let's say lower-middle-class), and I am currently very lucky to have an upper-middle-class income (albeit in an area with a high cost of living) with no outstanding student debt. I had little-to-no parental assistance, but I went to BYU, so being a then-mormon allowed me to take advantage of a subsidized tuition and I had a decent campus job that basically paid for the rest. I live comfortably, though not opulently; I don't feel the need to impress others with fancy expensive stuff that I don't personally care about. And I'm in generally good health, knock on wood. I recognize my luck and privilege and I have plenty of friends and family that are not so lucky, and I try to help out where I can.

One of the things I've noticed about myself and my coworkers is that one of the ways our capitalist society seems to try to actively discourage helping those less fortunate is by instilling a sense of financial insecurity even in people that can definitely afford it, insinuating that you could be fired or laid off tomorrow and if you haven't built up some reserve of wealth then you'll be up shit creek without a paddle. This is especially true for anyone who currently has a net-negative financial worth (when comparing debt to liquid assets especially), and I know a lot of my coworkers are paying off very expensive college degrees, in addition to the usual expenses that come with adulting.
posted by Aleyn at 12:42 PM on March 9 [11 favorites]

Nothing says “being out of community” like overtly telling people in your community that you make consumer choices specifically to avoid talking to them!

I mean, one of the highest-paying jobs I've ever had was working at Trader Joe's, and to be honest, *I* often prefer self-checkout. TJs hires for personability, and enforces personability, and personability is a whole lot of very taxing emotional labour when you're doing it for pay for hours on end. While working there I could just pick up my groceries after a shift from an equally-exhausted co-worker and we could just be chill, but when working other retail or hospitality-oriented gigs without that luxury, when one's just entirely out of talking-juice after a shift but still needs to stop and pick up groceries for a post-shift meal, self-checkout is a pretty dang appealing option.

individual life choices: they are complicated!
posted by halation at 1:26 PM on March 9 [21 favorites]

I don't think some of you realize just how cruel the comments seemed in the shitty automation thread

As a former supermarket worker I particularly appreciated the combination of "automation is good because then I don't have to deal with cashiers, ugh" sentiments with "automation doesn't matter because these are terrible jobs anyway", like repeatedly dealing with customers who see you as less than fully human is not one of the things that makes the job terrible in the first place.
posted by Catseye at 1:26 PM on March 9 [20 favorites]

I realize that this may be regional in scope, but: Brooklyn mefites, if you want the contact info for the adviser I mention here, memail me. She's kick-ass, and it is 100% free. She is a former banker who just got fed up with how the byzantine nature of personal finance screws people over and started working with the public to be on our side instead. Every other meeting or so she keeps saying that she wants to publish a paper exposing various bank practices or something.

Also, she's toying with the idea of starting a Youtube channel of financial advice, and if she does I"ll post the link to the rest of y'all because she's awesome. Imagine someone who looks like Whoopi Goldberg as Celie in The Color Purple, only with the temperament of the teacher who had really high standards for you and so it was a tiny bit intimidating because you didn't want to let her down.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:26 PM on March 9 [11 favorites]

I suspect that quite a few people, like myself, don't want to talk to cashiers because they are human - I make choices to limit interaction with my friends and coworkers some days too, it's not a personal insult.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:26 PM on March 9 [17 favorites]

Where I work now (and the same was true in past jobs), almost everyone knows everyone's salaries because budgets are relatively open. But debt, family wealth, etc are of course still private, which is the context needed to understand if that salary is comfortable or leaves you in the red each month. I know people who are supporting parents, and others who are being supported by parents, but you mostly have to pick that up from hints, people don't directly talk about it often.

This is a high cost of living area, so one of the key things is whether you were in a position to buy a house years ago (in which case you are probably sitting pretty) or if you are either renting or trying to buy now. Same salaries, totally different positions.

Our situation is that we are doing fairly well right now, but things feel very precarious because of societal issues like health care, disinvestment, and so on. We should feel very comfortable -- both of us have graduate degrees from prestigious schools, we are earning decent salaries, and our only debt is from housing -- but it does not feel secure at all and I am aware every day that things could change almost instantly. Both of our families have helped as they could, which basically meant enough help towards college that we both had low amounts of student debt, but not the level of help like downpayments or an expectation of a significant inheritance.

I'm intensely grateful for the unearned privilege and support I've had to make it this far. I think it is good when money and class are discussed, but yes, this is a difficult and emotional topic.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:59 PM on March 9 [3 favorites]

MetaFilter sometimes suffers from being partly international, but not really. This shows sharply in any discussion of class. I've had the fortune to grow up in rural working class US, lived most of my adult life in the Netherlands, and now live and work in Hong Kong. Labor and class conditions are very different in the three countries and it is very hard to read people's privilege clearly without understanding who they are and where they come from.

For instance, I would argue that everyone in the Netherlands is middle class or even upper middle class compared to most in the US. I have Dutch friends who would argue with that (and they wouldn't be wrong from their point of view either), but having grown up in a dying US farm town what I see is that everyone in Holland has a place to live if they want it, everyone has health care, and education is in the reach of (almost) everyone. Increasingly among my friends back in the US there are only a few who can say the same. (Then NL has many other serious social challenges and class issues are there too, possibly more invisible, but that's all within context.)

I won't disclose my income, but I'm senior in my field. My field happens to be retail, so in Hong Kong that makes me a pretty small potato, but I'm still conscious that I'm very lucky.

I grew up working class, but at a time where that was at least a little bit kinder. My father's employer had decent health insurance and even some dental, so I had braces and allergy shots. We never had much money and I never learned how to manage money well. Like many others, when money came into the house it was spent and there wasn't really enough to save. My mother had a rusty beater and when it would break down on the way back from the store, we would walk home.

I was extremely lucky in three regards. 1) There was a SUNY close to my house and I was semi-adopted by the faculty kids, so when I was in high school, I was surrounded by friends whose expectation was that they would go to school, not get married. Some of the SUNY professors arranged to have me spend part of my days taking classes there-- both formally and informally-- which kept me from dropping out of school from boredom. 2) I won the equivalent of Charlie Bucket's golden ticket-- I won a National Merit scholarship which meant I was accepted pretty much everywhere I applied and had offers of funding. I was able to go to a well known women's college which I had been dreaming of as an impossible dream since early in high school. 3) My grandmother had put some money aside for me to go to school, largely because she correctly did not trust my parents to save for it.

So I became the first generation in my family to go to college. I'm not sure this story could happen this way again. GenX has it hard in some ways, but we had some real privilege that the Millennials and GenZ don't have.

I moved to the Netherlands very young and initially that was very hard-- fancy dancing my way around immigration and work permits. I clung to living there like a barnacle the first few years. But it was my saving financially. I could not carry a balance on my credit card. My health care was paid for (I have Crohn's disease which had wiped me out completely in graduate school in the US). I had no need for a car. The taxes are high, but I was finally able to save.

Part of why I eventually ended up in retail was that I felt comfortable there. Nobody cared about my background. It's an field close to the ground and many top executives came from the shop floor. This isn't true of banking or consulting (where I spent ten years before I joined retail.) Like someone else above, I've never taken risks my peers take. I supported my father financially for a number of years until his death and after he died, there was a little bit of money from selling the house, but not much. My mother died in my early 20s. What I've seen is that many others do a lot better in their careers, but they have a much bigger safety net and can take correspondingly bigger risks.

I'm still not great with financial executive function. I don't save as much as I should. My years in NL mean I am a bit better and probably a lot better than many in the US. I have no debt and some money in the bank. Since I don't have kids, I donate quite a bit to charity (I defined a fixed percentage and use that monthly.) I use my money mostly for travel and books and I'm pretty okay with that. I still don't have a car and at the moment I don't own any property though I'm likely to buy a small apartment in the Netherlands this year.

Discussions about retail can be painful. Because retail is always close to the community, it will hold a mirror to other class discussions going on in the space around it. Self checkout is a really different issue in Europe or Asia or the US and different in an urban area versus a rural area and the implications are different and it even varies wildly when it comes to type of retail. I can see how it's easy for people to feel hurt, so I'm sorry if I contributed to that and I think it is a hard topic to discuss without full context. My reality here is different, and it just isn't true for us that a cashier would not have another (probably better) option within the store. I get that it is different in a rural supermarket in the rust belt.

Retail is an industry in heavy disruption at the moment and most retailers are under serious threat from pure eCommerce players. Grocery is particularly impacted. I believe many customers would prefer to go to a physical store, but not at any cost and not if they are particularly inconvenienced; brand loyalty doesn't go very far. I'm afraid that many customers would not confess they prefer self checkout, but would instead just switch to online so they don't have to deal. I don't know how to reverse this trend. Anyhow.

I'm currently mentoring four young women in the community here, and am happy to do the same where I can for people in MetaFilter. Can't offer you financial planning advice, but I can talk about building a career from a lower class background and how to pivot your way into different functions without sacrificing or stepping down. I can also talk about moving to another country and how that can help too. Feel free to memail me if I can help.
posted by frumiousb at 7:03 PM on March 9 [18 favorites]

I also feel incredibly uncomfortable about this thread.

There is nothing wrong whatsoever with needing a cashier job, and I support everyone who works in retail. I'm a hypocrite because I use the self-checkouts, but the judgement of some people on that thread of people doing what works for them was.... not good.
posted by daybeforetheday at 8:05 PM on March 9 [4 favorites]

I don't think some of you realize just how cruel the comments seemed in the shitty automation thread. Particularly the comments about preferring machines because then you don't have to talk to cashiers. It's one thing to think that you don't care about cashiers losing their jobs because you didn't like dealing with them, it's another thing to say it.

I understood people saying "I don't want to talk to cashiers" in that thread to mean "I have social anxiety and don't want to talk to anyone." I didn't read it as people looking down on cashiers at all, only admitting their own anxiety when dealing with people socially, and relieved to not have that anxiety when dealing with self-checkout. I don't think you can fault someone for wanting to lessen the anxiety they feel.
People being 'pro-them' doesn't necessarily mean they are 'anti-you'.
posted by NoraCharles at 8:57 PM on March 9 [28 favorites]

At this point, multiple people have said why that thread felt crummy. And it's not like this was the only thread on this site that has ever made people feel alienated that way. Why not just make a note when people say that comments in that thread were yet more alienating and hurtful? Not intending to cause harm isn't a protection against it. Either everyone who objected is totally unaware that there are people in the world who dislike human contact, or there was some reason to feel at least a little dehumanized by the way people talked in that thread.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 10:32 PM on March 9 [7 favorites]

There is nothing wrong whatsoever with needing a cashier job,

Indeed. I worked at a grocery store for four years, including as bagger and cashier. It was a good union job and at the time paid a lot more than any job i'd had prior; i'm still grateful for it, even though at times it was also terrible.
posted by davejay at 11:11 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]

Saying it's nothing personal is fine in the sense of intent, I believe that is the case, that no one means anything personal about others here, but is just thinking about their own comfort levels. I can appreciate that, but the end result of devaluing and eventually erasing cashiers and others in like positions will still be the same if we aren't careful since it's the result of a larger systemic problem that is purposefully dehumanizing.

The thread in question had conversation switching back and forth between the ease of dealing with a cashier and the design of the self check out machines, as if the difference between a cashier and machine is simply one of interface. Stores remove cashiers and add machines herding people to the self check out as lines grow longer due to understaffing. Cashiers are given machines that aren't designed primarily for efficiency but for measure and tracking of consumption and added gimmicks like card readers that provide surveys and ask customers for feedback telling them to rate the human on the way out the door for how quickly and politely they served you even as the machine itself slows things up with the added prompts making customers more likely to take out their frustration on the cashier, since rating the designers and corporate office personnel that made the decisions obviously won't be an option.

It isn't just about that thread though. It comes up everywhere and not just Metafilter of course. It's a constant push to diminish the connections between low wage earners and those with more wealth and its sold as "ease". The added reliance on apps and machines in place of humans doesn't relieve social anxiety, it increases it as people become ever less used to dealing with others not like them. That too isn't personal, social anxiety on an individual level can be debilitating in a wide variety of ways, as I know all too well myself, but systemically we're only encouraging more of it by separating the unwashed from the tidy and the end result will be the same of making it more difficult for the poor to find jobs and housing and their increased isolation from those who don't want the hassle of dealing with them.

There's a reason I mentioned education as a proxy early in the thread and that's because even with the best intent it's easy to want to separate oneself from those who don't adhere to the same behaviors that I hope to find or that I follow myself. Some people don't internalize their feelings as much as others. They are more socially reliant in how they process the world. That isn't always comfortable, but it is entirely human and can't just be shunted aside for ease without cost. The problem is no one wants to bear any added burden of interaction when it can be easily avoided, but when that burden is association with human beings the avoidance for ease is making a value choice that is hard to deny with convenience trumping social good every time.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:35 PM on March 9 [30 favorites]

Just wanted to say that I really appreciated frumiousb's comment upthread. I think you're spot on about nationality being an important aspect of this discussion and how without this critical piece of context the conversation here tends to reflect the site's userbase and be very US-centric. Doggod's comment highlighting the difference that nationality makes and describing their own specific lived experience is a great counterexample.

Speaking to the general question of "is thread good or thread bad" I think on the whole it's good. Class, wealth, income: the effects of any one of those things on the community and the conversations that happen here would take so long to hash out individually let alone together, and it's not going to happen in a single thread. But we're not going to get there unless we try to talk about it, accept that we're going to make mistakes on the way, and generally try to listen more.

I see merits to both talking about specific dollar amounts and also about general living situation/pitfalls, so I'll talk a little about both for me. Last year I made just shy of $10k working retail part-time while I went to school in the city part-time. My parents both came from pretty poor backgrounds in rural China and in Hong Kong, though from since shortly before I was born to after we came to the U.S. we had a (I would describe from my fairly limited knowledge of HK's class system) middle-class life where we owned two flats outright, I was taken care of by a sort-of nanny whose place I'd live at for some of the week, and we had new clothes, food, toys, that sort of stuff but both my parents were still working and running a mom-and-pop.

After coming to the U.S. due to a lot of Reasons we were soon poor where my older siblings had to take part-time jobs as teenagers to help make rent, there was no extracurriculars that took money for me, and we rented in a poor neighborhood. It still could have gotten a lot worse, since we at least had enough food and clothing. Today I'm still more or less in that situation, where I've taken a really long and meandering path to get my undergrad degree while working, borrowing, and relying on family for help. Growing up that way though really left a deep, deep impression on my mind and what I thought were even the bounds of what was possible or what was a normal thing that people did. I, like someone above, stopped asking for things because I knew our situation and that I was never going to get it. However, I also felt like I had to pitch in any which way I could and thought that minimizing my impact or drain on things was the best way. That one example, that kind of ingrained habit to value myself and my wants less has had really extensive knock-on effects on other stuff. Like, instead of seeing professors and government administrators as people whose job it is to help you get what you deserve it's seeing them as authority figures to be pleased and supplicated to. And that generating a level of anxiety around certain tasks that make them extra-hard, and so on.

Anyhow I don't comment much but I'll be following this topic with interest.
posted by coolname at 1:54 AM on March 10 [8 favorites]

I grew up upper middle class with a bunch of siblings, including 1 who is seriously handicapped, and parents who grew up in the Depression. I was talking about my family, and was asked how poor were we? because I wore hand-me-downs and didn't have some fancy stuff. But my family paid for my education, though my Dad died while I was in college, and at that time, Social Security paid a stipend until I was 22 and in college. College was also much less expensive in the 70s. (Blame Reagan) My Mom loaned me money to start a business; I paid her back, but in the 80s it was especially difficult for a woman to borrow.

I'm especially appreciative that my parents taught me to be frugal, to work, to save, to invest. That made survival possible when I raised my son with no child support.

I have made decent money at times, living in Maine means salaries are lower, especially when I was younger and in my earning years. I try to live simply for philosophical and environmental reasons. I *might* have enough retirement savings, but it's impossible to tell. I think I live well, for the most part. My clothes come from thrift shops, but they are good quality, beautiful, comfortable, and it's my fashion; dgaf about anybody else's. Even when I eat rice and beans, they're well-prepared and nutritious. Eating frugally means I can have steak sometimes, fresh vegetables, etc. My house is small and poorly built, but I have a great view and some woods, and I'm slowly fixing the worst flaws.

Some people make more money, some inherit money, win the lottery, marry a person with cash or big earnings. I have no issues with bigger-money questions on Ask.Me. I am bugged when somebody thinks of $100 or 1,000 as negligible spending. Spending freely, either on meals, clothes, cars, travel, is not an option for a lot of us. My request is for sensitivity to income equality and issues of class. In the US, class has an awful lot to do with income, especially visible income.
posted by theora55 at 10:02 AM on March 10 [8 favorites]

My son dated a girl whose parents appear to have ample funds, lots of toys, new cars. They look down on me because I don't have visible money. I have no debt, no idea about them. Here's where I'm a snob: I care about education, arts, politics, environment. They care about stuff and gossip and bling. I would be as unhappy with their house full of brand new stuff as they would be in my house with my shabby, thrift shop stuff. I love beautiful handmade rugs, and probably part of that is status. The occasional person who was raised with with money will recognize that thin rug as a status indicator as well as a piece of art representing many hours. I love it because it was the rug I played on as a kid.

I hate the direction of the US and the world, with serious wealth aggregated by the few. I hate the culture of consumerism. Class issues are created at the collective level, but I think there are powerful groups intentionally pushing a vile agenda of wealth as virtue as a means of making it even easier for the very wealthy to get very wealthier. MeFi doesn't feel like a patsy on this agenda.

Discussions of class are very welcome Thanks for raising the issue.
posted by theora55 at 10:17 AM on March 10 [5 favorites]

In general I’m very in favor of sharing salary info, but I don’t think Metafilter is a great forum for it.

In a workplace, or a forum dedicated to your particular line of work, sure. It can be an eye-opener if you’re being underpaid, give you leverage to ask for more, or motivate you to change jobs. I owe a lot to an open conversation where I learned I was the lowest paid person on my team by a lot (~40%), and changed jobs for a big raise.

I’ve also seen it be helpful in a neighborhood forum (local, private FB group): it made folks aware of less privileged neighbors, and actually contributed to a bit more local burden-sharing and raising each other up.

But MeFi is a global-ish discussion site with members from most classes. We live with a huge range of costs of living and individual circumstances. This thread is unlikely to help anyone get paid more, or get a new job, or volunteer to watch their neighbors’ kids for free.

I totally see the good faith argument for this thread, and I personally default to “transparency is good”, but I just don’t see how this conversation on this website helps anyone.
posted by a device for making your enemy change his mind at 10:38 AM on March 10 [5 favorites]

I appreciate hearing about different perspectives on money and class via Metafilter. I grew up with parents who only talked about money in the context of “spend as little of it as possible,” and they judge my siblings and I constantly behind our backs for how we spend our own money as adults. My siblings and I talk a lot with each other about money now, sharing salary and rent/mortgage info, but the only thing we have figured out is the difference between frugal and cheap.
posted by Maarika at 11:18 AM on March 10 [2 favorites]

My salary is public information, and it's searchable on a specific website for anybody who knows my name. I don't like that very much.
posted by JanetLand at 2:23 PM on March 10 [3 favorites]

My senior year of college, I was talking with my little sister on a Skype call when we realized that my dad had probably been laid off (as a professor) and had never been full-time employed since. We were wondering why starting a few years ago our dad suddenly started staying at home more often... First he said that he just didn't need to go into the lab during the summer, and then later he said that he had a flexible schedule that semester... My parents had been frugal as long as I had known them, saving money to pay for our educations, so they decided to obfuscate their financial situation to us to prevent us from worrying. I'm extremely fortunate that I had generous scholarships and financial aid to attend college, and my parents were able to cover the rest.

I had to really reconsider my expectations of "oh, isn't that what all Asian immigrant parents do, prioritize their kids' educations over everything else, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom and all that" when talking to other second-generation Asian-Americans (especially in regions where it's not uncommon to be Asian-American)... It turns out my (small) social circle of Asian kids that I knew growing up all happened to have parents who came on student visas pursuing lucrative degrees. I had generalized that class-education status to cover all Asian immigrant families to the US.... which, yeah. :\

I really appreciate so many of these thoughtful comments about how class/money differs in other countries/cultures! Thanks, MF!
posted by devrim at 2:50 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]

Oh this question is hard. I'm torn between a big NOPE and actually reading all of the previous comments.
So let's talk about where we're collectively coming from about finances, salaries, family contributions, and how that shapes our approach to the site. What do you imagine the salary of the average MeFite is?
Grew up small rural town poor in a divorced family where dad was unemployed for the most part because the US steel industry collapsed at the same time. Yay, grandparents had a big garden and a bunch of our food came from there. But also older generation and actual pensioner types who own their land (I'm pretty sure).

I pretty much flunked out of college because there was no money and I spent my time working to stay alive. Then a trust fund for a couple of years because somebody passed away. Then a regular 20 something stocking grocery shelves or pulling bagels out of a machine and getting by.

Then homeless and sleeping under bridges and in abandoned buildings or out in the woods for a couple of years.

Then I got bored and went back to actually working at 30 years old. At this point I was penniless for most purposes. I went and worked for the same college and with some of the same people. In ~2000 I started at about $30k and stayed for 15 years and kept on the up cycle until I was a bit over $100k. It's the .edu world and that's below what you would think IT work would pay in the corporate/business world. But I'm still just a single monk like bum with few needs and no debts and no dependents so it all just went into the bank.

So, I have a ??? 401k that I put 15% into over the time I worked that I don't really look at and hope I make it to the point that I can use it... and the rest just went into the bank and I should learn to do something better with it. And there's eventually probably going to be a couple of houses and leftover money of some minor amount to deal with or not when that time comes. I got all graaar and walked out of my 15 year job and have been on a bit of a self-imposed break (I'm calling it a sabbatical) to decompress after the 15 years of basically 24/7/365 for the things that were my things and all of the responsibility and graar.

So... I might be poor-retired and there's still some place to go back to if needed and eventually somethings will have to be done and I'm getting a bit bored again and should go back to work somewhere just to cover the expenses.

Just another data point. Long time, poor to hanging on to homeless to doing pretty well as a single person staying alive and pondering the next 30 years and whether I'll be fine or die under a bridge somewhere.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:03 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]

I make a fabulous salary + bonus but I also pay an absolutely stunning shitload of money to my ex wife so my fabulous salary minus my absolute stunning shitload of child support equals about 65k per year take home pay.
posted by nikaspark at 7:51 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]

My income and my class background are from two different planets. Otoh, I am living in Finland as a self employed entrepreneur with all my accounts and taxes paid up, and no outstanding debt. I consider my upbringing and childhood a resource, but do not think of it as a source of funds or income.

In the US, class has an awful lot to do with income, especially visible income.

I never thought of my maternal grandfather as rich. He lived ascetically, a widower with 9 children. But the year I was 7, I was sent to live with him. A white uniformed driver with a peaked cap would take me to school. We had a rose garden in the front, with a tub embedded in the earth as a frog pond, a kitchen garden to the side, and a cowshed with a cow for my fresh milk in the back. After school and homework, the ayah would dress me up to go play croquet with the little boy down the street, then we'd have tea in the nursery. In the heart of Calcutta's best neighbourhood.

I was taught early that money, particularly the flashy display of it, was unseemly. At the same time, I grew up watching my father's generous hospitality to guests and visitors, and learnt the good manners of pulling out one's wallet - it took years, and my own much more constrained income to come to terms with the habits I'd taken for granted. We lived simply, although dad was an expat Managing Director in the Far East and I was educated in the British and American schools. "the company paid for that". Its only now I realize that the company was founded by my grandfather.

So, what class am I? and how much do I make? its a pittance compared to what I grew up in - my father was the eldest of 9 children whose father passed away when the youngest was 11. I cannot remember ever feeling we didn't have enough, yet I know he supported them all and got his sisters married and the young brothers educated.

And yet, I find, that the upbringing and the larger extended family name and privilege that I experienced during our trips home every two years, acts as an invisible intangible cushion against the world that would judge me solely on the colour of my skin and the gender of my body. Its hard to learn to feel appropriately oppressed when your uncle has traced your father's lineage back to the 16th century court of Rana Sanga, and how the family arrived in the environs of the Taj Mahal. I'm a fourth generation university educated professional on my father's side. And technocratic royalty on my mothers (my grandfather's industrial manufacturing prowess in documented in Purdue University's Gilbreth Library Archives).

And, so I manage to muddle through, living a frugal lifestyle in the Arctic lands, the prodigal daughter who broke off from the traditional family business of making money to go off and ponder like a hermit, just another WoC on the internet.

Who am I? What am I doing here? Why aren't all the Indians poor like they're supposed to be? You speak really good English now.
posted by infini at 1:21 AM on March 11 [16 favorites]

i still remember PLU numbers of certain produce items from the last cashier job i worked and that was probably 15 years ago. it will never leave me.
posted by lazaruslong at 5:39 AM on March 11 [6 favorites]

So here's another perspective:

Believe it or not, Metafilter is my only day-to-day non-transactional exposure to working class people.

I know that sounds bananas in the context of this thread, but it's true. I don't even live a particularly rarefied and sheltered life. I live in a very ordinary English suburb, in a terraced house which most Americans would think is small, I shop in the cheaper of the supermarkets (Morrisons), I take the bus and train to work like most people here.

No gated compounds, drivers, or anything. I think people are just really good at self-separating even without meaning to. If you think about it, most people you meet socially are probably your family, school friends, university friends1, friends from work, friends from sporting or other clubs, or friends that started as friends-of-friends of the above.

Since all of those categories are pre-sorted by class, it is very easy to only ever meet people from a pretty narrow slice of society in a social context without ever deciding that your friends have to pass a class bar.

Of course MeFi is also not representative of any particular class since it tends to be dominated by hyper-literate types.

(1) I actually had to go back to edit this comment because of course only a minority of people have university friends...
posted by atrazine at 5:50 AM on March 11 [8 favorites]

I‘m „can afford two vacations per year“ rich but not „luxury brands“ rich. „Has affordable healthcare“, „likes real prosciutto“ and „has two kids with a unicorn obsession“ rich, but not „can
afford to own a house“ rich.
I dunno, I feel plenty rich, but I earn, like, half of what some of you earn.

When I was a kid, my parents had a year where we couldn‘t afford Christmas. And I never got a birthday party.

My takeaway is to be more mindful of the things I say in AskMe threads. I often advise things that assume people are in my financial bracket. My apologies.

That said, I feel like Metafilter threads have really broadened my view on how people live with a much more limited access to money and social padding, particularly comments on quotidian things. I really appreciate Metafilter for that.

Not sure if this thread is going to help, but I suspect the underlying conflicts would be festering with or without this thread.
posted by Omnomnom at 9:33 AM on March 11 [4 favorites]

The Whelk recently posted:
the quote I liked from AOC this SXSW is “We should not be haunted by the specter of being automated out of work,” she said in response. “We should be excited by that. But the reason we’re not excited by it is because we live in a society where if you don’t have a job, you are left to die. And that is, at its core, our problem.”

This cuts to the heart of what this thread is about. How do we deal with something that improves the customer experience, but at such a high cost to the employee's livelihood? It is not fair to make 100 people's lives 1 percent easier if that means 1 person's life is 100 percent worse.
posted by soelo at 10:30 AM on March 11 [11 favorites]

I always remember at the food kitchen when I was joking about how being rich would be able to afford milk any time you like it and the leader of the whole food bank/kitchen tried to make me feel better by pointing out that they were house poor. Since then that's how I define the difference in my head. And the difference between my poverty and someone who has no family in town is that I don't have to dumpster dive to sell things to eat which was an example of my privilege (I have to stay tied to abusive family but I'm trying to frame that as payment for what they did to me). Examing privilege is hard and class/money seems to be one of those subjects we haven't quite come around to wanting to deal with.

These tensions and erasure of poor people happen a lot on askme but it has gotten better but that may be that the poor person has to lay out they have no money upfront to get the answers they need. But then that exists as well for topics like things not american. Maybe I overthink things but I kind of wish other people would try to think more about their words and not have the poor people soothe your feelings because you get offended when someone says you have more money than me. To me that's just acknowledging a basic fact and not calling you out or going to start targeting you for catfishing.
posted by kanata at 10:34 AM on March 11 [4 favorites]

How do we deal with something that improves the customer experience, but at such a high cost to the employee's livelihood? It is not fair to make 100 people's lives 1 percent easier if that means 1 person's life is 100 percent worse.

Well and I think that is the issue. Because these shifts are more than any one business can handle or adapt to, the entire culture has to adapt. Which may mean that, yeah, we don't have cashiers in the same way we do now. But I think what AOC is saying is that in a just world, cashiers could be out of a job and still eat, be housed, and have health care while they were trained and/or otherwise assisted in finding new jobs that also made use of their skills and abilities.

However, those cultural shifts aren't going to be done by the places who employ the cashiers unless they are forced into doing it. Recently, I think about Walmart and their decision about greeters which disproportionately affects people with disabilities. And I'm no fan of Walmart. But this is both on them and not on them. We have this gross hydra of an economic system that actually incentivizes businesses to fuck over their workers as much as they can legally get away with. And it pits people against each other so people who appreciate the convenience of a self-check-out situation wind up in conflict with the cashiers whose jobs are endangered when they should both be like "Fuck you Walmart, I'd pay ten cents more for you to still have greeters" (or whatever) So to find a genuine options that is actually going to change the culture and keep people able to eat, sleep and be healthy, people need to, en masse, find ways to make the culture different. NB: I did not read the automation thread.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 10:49 AM on March 11 [12 favorites]

This is a fantastic thread. I am so grateful for it.

IRL I am ridiculously open about how much money I make, to the extent that I have made a lot of people uncomfortable. I mention my salary whenever it's relevant and would add something to a conversation I'm in, without thinking about the norms surrounding sharing this info. It's my little protest against capitalist efforts to divide workers against each other. I used to feel the discomfort, too, and it's taken a few years to get over it myself. It can be done! We can reduce and defeat the taboo, and this thread is another small blow against it. It concerns me that so many on this thread think it's dangerous to share their numbers on a public forum. What is the danger, exactly? Is our fear of it proportionate to its actual threat or are we overstating the disaster potential? Who does our fear benefit? Who does it hurt?

(/ soap box)

Here's the thing, though. I am not open about how much money I have saved up or how I spend/invest or what I put into my retirement account. Being both able and motivated to save a chunk of my paycheck has resulted in a healthy retirement account, good emergency cushion, money in my kids' college fund, and savings towards optional "nice to have" things like renovations or vacations. The one or two times I've talked about what's in my savings account for a particular project, people have expressed their shock extremely vocally and one time, a friend's reaction was strong enough and prolonged enough that it almost killed that particular friendship (she was going on for months about how I'm secretly rich, frequently in bitter tones).

The more I have thought about this divide (disclosing how much money I have vs. how much money I make), I've come to realize that these reactions are also just "growing pains." Consider other types of good fortune or accomplishment - e.g. being in a great + long marriage or having tenure or publishing a book or even owning a successful business: because there is no taboo surrounding talking about these, people have made their peace with these types of happy circumstances happening to other people, and therefore tend to react with generous goodwill rather than shock or bitterness or envy. It makes me think that I need to get over my discomfort and bad feelings about the way people react, and talk about having money, too, in addition to talking about how much I make. That's the "right" way ahead. It's the only way to normalize talking about money.

But damn, you guys, I am just not brave enough yet.

I earn 77.5K as a technical writer in a medium-sized town in north-eastern USA. The end.
posted by MiraK at 10:57 AM on March 11 [14 favorites]

IRL I am ridiculously open about how much money I make, to the extent that I have made a lot of people uncomfortable. I mention my salary whenever it's relevant and would add something to a conversation I'm in, without thinking about the norms surrounding sharing this info. It's my little protest against capitalist efforts to divide workers against each other.

I am trying so hard to do this, and roll with this, and yet at the same time, I definitely ghosted a buddy who vaulted many many rungs past me on the socioeconomic ladder. She gave running updates on her huge and ever-increasing salary, and I knew that it must have felt super important to her, and that kind of money does in fact change every other aspect of one's life substantially, so it IS big news.

And yet. What was I ever going to do with that information, except be painfully aware that my industry will never pay me that? She isn't my coworker, I can't leverage her earnings into a raise in mine. It feels like the knowledge divided us against each other far more than we would have been if we'd stuck to vague inferences. But maybe it just accelerated an otherwise inevitable process.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:21 AM on March 11 [6 favorites]

As an addendum to the above, all this work that the non-poor (myself included) are doing in this thread to preface our bare numbers with too much contextualizing, too many hedges, explanations, prevarications and protestations? I think we are trying to humanize the contours of our privilege, and we need to work on doing less of it. It's as if we conflate our privilege with our identity: understandable, but undesirable if our goal is to break down and defang this or any other privilege/oppression. Privilege should not be humanized.

State your numbers baldly, friends, without making reference to past jobs held at minimum wage or working class family histories. Let's be brave.

Upon refresh, and blatantly abusing the edit window:

What was I ever going to do with that information, except be painfully aware that my industry will never pay me that?

Fully, fully empathize with your painful feelings and at the same time I want to point out: I kinda feel like this about friends who tell me about their wonderful spouses and parents. I mean, my ex and my parents will never not have been abusive to me, you know? It's often the case that I have the twinge of feeling like this... like, what the fuck am I supposed to do with the knowledge of my friends' happiness in these very areas? But you know. We gotta deal with that. We're friends.
posted by MiraK at 11:25 AM on March 11 [11 favorites]

It's pretty frustrating/telling that the the tenor of this thread was set from the very beginning with a sentiment along the lines of "I come from a wealthy family, but I don't get any financial support from them." I'm quite sure that alienated a good number of people right off the bat who might be making a decent on-paper salary right now but grew up in poverty and who are still up against the barriers that the economy has imposed against them because of that history whatever amount of cash they're bringing in per paycheck in a way that someone who is broke has likely never experienced.

However good the intentions, I think the way this was posed already answers the question it asked about "where [we are], collectively, coming from": a place that's unlikely to make this discussion useful or inclusive or pleasant for people coming from poor or working class backgrounds, whether or not they're making a comfortable salary right now, because on the one side they've got people downplaying the extensive benefits that a wealthy class background provides whatever your current income, and then on the other side they've got people downplaying the lifelong consequences of growing up poor that may not be reflected in one's current salary but are no less real for it.
posted by invitapriore at 11:56 AM on March 11 [7 favorites]

It's pretty frustrating/telling that the the tenor of this thread was set from the very beginning with a sentiment along the lines of "I come from a wealthy family, but I don't get any financial support from them."

It's difficult to accurately describe that position otherwise, without being wildly misleading - not mentioning the family background elides critical information entirely, but there is a really big difference between growing up wealthy but not being in a position to profit (in a literal sense) from that as an adult, and growing up wealthy and continuing to have benefits like subsidized housing/bills, hand-me-down good-condition cars, disproportionally-salaried "jobs" for the family business or for managing the family's assets, etc. Especially in the US, given the trajectory of the economy and pay scales between when most of us were kids and when we hit the working world - they become pretty distinct tranches of wealth.

And yeah, in terms of class background they have more in common with each other than with people who grew up with considerably less privilege. But that was the question here - is that the bulk of Metafilter's demographic?
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 12:17 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]

And yeah, in terms of class background they have more in common with each other

As well they should, because "they" (assuming this refers to the OP and the author of the first comment, which espouses that sentiment) are the same person. Which is me, for better and for worse.

Few notes about that and the framing:

1) I have the background I have. I'm the person who picked up on class undercurrents here in several threads and thought that this was worth talking about, and I can't change that. I don't want to lie about my advantages or undermine them, but I also wanted very badly not to make this thread about me.

2) The actual original post in this thread does not reference my personal background with an eye towards, again, not focusing this thread around me, my intentions, and so forth. Upon making it, I thought about it and thought that I was perhaps being cowardly by trying to open a space for a discussion that leaves many people feeling vulnerable, including me, without being vulnerable myself. So I made a comment illustrating where I come from.

3) Part of the reason I did this was that I want to create a context in which people who make more money and who come from higher class backgrounds will actually stick around and read the thread, whether or not they contribute to it. I was trying for a framing which will encourage both a privileged category and a marginalized one to both participate, and in matters of class this can be difficult because of the cognitive dissonance that people experience around the topic.

4) One of the things I have observed from my upper-class parents is that they maintain a sincere belief that they are, financially, unremarkable; that their financial status is the result of hard work and effort on their parts; and that they earned everything they have fairly. They do not associate with people who do not share their financial advantages except in the context of blood family, and they do not maintain a realistic viewpoint of how their advantages and access compares to other people. This has deeply informed the way I think about class and drawing attention to it, and this was on my mind as I was writing.

5) My spouse has a very different class background from me, and actually cited discomfort with MeFi's class dynamics as a reason they left this site and this community completely. This informs the way I listen to and think about discussions of class here on MeFi. It also informs the way I consider my own privilege: I get my ears pinned back for saying Dipshit Things about class and context on a semi-regular basis. It sucks, but it means I try to pay attention, and I am pretty aware of the ways in which I have been privileged by my upbringing. One of them is that I have the confidence to wade in and say: we should have this conversation.

6) I have other people in my life, especially my professional life, who grew up working-class and now are not, and I have heard some pretty fucking tone deaf things out of their mouths, too--just as I have said some pretty tone deaf fucking things to them, too, without thinking about it. Sometimes background and the advantages that come with that background mean a lot to discussions of class and income and finances and the things people have access to. Sometimes, especially after a time of adjustment to existing in a different class than the one you grew up in, the sentiments and mindsets of the class you currently inhabit seep in and complicate mindsets. I am not saying this is the case with any person in particular, but I have certainly observed it in my day to day life.

Make of that what you will, I guess.
posted by sciatrix at 12:28 PM on March 11 [14 favorites]

When I think of this sort of thing, I think about Helen and Scott Nearing who were some of the OG back to the land types of people and encouraged other people to be the same. However, the super important part that was missing from their "Hey anyone can do this" narrative was the fact that they had substantial family support, a total lack of debt, and income from writing and speaking gigs. People who had to pay down debt or support a larger family were always wondering why the Nearings could make it work and they couldn't. The Nearings had a new truck every year, which really changed the calculus of what you need to get by and support yourself. They didn't mention that not everyone can do what they did and buy a new truck every year without ... being them. The Nearings were VERY into their specific, particular narrative as well as their lifestyle, and it's worth understanding both of them.

A large part of the back to the land narratives around Vermont in the late 60s and early 70s were about how all you needed to do was drop out and the land would provide... but if you check in 30 and 40 years later, you learn that an awful lot of those people had family support in various ways, whether it was going into it with an entire childhood full of good medical and dental care, or a place to go do laundry on weekends or holidays (LOOKING AT YOU THOREAU).

Part of understanding privilege is undoing the narrative that it's not relevant or doesn't matter. Which is not to say that you can't learn things from people who do things differently in various ways, just that, in the US especially, people grow used to eliding some of the facts of their situation but then being judgmental about other facts. I wouldn't be able to do what I do now, if I didn't come from the family I came from and if MetaFilter hadn't been a very well-paying job for me for nearly a decade. I also made some choices that helped a lot, but not as much as those two things. If I just tell you what my income is this year (probably under 30K) that's very very much not telling my whole story. I am very sorry that my class background can make some people uncomfortable, at the same time, I don't think the way to work on that issue is to stop mentioning it. bThis is a topic on which reasonable people, certainly, disagree, but that's why I made the narrative choices that I made.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 12:32 PM on March 11 [26 favorites]

I make around $60K, living in a major coastal city in the US. I have an admin job that is fairly dead-end, especially because I work in an area where the people I support all have a specific professional degree I have no interest in pursuing. So, this is probably about as much as I'll ever make, aside from things like cost of living raises. This is also almost twice as much as I've ever made before, because I recently went corporate after freelancing and working in the creative side of my field for most of my previous career.

I'm the breadwinner, and my husband is a stay at home dad. $60K for a three person household is not a lot, even though it is currently enough to get by on. All the bills get paid, and we sometimes have a little extra to take a very modest vacation (visiting family, this summer we're thinking of upgrading our camping equipment and doing some weekend trips, etc). I have no idea what we're going to do about preschool, and it's kind of stressing me out.

I grew up in an upper middle class family, and that informs a lot of my ideas about how people live and how the world should work. That said, I've spent my entire adult life learning that this is, indeed, not how most people live nor how the world does actually work. But it definitely affects some of my unconscious biases, as well as what my expectations are as a parent. (For example that preschool is something one should kind of stress out about if one cannot easily afford it, rather than saying "fuck it, we'll teach him the alphabet at home or whatever".)
posted by the milkman, the paper boy at 12:33 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]

It's often the case that I have the twinge of feeling like this... like, what the fuck am I supposed to do with the knowledge of my friends' happiness in these very areas? But you know. We gotta deal with that. We're friends.

Totally get it. Ultimately, my situation may simply point up the challenges of maintaining friendships through radical life shifts, rather than anything specific to reporting salary numbers.

When I think about my other super-rich friends -- yeah, I know their salaries (or trust fund amounts) more or less, but they've either been rich forever, or they've kind of done the long grind and are now well-established in their decently-paid fields. On both sides, we have had time to get used to what their money, and my lack of money, means in life and friendship.

In this case, as happy as I am for her (she works incredibly hard, and has shittons of education, and generally advocated extremely well for herself), I think ultimately it would have taken a much stronger friendship to withstand the shift from "we're both toiling along, making slow and steady progress, sharing in similar victories" to "well, you keep on chuggin, kid! I suddenly jumped ahead to the finish line, see you there in never."
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:26 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]

OK, I figured out why the thread feels awkward for me. I don't think the problem is that people on this site aren't aware enough, or don't put in enough effort to be understanding. I think it's just fundamentally awkward to have a setting where the majority of people earn more money than you do, and have more than you have. Good intentions are good, but there are bound to be areas where people simply cannot relate.

So the more I hear about people's incomes, the more it cements my feeling like there are a lot of people here I just can't relate to. And that translates to the rest of the site. This is honestly how it feels sometimes: a thread will come up about money stuff, and a few people will be like "oh yeah, this affects me personally", and bunch of other people will be like, oh yeah, I read a really good book about poverty, or oh yeah, when I was in grad school we talked about class, or something else like that. And then in another thread they'll be talking about how lucky they were to buy a house before the market blew up.

I mean, that's a total caricature, and I'm not calling out anyone for anything specific. I don't even think it's doing anything wrong. It's just that understanding isn't the same thing as being able to relate, and frankly, I don't feel like I can relate to a lot of you. And yeah, sometimes it can be shitty when people are like "oh, you just don't understand that things have always been bad," or something equally dismissive. But mostly, it's just obvious that people are coming from some wildly different places. Doesn't mean we can't be friends! It just means things get weird when it comes to money.

And I know that I have my own privilege in a lot of ways, and I know that this is way more complicated than just income levels. It makes sense that people would talk about class, because that's obviously significant. So I'm not really trying to speak for anyone but myself. I don't know if anyone else feels the way I do, but it certainly seems like I'm not the only one who has felt this way for a while.

So this thread is weird, because it feels like more of the same. It's ostensibly about bringing people together, but it's lots of well-meaning statements about privilege and class that ultimately feel even more alienating than the threads that prompted this MeTa in the first place. I don't know that there's really a solution, besides asking people to consider their audience. Like, I've worked as a cashier for most of my adult life, and it's pretty humiliating to refer to that job as "inhumane." I'd rather be insulted than pitied, because at least if I'm insulted I can just brush someone off as a jerk. But I know people mean well, and that makes it harder to dismiss the sentiment. So, I guess, take people seriously when they say they felt insulted, even if you know that the intention wasn't to hurt anyone.

I'm not trying to be negative and say there's no solutions, I just think this issue is way bigger than anything this site can solve by talking it out.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:30 PM on March 11 [20 favorites]

I grew up dirt poor, like hauling drinking water, no telephone, six people in a two bedroom house with one miniature income that one parent had to protect from the other's drinking habit. We had WIC and food stamps and government cheese. Neither parent finished college, dad was absentee and then actually gone.

However, both sets of grandparents lived fairly normal rural middle-class lives, they just refused to help my parents financially. All three went to college, read recreationally, and had a sort of middle class appreciation of things (although my maternal grandfather also grew up pretty dirt poor). So I had the enormous advantage of being articulate and well-read pretty early on, which frankly I could probably have done more with, if I'd been more interested in earning money.

I now make between $45 and $65k, which would be a reasonable middle class salary in some places but ain't great in DC if you've got substantial student loan debt.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:48 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]

> on the one side they've got people downplaying the extensive benefits that a wealthy class background provides whatever your current income, and then on the other side they've got people downplaying the lifelong consequences of growing up poor that may not be reflected in one's current salary but are no less real for it. -- invitapriore

> If I just tell you what my income is this year ... that's very very much not telling my whole story. -- jessamyn

Wow, you both are right, consider my mind changed on the subject. It's interesting how closely I fit invitapriore's description, really. I make a comfortable salary right now, as noted before, but I grew up .... poor. By US standards, definitely poor. (I grew up in India, though, so I hesitate to use the word: until I was 4, I lived with my parents, grandparents, and uncle in a tiny one-bedroom house with a dirt floor in one of the rooms.. but! We had a solid roof over our heads. It was an actual house, not a hut. And the men were all upwardly mobile in what turned out to be an alarmingly steep trajectory. So.)

So I grew up poor, and despite improving circumstances my family remained massively in debt to fund my dad's gadget addiction when I was in my teens. I got kicked out of my home soon after I started college, so that set me back a *lot*. My parents are rich now. I have no idea how that happened. We are also somewhat reconciled (gratefully from their end, extremely warily from my end). I have no idea how that happened either.

I was married for 11 years to a guy who made twice as much as me and also controlled all the money so I spent my whole marriage being "broke but not poor." I'm a single mom now, two kids. My ex pays child support (though less than half what a court would make him pay by default).

So I guess that's my context. Now that I write it out, I can see why I am "able and motivated" to save a big chunk of my paycheck for retirement and whatever else. It's not just that I earn a comfortable wage, it's also that I have a lifetime of experience in making do with almost nothing.

And at the same time I wonder how things might be different if my family had always been rich. The "Rich Dad Poor Dad" idea is real; I'm sure being poor for a long time has affected my attitude towards money in ways other than just a tendency towards frugality and saving. Hmm.

Once again, thanks for this thread.
posted by MiraK at 1:50 PM on March 11 [8 favorites]

I make approximately US$45K in Chile. While this would be small potatoes in the U.S., it makes me about a 3 percenter in Chile. This, plus my wife's slightly higher income, makes us have a comfortable upper-middle class life, without too much luxury.

We have a half paid off small, semi-attached house in a good but not fancy neighborhood, near my son's high-ranked private school. We have 1 good but not fancy car, which was a half-gift from my parents, and take vacations in the tropical parts of Latin America. We don't lack for anything, really. I just bought a MacBook Air 2018, but my phone is a 2 year old low-range Xiaomi with a broken screen cause I refuse to shell out $1000 / year for a high-range phone and my old one still takes and makes calls.

We could have two cars and/or take vacations in Europe or the latest iPhone if we were willing to get into debt, which we avoid. We have private health insurance which means we don't have to spend entire days waiting for a doctor's appointment, or months for a procedure, like most people in Chile do.

My first girlfriend came from a slightly lower-income family than mine. She once asked me what my ambitions where regarding money, and I said I'd like to make as much as my parents did. She was upset that I wasn't more ambitious, didn't want to climb the social ladder. I told her my parents had no money problems, two newish cars, a paid off large house with a pool, an apartment at the beach and had been able to pay for my and my brother's education cash down. What more than that should I strive for? She got it.

Class and money are a touchy subject in Chile. Nobody talks about how much they make, we have the Catholic prudery around money, though they're happy to show off their house, car, phone, etc. There's very little social mobility, the main predictor of how much money you'll earn is how much money your parents earn and what high school you went to (not what college, post graduate, etc, what high school), as that's where connections are made and reinforced. There are strict class barriers, family-names, genetic and linguistic. Everybody in Chile considers everybody else either too flaite (lower class) or too cuico (upper class) except for a tiny handful of people they're related to, went to school with or vacation with.

In the upper 1% or so, people who I think of as cuicos, family is a big deal. People only interact with cousins, high school friends, cousins of their high school friends or high school friends of their cousins. People go by a nickname and their first last name if it's high class enough, or both last names if their second one is 'better' than the first one, in some cases hyphenating them to create a new, fancier-sounding single last name. García (common) + Huidobro (high class) becomes García-Huidobro, as a single last name. You never, ever, ever see something like Huidobro-García. Ever. Not gonna happen.

Race.: Job ads regularly specify 'buena presencia', literally 'good presence', actually 'not too much amerindian blood'. Chile has received a lot of migrants lately, from Venezuela, Haiti, Colombia. Some of these are of African descent, with dark skin. You hear a lot of people saying, or tweeting, 'No soy racista, pero…', lately. It's not explicit, yet, though the harder right has put out some dog whistles. There's a direct correlation between skin color and wage, r² >= 70% I'd say.
posted by signal at 1:54 PM on March 11 [19 favorites]

shapes that haunt the dusk, this is something that has changed for me as my fortunes changed.

I had an extremely dry couple of years, financially speaking. First I was working two jobs and putting every penny towards my wedding, then one of those jobs disappeared, then I got pregnant, then I got laid off from my last remaining freelance job a month before my son was born. Oh, and my husband also got laid off within 6 weeks of that. We had no money. We were on welfare. In fact we were doing so bad that, even though everyone else I knew who was on WIC was like "yeah, they give you way too much milk, we just don't even take it all", I had to take all the milk and then figure out how to turn it into food. Because we were that food insecure. With a newborn baby. I got some kind of swag bag from a medicaid/WIC related thing, and there was a hideous kids' t-shirt with an ugly logo in a size 3T. My response was, "Welp, I guess the baby will wear this when we live under a bridge in a couple years," because that seemed like a real thing that was probably inevitable.

And so, yeah, when friends would talk about taking vacations, or buying houses, or their 401K, or honestly even going out for a casual dinner just because, I felt like I really could not relate at all. It was isolating, and I already felt isolated as a new mom.

I'm very fortunate that I ended up leveraging some networking connections to get a new job, and that job was better and more stable than anything I'd had before. And a lot of privilege is tied into that development. (I have a college degree, I had years of experience before this happened, I have connections in my field, we all to an extent share race and class backgrounds and thus those connections see me as someone deserving of a break and not an interloper, I give good interview, etc.) And now I'm pretty sure that we're not going to move under a bridge anytime soon. And it's much easier to relate to friends who are doing well, or who benefit from privilege and family money, now that my main problem in life isn't my welfare-funded subsistence yogurt making schedule.

I don't know what the answer to this is, since I don't think it should be "suck it up and cheer for your more fortunate/privileged friends". But I'm also intimately aware that life events can turn on a dime and change people's circumstances. There were probably other times that those same people felt they couldn't relate to me.
posted by the milkman, the paper boy at 2:01 PM on March 11 [9 favorites]

I am also in favor of more transparency around salaries, though I am not comfortable with giving a number in such a public forum. I have realized over the years that, as someone put it upthread, I'm probably on the right side of the financial spectrum at MeFi. I have a complicated relationship with this, and even saying it here is making me uncomfortable. I'm guessing that many of the 6+-figure US$ salaried MeFites are not jumping in here because there's very little upside and a lot of potential downside.

I've had many lean years, but none where I was honestly worried about not having a roof over my head or not enough food - just many where I worried a lot about making rent and student loan and credit card payments. I'm now the breadwinner for a family of 5 in the greater New York area where COL is ridiculously high. So even though my actual salary is on the higher side of the numbers mentioned here, my life sure doesn't feel like the number sounds. I am NOT complaining, because we have enough to do most of the things we value (some retirement savings, activities for the kids, one vacation a year) and I am absolutely conscious of the fact that this already makes us extremely fortunate. As a woman, I'm also proud that I'm able to provide this lifestyle for my family. So I try to be both aware of my privilege and grateful, and unashamed at the same time. Which can be tricky, as 'the rich'/'people who make more than me' is one of the last 'safe' demographics to shit on here at MeFi, and there have been times when I've felt that someone like me (not rich but not struggling) wasn't welcome here. And yeah, boo hoo for me and my first world problems - but I love this place and would like MeFi to remain diverse and a safe place for lots of points of view.
posted by widdershins at 3:26 PM on March 11 [8 favorites]

I was going to answer this question but then I figured I wouldn't. My aversion about sharing this data is less that I'm prudish about money - although I probably am - but that I make, on paper, a ton of money and it would 100% colour interactions people have with me here. Such is living in a high-cost, high-income area. I have no quams with it, I definitely acknowledge my privilege and count my blessings. But I paid more in taxes last year (federal, state, local property) than most of the incomes people have shared here. And I 100% believe someone would dig it up and say something about it later on.
posted by GuyZero at 4:48 PM on March 11 [8 favorites]

I really don't like this thread, because it seems likely to make lower-income people feel worse, not better. If you're on the low end of the income distribution, real life gives you reminders of that all the time. A thread full of larger numbers feels like more of the same— even if (as should be obvious) this is not a sampling technique likely to give an accurate estimate of Mefites' median income.

But for the same reason, I'd like other low-income people to know that they're not alone. Mine is under $20K; I don't feel comfortable giving more details than that.
posted by zompist at 4:54 PM on March 11 [8 favorites]

I think what's so fascinating about the aversion to sharing salary details is that this just isn't that big of a deal for folks in the US public sector (some exceptions noted in this thread, but most of my coworkers and professional associates are pretty shruggy about it). In this kind of setting it's not that hard to figure out exactly how much your coworkers make, and if you're represented by a union contract, you actually have a pretty solid idea of the salary range your coworkers make, even if you've never bothered to look up the exact amounts. Collective bargaining in many ways requires some degree of salary transparency. Some of the professional associations in my field are starting to require salary range disclosures before they share job advertisements.

Academic librarian at a public university, represented by a union, mid-$60's here. When I started as a paraprofessional, the only reason I didn't qualify for food stamps was because I was lucky enough to have some money in savings.
posted by mostly vowels at 5:58 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]

I think more private companies should have public salary bands like the government does and I've shared my salary info pseudonymously internally in the spirit of transparency and fairness. But my personal situation presses several MeFi hot buttons and honestly who wants more of that?
posted by GuyZero at 6:05 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]

Have any of the less advantaged people in this thread said anything unwelcoming about wealthier MeFites? I’m genuinely curious. I’ve only been reading since my own comments; pouring over the whole thing would have too big an impact on my mental health.

I’m really fairly surprised some of you feel unwelcome on Metafilter. Is it in this thread, or is it more from the general “eat the rich” jokes that people use on the Blue to vent about the massive and growing income equality in the world?

It’s probably true that there’s little potential upside to outing yourself as wealthy, and so absolutely feel free to keep it under wraps. But this thread wasn’t created out of self-interest, but out of empathy for the disadvantaged. Participation is meant to be an upside for society, or at least this community, not for individuals.

I certainly didn’t benefit from my comments. I’ve been almost unable to think of anything else since I made them. But I wanted to help make myself and others like me seen.
posted by thoroughburro at 6:38 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]

I like the Scandinavian approach (Sweden? Norway? I've forgotten) of simply publishing everyone's tax returns.
posted by aramaic at 6:53 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]

I make, on paper, a ton of money and it would 100% colour interactions people have with me here. ... And I 100% believe someone would dig it up and say something about it later on.

Not singling you out, just using this as a recent example: this is a popular sentiment on this thread. I'd really like to examine this feeling, this fear. I have it too, and this comment is me calling myself out along with others in our (fancy) (or at least sturdy) boat: What IS this fear?

Some thoughts:

- the fear is obviously stupid and made up, none of us will suffer anything or risk anything by revealing our finances here.

- the fear feels real and is absolutely paralyzing. I thought I was an inveterate iconoclast, I have a lot (a lot) of practice breaking taboos, and yet. AND YET! Argh!

- it's clearly rooted in class/financial privilege -- TOXIC class/financial privilege, because we're preserving the structures that enable our advantage by hiding from those who might attack (and thus dismantle) it. Analogous to old boys' networks operating in secret.

- feeling irrationally as if we're at risk of victimhood because of our privilege, because of the ability of the disprivileged to push back against the privileged, is a classic oppressor maneuver. Analogous to men getting super worked up about false rape accusations when women talk about rape.

- several disprivileged people have come in to say this thread upsets them because it rubs their noses in what they don't have and likely can't ever have. I'm not sure how to square the imperative to be respectful of those feelings while also continuing to strive towards financial transparency as a necessary means of dismantling capitalist and classist practices.
posted by MiraK at 7:03 PM on March 11 [10 favorites]

Have any of the less advantaged people in this thread said anything unwelcoming about wealthier MeFites? I’m genuinely curious.

Maybe not in this thread, but there's certainly been some excited commentary about wealthier folks being "first against the wall" elsewhere on mefi. (See also: guillotines.) I've flagged it where I've noticed it but it seems popular and it's a shitty way for people to contribute here imo.
posted by ethand at 7:06 PM on March 11 [12 favorites]

massive and growing income equality

Oops. They say to be the typo you want to see in the world, right?
posted by thoroughburro at 7:13 PM on March 11 [6 favorites]

the fear is obviously stupid and made up

This is not a good way to approach this. It's completely okay if people don't want to disclose this information. IMO, it's pretty reasonable to worry that there might be bad effects from disclosing it. If you want to talk about your own personal situation and call your own fears stupid, that's fine, but it's better if we can avoid doing that to other people.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:14 PM on March 11 [7 favorites]

the fear is obviously stupid and made up, none of us will suffer anything or risk anything by revealing our finances here.

In the past, people have been harassed online based on their MetaFilter comments.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:33 PM on March 11 [9 favorites]

it's pretty reasonable to worry that there might be bad effects from disclosing it. If you want to talk about your own personal situation and call your own fears stupid, that's fine

Yeah that was a terrible way to word it. Sorry.

Here's a restatement:

Oppressive structures can't simply be rejected by mere force of individual will, even if we are the privileged party in the structure. We all participate in the system because there is literally no escaping it: that's what makes it an oppressive system. Nobody gets to opt out.

So it's never a good idea to judge individual people for making choices that align with oppressive structures. Nobody can fight all the battles all the time. Which is to say: I fully agree that it's completely okay for people to not disclose personal details on this thread. Not judging their individual choice.

However I do think that in order to erode the power of oppressive structures, it's important to examine our collective choices and consider our choices at that higher level of abstraction. No room for judging individuals. But YES to critically dissecting our collective feelings and reasoning.

Speaking in those terms, I will still say: our fear seems to be a hollow one, as far as I can tell.

Yes, we are still bound by it. Yes, we are human and cannot simply break free of illogical fears. No, we aren't bad people if we don't share our financial status here.

But folks, I think we HAVE to engage with this beyond saying "Whelp I'm afraid." Okay. We are afraid. We are allowed to be. Next item on the agenda: the thing we are afraid of (harassment) happens rarely, if ever, under these circumstances. Isn't it weird to be so scared of such a rare thing?
posted by MiraK at 7:59 PM on March 11 [8 favorites]

- it's clearly rooted in class/financial privilege -- TOXIC class/financial privilege, because we're preserving the structures that enable our advantage by hiding from those who might attack (and thus dismantle) it. Analogous to old boys' networks operating in secret.

Come on. If I told you the number in the gross income box on my 2018 tax return would we have done anything to dismantle the structure of privilege in the US? I have had an unexceptional middle-class upbringing and have an unexceptional middle-class life. If I laid out everything I've ever done you'd come away with very little that you didn't already know. I live in Silicon Valley and work in tech. I got here because my parents bought a Commodore 64 in 1983 and I'm a dude. If you want more details on this read, oh, say, literally anything written about the computer industry and sexism ever written. The city I live in (in my profile) has a whopping 5 zip codes. Go look up the average income for my town and you're most of the way there. So as uninteresting as I am, my income in isolation is both uninteresting and dangerous as it's a tabula rasa for people to project their personal prejudices on.

The reason we have't dismantled the structure of privilege isn't because we lack detailed data on how it comes to be.

People have bad takes on tech left and right around here. That is not to say that the industry can't be criticized - if you work in it, you know better than anyone how bad it is in many ways - yet somehow outsiders manage to make terrible criticisms all the time. So forgive me if my expectations of people are low. And I'm sure you're very enlightened. Not everyone who wanders through MetaTalk has spent as much time under the bodhi tree.
posted by GuyZero at 8:09 PM on March 11 [7 favorites]

I'm another mefite in a high-income, high-cost area. Not a 1%-er but in the top 10%. Both my husband and I have the kind of engineering / professional jobs that make Money magazine's "Best Careers of The Year" type lists.

There, I said it. In the future, I might get called out about that in finance-related discussions, but that's kind of the point, isn't it? I have enough money to live a comfortable life where worry about money isn't always at the top of my mind. That probably gives me blind spots. Someone is going to point out those blind spots.

Yeah, I worked hard in school but I also had the luck to be born into the kind of situation where hard work is likely to actually pay off. Yeah, I live in an area where housing is ridiculously expensive but what I get for my money is a house with a yard AND a 30 minute commute to a good job AND decent schools, and most people only get 1 or 2 of the 3.

I don't feel like I've done anything to be ashamed of, but I do feel a certain survivor's guilt that I can work 8 hours a day and have health care, occasional vacations, and a reasonable education for my kids. The thing is, those of us in the top 10% don't feel wealthy and I suspect that the system is set up for us to have that blind spot. I remember a conversation with my geeky friends where I was like, "You guys, we ARE the wealthy." Look, here is Here is the Wikipedia page about income percentiles in America. None of us have amazing houses, our kids don't go to private schools, and our vacations tend to be things like camping, or going to a local sci-fi con run by our friends. And yet. The consensus was "Damn, we ARE wealthy. How weird. Somehow I always thought being wealthy would involve having more money."

So yeah, let's have the conversation. The mods are really good about nipping non-productive hostility in the bud, so if you are one of those 10%-er's, I urge you to be courageously vulnerable. Don't post numbers, post your percentile. Here are household and individual income percentile calculators.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:12 PM on March 11 [20 favorites]

I wrote about my situation recently. My partner, who grew up poor and is carrying some weight about it, would not appreciate if I shared her income, but she does fine. We live well. I grew up solidly middle class-my parents were a teacher and a social worker and my needs were always met, and sometimes my wants as well, although they had me well trained not to want too much. I was an obedient child.

One thing that I didn't mention in that previous comment/thread, but that I think I have in the past on this site, was the effect that my first wife's family money had for me as a launching pad into stability. I was able to quit grad school without a real plan into the teeth of the 2008 recession, because she was, through family money, debt free through allied health graduate school and launching straight into making good money. Because of that I was able to take a job that paid a lot more in experience than it did in dollars, which I parlayed into a really great job, which we parlayed into 1) being able to buy a house early enough in the Seattle market that we pulled significant money out of it selling it in just a few years, 2) finally paying off my undergrad student debt, and 3) even more incredibly valuable experience. When our marriage and the job ended at about the same time, I had the skills and resources to get my midlife crisis out of the way early-hike the PCT, knock around for a few years running a business that wasn't really paying the bills, figure out who I was, who I wanted to be with, what I wanted to do. Now I'm doing all of it.

I am not afraid that my situation will be thrown back in my face on Metafilter, or, obviously, in my broader life. If that happens I'll either deserve it or I'll have built enough capital and goodwill to shrug it off, or I'll be a cautionary tale. I'm generally much more shame-motivated than fear-motivated. I'd be more ashamed not to be open about my privilege than I am afraid to face whatever consequences.
posted by Kwine at 8:23 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]

Go look up the average income for my town and you're most of the way there. So as uninteresting as I am, my income in isolation is both uninteresting and dangerous as it's a tabula rasa for people to project their personal prejudices on.

It's really hard not to read this and be angry. Of course the Bay Area, and Silicon Valley especially, is super expensive. I know because I was just forced out. Even with a full-time job, I literally could not cover loan payments, rent, food, and transportation. All the time I heard people in tech say that yeah, they get paid a lot, but their expenses are high. And I was like, no shit, my expenses are high too, but I didn't get one of those "actually not that much for the area" salaries.

So, sure, people get the tech industry wrong all the time. This thread isn't about the tech industry. And it's frustrating, because I don't think having a nice job means life is a picnic. But imagine how frustrating it is to be forced out of an area because you cannot afford it, and then hear people there be like "yeah, I earn a lot but take into account how expensive it is here." That's why it's sometimes so alienating to be on this site if you don't have money. People cannot relate.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 9:02 PM on March 11 [19 favorites]

Alright, I'll retain a little vagueness: <5%.

All down to luck, really. Thanks to a few rounds of just spectacularly good fortune I found myself in a situation where my particular talents were very highly valued by certain very large multinational companies, despite my unappealing background, casual demeanor, and total lack of established track record in the domain.

Just pure blind luck. I genuinely live in fear that luck will take it all away again.

In good ol' D&D terms, I believe I rolled a natural 20 six straight times. Yes, sure, working like a goddamn maniac and all that, but still: without the luck, none of the working-like-a-maniac would have mattered and I cherish every single moment of it because I'm convinced I'm gonna roll a 1 the next twelve times. Or Trump will roll a 1 for me. Or whatever.

It actually keeps me awake at night. If I just work harder maybe I'll be granted a re-roll when the time comes. Every time I close my eyes the weeping angels take another step in my direction.
posted by aramaic at 9:07 PM on March 11 [8 favorites]

The thing is, I don't want to throw anyone's privilege in their face. I have had some fabulously wealthy friends in my life (which is its own kind of privilege, since I've gotten to do cool stuff I wouldn't otherwise have been able to do). I honestly believe that people can struggle with high incomes, because I've seen it happen plenty. I know that wealth can be a burden, I know a certain career path can literally demand that you buy expensive stuff or you'll suffer real career setbacks. I know the best option is sometimes to stay in an expensive place because that's where your industry is, and I know that $40K in some places will barely cover expenses (working a full year at Berkeley minimum wage is $30K before taxes, and it's really not enough). I also know that stress doesn't disappear once you get a mortgage. I know that people have kids, cars, and the unexpected stuff that life throws at you. Medical expenses, supporting elderly parents, trying to save for retirement. The world is a place of uncertainty, horrifying politics, and steadily approaching terror. Everyone deserves to live happily and comfortably, and I mean that.

I also feel like I've just spent a lot of energy explaining why I'm acting in good faith, in what was supposed to be a thread about how some of us feel alienated for not having a lot of money. I'm not angry about this, and I'm not really mad at anyone, I just feel like people still aren't really aware of everyone in the room, so to speak.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 9:26 PM on March 11 [9 favorites]

It's really hard not to read this and be angry. Of course the Bay Area, and Silicon Valley especially, is super expensive. I know because I was just forced out.

So you're angry and I'm awkward, so glad we were invited to have this conversation.

As anticipated I regret having said anything.
posted by GuyZero at 10:17 PM on March 11 [11 favorites]

I like the Scandinavian approach (Sweden? Norway? I've forgotten) of simply publishing everyone's tax returns.

It's Finland.
posted by infini at 11:18 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]

Come on. If I told you the number in the gross income box on my 2018 tax return would we have done anything to dismantle the structure of privilege in the US?

Not by telling me, no. By telling similarly-situated people in your industry so people could estimate market rate and fairly evaluate offers? Maybe.
posted by ctmf at 11:19 PM on March 11 [6 favorites]

So you're angry and I'm awkward, so glad we were invited to have this conversation.

As anticipated I regret having said anything.

Hey, I'm sorry, I'm not out to make people regret participating. I'm not mad that you wrote your comment, but it made me feel bad, it made me angry, and I felt like I had to say something. I think what makes this stuff so tricky is that it can be hard to spot a problem statement unless you're the one feeling, you know, brought down by it. I mean what I say about not wanting to throw privilege in people's faces, and I mean what I say about some degree of awkwardness being inevitable when you've got people with really different experiences. I also think that it's not always enough to say "I count my blessings," because I don't think this thread is about blessing or good fortune, I think it's about how people in society interact when they've got dramatically different resources to draw on. I don't want the takeaway from this, for you or anyone else, to be "talk about your money at the risk of someone guilting you over it." I don't personally care that someone has money. I honestly don't. I just get hurt when people say stuff that's hurtful, because they're not in a position to see why it might hurt. In the aggregate, lots of little moments like that add up to be pretty alienating.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:53 PM on March 11 [15 favorites]

Reflecting on this thread and thinking of measuring privilege by asking, are you allowed to fail? To make mistakes and not have them compound? For much of my life the answer was yes. My dad grew up in poverty with unspeakable suffering — when I read the book A Little Life, it reminded me of the bits and pieces I learned of his upbringing — but managed to become solidly middle to middle-upper class for our very small working class town in northern Michigan. He never let on that we were financially secure (his background meant he was frugal and never felt secure) but he also could deal with emergencies as they came and would help me out during college if I ran out of money. So I felt secure nonetheless, even when I kept moving every six months to find cheaper rent and lied on all my rental applications that I made twice as much as I did to get approved. Rent was like 80-90% of my income and food stamps and other public assistance programs saved me.

He died in my early 20’s when I was struggling to find a job above minimum wage, and then my mentally ill, drug addicted mom went to shambles and eventually spent everything he left and racked up enough debt and arrests over the past decade that I have to keep our conversations short lest I let myself feel like I need to bail her out again. So now I have a job that pays well but I feel like I cannot fail, I’m supporting both myself and my partner who can’t work more than part time due to having a chronic pain disorder and physical disabilities. Things like vacations and retirement accounts, sick days and mental health, all are out of reach.

But even so — there’s a level of security that I have, in that we could live with my partner’s mom if I lost my job. If my health goes south, well, that’s the end of it but if it’s just job loss then I could get back on my feet. And I have enough room in my budget to throw money at problems like “I need another hamper and a pair of scissors in several rooms in the house and it’s time for new boots.” So it’s too reductive to measure privilege only by whether you’re allowed to fail and I do see a lot of blind spots that I hadn’t before thanks to this thread beyond that. It’s helpful to realize there’s a lot of comments and advice being given across this site that reflect hidden privileges and I’m glad to be aware of how I could perpetuate that too. Thank you, sciatrix, and those sharing.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 12:24 AM on March 12 [8 favorites]

When I got my first job at 17 - just over thirty years ago - I began to realize that I could use the money I made to replace the lack of love in my life. My parents were never affectionate or supportive and I was never sure if I was loved or if they were just going through the motions. There was no education about money or life at all. I didn't even get the birds and the bees talk.

That combined with a month or so in my early twenties logging every single penny I spent every day helped me form my financial perspective.

My first year in college I had a full scholarship to a private school. I flunked out and lost the scholarship and went back to my parents' house for a year-and-a-half. During that time I was taking one or two evening classes a semester as well as working both full-time and part-time jobs. My premise for working so much was that I was saving money to go back to school, but mostly I spent it on CDs and clothes and didn't really save anything. Somewhere in there, I racked up about $20,000 in credit card debt.

I missed a lot of family day trips around England because I had to work. I've missed a lot of week-long sailing trips because I've had to work. I've missed a lot of travel because I had to work.

I transferred to a public college for which I barely had to take out any loans. I worked from 1-3 jobs each semester plus full-time and part-time jobs in the summer. I graduated after five semesters with $1500 in student loan debt.

In general my "on-paper" financial status has been up and down; I'm unemployed a lot. In the mid-2000s I inherited $65K from a great-aunt and decided to go into business for myself and spent it all utterly failing at going into business for myself.

I've blown through all my retirement money at least twice. Currently, I can retire at 87 and live for about eleven seconds.

Most recently I was unemployed for 3.5 years and living off the $85K proceeds from selling a home in the SF Bay Area. After about a year I decided to get my real estate broker's license and then the house-money was gone.

During this period of unemployment, my mom and her husband loaned me about $55,000. I know I'm very very very lucky that I have this financial support available to me.

In 2017 I made $0 and was on Medicaid and SNAP and in 2018 I made $85/hour. I was cranking through paying off that loan which is my only debt. I was throwing $2-3K into a month into the shared checking account where we all kept track of the balance and was going to pay it off by November 2019. Then my contract ended at the first of the year and I've been spending the money from that checking account to get by.

I'm stressed not only because I don't have an income and because I'm going backward on my loan balance but also because it's really really important for me to have my financial house in order. It's important to me to own my home. Money still replaces the lack of love in my life.

A few months ago I had lunch with a woman on my team and we shared our salaries with each other. She makes a little bit more than I did but talking about it felt so freeing. I wasn't envious I was just proud of her, "you go, girl!"

In terms of class, I've written quite a bit here about walking around at night talking to homeless people and doing whatever little things I can for them. I feel guilty having the financial support I've had from both jobs and family loans while there are people sleeping on the streets.

Wasn't there a poor vs. broke thread here somewhere? I wish I could find my comment there and it was a fascinating thread, I'd like to reread it.
posted by bendy at 3:03 AM on March 12 [5 favorites]

bendy, this thread?
posted by wellred at 5:04 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

wellred, yes, thank you, that's it!
posted by bendy at 6:30 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

That was the thread that led to my friends and I having the "Wait... we're wealthy?? I thought it would involve having more money??" conversation.

Look, those of us in the 10% need to stop being stunned by this. I mean, yes, I AM stunned, but that's a problem with me, not with anybody else. The people who are struggling financially aren't creating awkwardness by dredging up something that is better left alone. I'm here thinking, "Holy shit, people make REALLY different amounts of money on this site!" but anyone in the US who is close to our federal poverty level (or even 2x or 3x that) already knows.

So it's not like lower-income members of the site are starting an awkward and creepy conversation. They are inviting people like me to a conversation that has already been going on for years.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:16 AM on March 12 [19 favorites]

Honestly, as a mid-income person in this thread, and someone who has lived most of my adult life lower income, all the "omg I make so much money, I cannot possibly say how much bc people would start to resent me" actually makes me roll my eyes harder than just saying it. Like, I know that rich people exist. Also the mumbling makes y'all seem richer than you probably actually are. Like, the chances that anyone here is pulling down 7 or 8 figures a year is pretty low, just based on demographics and the law of averages. It's such a weird performance meant certainly not for the likes of me. (And if it truly is meant for the less well off people here, that's honestly worse than posturing for your fellow upper middle class people, tbh.)

One thing that I think fuels the pro-Trump movement is that a lot of working and lower middle class people are shielded from exactly how much money "rich" is. I've talked to a lot of folks who seem to think they are one solid performance review away from making Trump money. Because, to them, there is no real difference between the "rich" kid at your high school whose parents were lawyers and bought him a brand new Chevy when he turned 16 (not that this isn't a class signifier, of course), and someone like Warren Buffet. We all believe we're a nation of temporarily embarrassed millionaires because we think that there isn't actually that much distance between "roof over your head and food on the table" and Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous.

So, fuck it. Just fucking say how much you make. The mystery isn't helping anyone.
posted by the milkman, the paper boy at 10:10 AM on March 12 [11 favorites]

Again it is totally, completely okay if people don't want to say how much they make.

Precisifying numbers and revealing personal info is not going to automatically make people feel less alienated or angry about massive wealth inequality in society at large, or about upper-income people and their unawareness of lower-income constraints. The anger and the alienation and the ignorance are not a result of Metafilter people not posting numbers. They're an in-the-world problem.

It has a manifestation on Mefi and it's fine to talk about that. But let's not pretend that if only people posted their numbers, it'd be a recipe for reconciliation or happy feelings. It's not. It's a recipe for bad feelings all around. You can see in this thread that when people talk about having a lot, that's upsetting for people who don't, which sucks and they want to say so, and then the first people are stuck in a position where they've done what was requested - to say their financial position - but then that has made people feel bad. It's okay and understandable if people don't want to participate in this dynamic.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:24 AM on March 12 [16 favorites]

(To be clear, my "fuck it, just say" isn't a demand on anyone. But there's no real reason to be coy, either. Also, it's mildly offensive that well-off people honestly think there's going to be a pitchfork-wielding mob at their door because they drive the Camry with the leather seats or whatever.)
posted by the milkman, the paper boy at 10:27 AM on March 12 [6 favorites]

Yeah, it’s not at all that they need to participate. But if they decide to anyway, implying that their fellow but lower-income MeFites are a danger to them isn’t great. We’re poor, not a faceless mob waiting to riot.
posted by thoroughburro at 10:30 AM on March 12 [9 favorites]

Is it fear or guilt and maybe shame?

I work for a public university, so my salary is public. I also only can afford to live comfortably where I do because my partner works for a tech company. We don't feel rich, but we don't pretend that we are compared to most people.

When we bought a house, I felt really terrible and didn't want to talk about it because I knew most of my friends could never afford to do so around here. So for me, not talking about money and class is not from a place of fear of rioting mobs, but a lot of guilt that I was fortunate in a lot of ways. One reason I got really involved with union work was as a proactive way to work through that guilt, because I am in a position where I can put myself on the line and it might be uncomfortable and there might be retribution, but I'll be OK. It's hard to admit that.

Anyhow, this thread has given me a lot to think about and be more mindful of going forward. Thank you.
posted by kendrak at 10:41 AM on March 12 [5 favorites]

Also, the notion that there is a Haves vs. Have Nots hierarchy of Mefites that the Haves all recognize, aren't willing to talk openly about, and also their real concern in that regard is that the Have Nots are going to literally murder them over their designer sneakers or range rovers or marble kitchen counters is... yikes.

Then again, I don't think that's what's happening. I think it's just an ingrained upper middle class aversion to talking about money and intra-class performance of that aversion.
posted by the milkman, the paper boy at 10:42 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]

Metafilter has transgender activists, people speaking out strongly on women's rights and social justice, things that commonly cause harassment all over the internet and that goes over fine, but wealth is a bridge too far? That's not a great message for some of the users here.

Wealth, comfort, stability, success, income or whatever way you want to measure differences in status isn't the problem people are talking about, it's communication and the feeling of not having a viewpoint well understood. I think it's great others on Metafilter are doing well. I want the people here to have some measure of comfort to their lives as I think people here are generally good and deserving of such a thing. I would wish the same for those who don't have that in their lives right now as well, but it isn't a competition.

I'm not upset about my own status, I'd just like more stability in knowing I will be able to have health care when I need it and will be able to afford housing and other necessities. I'm fine with the rest and don't begrudge anyone their added enjoyments as those things don't concern me at all. I just think better awareness of the differences in status would make some of the conversations here better and would greatly prefer people don't speak of lower income people as stereotypes or generalities.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:56 AM on March 12 [9 favorites]

You're not poor. You're broke (Katie Smith, Guardian Opinion)
I often hear my friends say, “I’m too poor” when they’re frustrated about what they can’t have. Maybe it’s a trip they can’t afford, a renovation they want to start right now or a pretty pair of shoes they spotted in a shop window. I know they don’t mean to be hurtful. But when they talk about being “poor”, they’re not actually wondering where their next meal will come from, nor are they worried about the risk of homelessness, or about not being able to afford their child’s prescription medication.

Part of the problem is that instead of comparing ourselves to the Joneses like we used to, we now compare ourselves to those picture-perfect celebs and families we see on Instagram. We forget that if you have a roof over your head, clothes on your back, food in the fridge, the bills covered and a little extra in the bank – just in case – you’re better off than most of the world. And here’s where the words we use matter. If we self-identify as poor when we’re not, we risk losing the motivation to make a difference in the lives of those who really know what standing head down in line at a food bank feels like. [...]

We need privileged people to stop talking about being “poor” and to instead use their voices to speak up alongside those Canadians living in actual poverty. We need to question the stereotypes and judgments that allow Ontario-wide pharmacology and dental programs to remain low priorities. And we need to make noise around the dearth of affordable housing solutions in Toronto and the GTA. Let’s keep this conversation going until there are proper safety nets in place for when bad things happen and more people are pushed from broke to poor.
posted by Little Dawn at 11:05 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]

I make ~$350k, a nice round 7 times as much as my partner, who makes still more than his brother (+wife and child). I assume that knowing this will make someone here dismiss my future contribution on a related topic, whether they mention it or not. I don't think riots is a real risk, but that could just be me being out of touch /s.

I don't think there's a reasonable comparison between activists speaking up on mefi and people not sharing their income.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:19 AM on March 12 [4 favorites]

Do you also assume that MeFites knowing that I’m poor will make them dismiss things I say on the site? Or is that something that only poor people do to wealthier people?

Am I the only one hearing some pretty rude assumptions in this strange, mod-supported derail? I feel weird about it.
posted by thoroughburro at 11:22 AM on March 12 [7 favorites]

Am I the only one hearing some pretty rude assumptions in this strange, mod-supported derail?

Nope you are not alone. I see a mind-boggling amount of coddling privileged people's feelings on this thread - we're expected to be sagely understanding of better-off people's fear that their future contributions on MeFi might be called into question based on their class (THE HORROR of having to confront privilege!). I see disprivileged folk being expected to be careful not to make the better-off uncomfortable. It doesn't sit well with me either.
posted by MiraK at 11:25 AM on March 12 [15 favorites]

It's something people have done in person to me, and something I have seen on this site, and yes I've seen it go the other way but what, I'm supposed to pretend I worry about that happening to me as well? Or just bring up every related topic I can think of to make sure I cover everyone's experiences for them?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:27 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]

You didn’t actually have to say anything at all, if that’s how you feel about it. The thread is voluntary.
posted by thoroughburro at 11:28 AM on March 12 [4 favorites]

I have found this to be a really worthwhile, assumption-challenging discussion of the sort I'm not brave enough to have IRL. Hope that snark and/or unexamined privilege doesn't overshadow the useful contributions and valuable perspectives from across the class spectrum.
posted by Chris4d at 11:30 AM on March 12 [8 favorites]

we're expected to be sagely understanding of better-off people's fear that their future contributions on MeFi might be called into question based on their class

No, just to acknowledge that it exists and is not imaginary.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:30 AM on March 12 [4 favorites]

^ yes, participation is voluntary, and also, maybe try to sit with the worry and discomfort of knowing our privilege will be recognized by others, named in public, and called out when it's being used to the detriment of the disprivileged?

How is a knee-jerk "but what if I get called out in the future?!" different from "but what if men get falsely accused?!"
posted by MiraK at 11:31 AM on March 12 [4 favorites]

if that’s how you feel about it.

Sorry, how do I feel about it?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:31 AM on March 12

It's hard to strike a balance between "the Suffering Olympics, financial edition" and "Mo money, Mo problems" but we sure do like to try.
posted by some loser at 11:32 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

Sorry, how do I feel about it?

My interpretation of your comment was that you feel like you can’t win and aren’t sure you know of a way to participate without hurting people in here. That’s based on the questions at the end of your comment. I’m sorry if I was mistaken.
posted by thoroughburro at 11:34 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

No, that seems accurate, but additionally there's the fairly strong sentiment that my refusal to participate is itself a damaging expression of privilege.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:38 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]

At this point, if you want to share, share, and if you're worried about the results of sharing, probably better to just not share. This circular thing of "I'm worried about sharing but here I go" vs "it's hurtful to be worried about sharing" isn't going to take us anywhere helpful.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:39 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]

“it's hurtful to be worried about sharing”

If that’s what you think I’m saying, I must need to work on expressing myself more clearly.

What’s hurtful is worrying that sharing will hurt the wealthy, while leaving unsaid “in a way different or worse than the less wealthy sharing”.
posted by thoroughburro at 11:43 AM on March 12 [7 favorites]

I assume that knowing this will make someone here dismiss my future contribution on a related topic, whether they mention it or not. the agents of KAOS, I'm having a hard time understanding what you mean here. I mean that not as an accusation, but just as someone honestly confused what "related topics" do you mean? Like are you worried that now you're not qualified to speak about money in any way?

I guess I would say that yeah, if you were offering financial advice that boiled down to "just buy in bulk and save six months of your income" then it would be easy to dismiss it because that's not relevant advice to someone living paycheck to paycheck. But in general there's nothing about your income that would make someone like me dismiss your contribution. In fact, understanding that you're successful makes me want to learn more and the way I feel about your income is, actually, "good for you!" and I genuinely like hearing that users here are financially secure or beyond that, are straight up wealthy.

I also tend to think that, upon learning that a Mefite is financially secure, it is a good thing for this site because it relies on user contributions. Not that anyone should feel pressured to donate based on income or lack of it!
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 11:44 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]

(To clarify that last bit, I know that Metafilter isn't 100% user supported, I just know that supporting Metafilter is really helpful to keeping it operational, and it seems helpful if our diverse user base has folks who can contribute if they're so inclined in different ways without causing financial distress.)
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 11:46 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

Personally, I think Metafilter is a thoughtful enough community to not use my financial status as a tool to dismiss my views. I’m sure it will inform the context people build around me, but, then, that context is true... my opinions are indeed the opinions of a poor person.

I just wish the relatively better off MeFites would assume the same of me.
posted by thoroughburro at 11:47 AM on March 12 [10 favorites]

How is a knee-jerk "but what if I get called out in the future?!" different from "but what if men get falsely accused?!"

How is it the same? One of them is a worry about something we both acknowledge is likely real, and that you argue is even good. One of them is a worry about something that is vanishingly unlikely, and never good. Also of course one of them is what I just said and one of them is a pretty despicable argument often made in bad faith by people who are attempting to protect rapists.

This comment sure makes me think it was silly to imagine that someone could engage with me negatively here on metafilter based on knowing I make a lot of money!
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:50 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]

additionally there's the fairly strong sentiment that my refusal to participate is itself a damaging expression of privilege.

It is. And yet, you're neither being called evil nor being compelled to participate.

Not participating, or refusing to disclose, or worrying about people digging up post history in future discussions - all of these are manifestations and expressions of privilege. Keeping financial status a secret helps safeguard the larger structures of capital accumulation; opting out of uncomfortable discussions about personal finances helps the well-off and hurts the poor; and pretending that the damage done by someone digging up our post history is greater than the damage done by keeping finances a secret is just... incorrect. A type of incorrect that benefits the privileged.

These expressions and manifestations of privilege are expected and inevitable, though. It's bound to happen because privilege exists, and this is the way it shows up. Our (folks in this thread, I mean) privilege is not a deliberate attack on anyone, but by the same token, people pointing out our privilege is not an attack on us either.

> makes me think it was silly to imagine that someone could engage with me negatively here on metafilter based on knowing I make a lot of money!

I think at best my implication was that the "negative" interaction on MeFi (which makes someone feel bad but is actually just others pointing out their privilege) isn't as big a deal as everyone is making it out to be.
posted by MiraK at 11:50 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]

Would you stop editing your comments to add paragraphs?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:54 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]

We should have a big vase on the front page.
Everybody puts their salary in the vase, and takes money out when they need it.
At the end of the year, we take whatever money is left over and throw a fancy dress party.
posted by signal at 11:56 AM on March 12 [5 favorites]

Please don't use the edit function to add or change content. It creates confusion. Just make a second comment.

I will say again, even though the points about secrecy/transparency and maintaining the structures are true in the large sense, in terms of any one person here:

it's completely reasonable for people to be circumspect about what they share online.

We've had awful Metatalks in the past when people suddenly realized they had shared personal info in a way they knew-but-didn't-consider was public. Mefi is public, Metatalk is public. Please think ahead and don't post personal info on Mefi or Metatalk if you're going to later regret it.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:58 AM on March 12 [9 favorites]

For what it's worth agents, I appreciate you sharing the info because it is a socially difficult topic from both directions because of the way societies tend to be structured. Communicating and, even more, associating as equals across class or status boundaries take work and trust to develop because we are seeing things from different perspectives in some important ways, while sharing similar desires and interests in others. MiraK's point regarding privilege is true, but that's a structural problem that needs to be dealt with to maintain good communication.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:59 AM on March 12 [5 favorites]

This comment sure makes me think it was silly to imagine that someone could engage with me negatively here on metafilter based on knowing I make a lot of money!

Irritation with the expression of fear aside, what kinds of negative engagements are you expecting?

I'm sitting here and thinking. I was feeling pretty vulnerable about sharing my class background here earlier, after all, my current income aside. I think I am/was? afraid that being open about the advantages that background has brought me would mean that I am, without that background, devoid of value; that when I complain about wanting to be financially secure, people will invalidate my complaints because I just don't know how to survive at the point I am here and my expectations are too high. (To me, financially secure means: I can build some kind of savings and not live paycheck to paycheck; that I can go to the movies once a month without having to trade off between that and the hope of savings that will be blown out by some unforeseen calamity.)

I am also pretty impatient with this fear, to be totally candid, but that doesn't mean I don't feel it. What if someone invalidates my opinions because I don't have the knowledge or experience to opine on them? What if someone tells me that the things that stress me out and keep me up at night are my own fault for being too lazy or dumb or inexperienced to know how to keep myself safe?

What if someone sees me and thinks I'm spoiled and entitled for wanting more than I have?

What if--

well, I mean, if I don't think there's merit to that what-if, I can say that, and bluntly I am pretty sure that if I'm not an asshole about it someone will nod along with me, and I will still be okay. I can protect myself from a fair bit by arguing strongly that I want the same security to extend to everyone, not just me, and that's a belief I sincerely hold. If people silently dismiss me for being a poor little rich girl, well, not everyone has to like me. That's their prerogative. But do I think they would be less likely to dismiss me if they thought I was a good poor woke kid and they found out I have this background? If I lied about it, or carefully omitted things?

Man, I'm not sure I feel better about those things, either. So... *shrugs* I see why people could be envious that I was treated unfairly in my favor in the past, compared to them. We don't live in a fair world, and I want to make it more so. I trust people to not judge me unfairly for things outside my control, even if I am perhaps a little less sympathetic than I might otherwise be for speaking out about these kinds of facts.
posted by sciatrix at 12:05 PM on March 12 [6 favorites]

but it's so tempting and easy to circumvent the problem of l'esprit de l'escalier by editing and I am only human this is all mefi's fault I tell you

Ahem. Sorry.
posted by MiraK at 12:08 PM on March 12 [5 favorites]

For what it's worth, it is very easy to see people's class and financial privilege all over Metafilter just based on what they say about any given topic. It's far more likely that someone will discount the opinion of a wealthy Mefite because of what they said right there in that very thread, and not after scraping the site looking for reasons.

For example, I remember an AskMe within the last few weeks about how to not be so irritated by others' conspicuous consumption. One of the responses volunteered that their particular fancy status object was actually purchased second hand for a good price, and besides, these fancy status objects are very useful and much more practical than the bog standard version. And my take away was "this person is well-off" because as someone with a middling income who has actually wanted for things recently, no amount of "but I got a really good deal" makes conspicuous consumption like that within my reach. I also know, as someone who has the standard crappy discount version of that item, that it's absolutely possible, even enjoyable, to suffer through a winter without a $1000 coat or raise an infant without a $2000 stroller.

And, of course, I didn't think less of the person who wrote that comment (I don't even remember who it was at this point), because, like, life is too short. I already know well off people exist. Vaguely clueless MeFi comments, or people talking about money in MetaTalk, aren't alerting me to something I wasn't already aware of.

And, honestly, if the worst thing in your life is the fear that a stranger on the internet might read your internet comment and think it demonstrates a lack of perspective, I have a great subsistence yogurt-making schedule I could MeMail you.
posted by the milkman, the paper boy at 12:35 PM on March 12 [15 favorites]

[A few comments deleted; let's just rewind and skip the entire derail over join dates/ BNDs.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:07 PM on March 12 [6 favorites]

I just want to point out as the person who sparked the thread sort of with the feeling "not a real mefite" that at no point did I as a poor person say that I'm resentful or angry or hate you all who have better money. Poverty sucks. So maybe we could move past this. I think the framing of the numbers has sent this thread off wrong. All the people who have outed themselves here as poor have gone out of their way to say we are fine with you having money. And yeah, I do find it offensive that poor = going to scam you but I also understand that it is a real worry. I wish we could find a way to discuss class here without all the defensiveness. I'm brave enough to share my income in part because I have to to get actual answers in Askme that apply and because I feel I need to push back against the idea that poor people are suffering from these jobs so lets just automate them. It's not more inhumane to work a job than it is to be on welfare, disability. I humiliate myself on a daily basis to get my needs met. So I'd like the discussion to be off the numbers of your salary and more into how can we do better to recognize that poverty ridden people exist here and how can we do better at assuming everyone isn't upper middle class white tech people. Its a shame that this thread got off on the wrong foot.

I just see this as something we need to work on as Mefites and there will be growing pains but for a liberal-leaning left site (which is weird as liberals here are not lefty)I think we don't do class well. All I've really come away from this thread with is that I should either shut up about being poor/lower class or I should just suck it up when people toss off offensive class comments and that's tiring. It is another thing that makes me feel alone.

I'd like to have another discussion on class alone but have no idea how to bring that up without causing just a repeat of this. Another time perhaps.
posted by kanata at 2:33 PM on March 12 [25 favorites]

This has been an interesting thread, because while writing my original reply (now discarded) I realized that I wasn't actually poor.

I had this narrative of growing up sharing a bedroom with my entire family, with a second family in the other bedroom, seeing my father for a few minutes at breakfast on the weekends because he was working crazy hours to make ends meet, going to school on scholarship, getting pneumonia and triaging my prescriptions.

I wasn't unaware of the various forms of privilege I did have (starting with parents who were determined to give me better than they got), but I definitely didn't think of myself as affluent. I have bizarrely good insurance, a job that's both safe and legal if not exactly secure, and (not least) a wife of solidly middle class descent who puts us above the median household income all by herself. Which, in addition to the obvious financial benefits, also comes with lots of middle class insider knowledge that makes things so much easier.

It's a weird feeling. I don't know what to do with this realization. But, um, thanks?

I’m really fairly surprised some of you feel unwelcome on Metafilter. Is it in this thread, or is it more from the general “eat the rich” jokes that people use on the Blue to vent about the massive and growing income equality in the world?

I'm going to post this now before my rapidly developing bourgeoisie identity convinces me to keep my head down:

My family comes from the second world. My grandfather was apprenticed to a shopkeeper. The usual arrangement was a few years of labor for room, board, on-the-job training, and a small stipend. My grandfather negotiated a different apprenticeship. His "room" was a mat under his work bench, and he would get no stipend. In exchange, his master would pay his tuition at the local school. (I've heard similar stories, down to the detail of sleeping under the workbench, so this was apparently not as uniquely ascetic a deal as it might sound.)

Anyway, my grandfather studied hard, took the civil service exams, and won himself a minor civil service job. Actually, he could have tested himself into a semi-major civil service job, but you have to declare up front the division you want to receive your scores and he lowballed himself. There's probably something insightful here to say about the privilege of confidence, but I can't find the words for it and it's not really the point of this story.

My grandfather won himself a job as a minor bureaucrat. He bought himself out of his apprenticeship, married well above himself, and had a son. Life was very good.

Then the Communists took power. Humble origins notwithstanding, his high school diploma, his government paycheck, and his college-educated wife made him very much The Man. He's never spoken in detail about what happened, but he was at least paraded through the streets to be abused verbally and physically by his neighbors. His house and his bank account were seized. He was assigned to sweep the streets instead, probably while wearing a placard that declared his crimes to all passersby.

His wife lost her job but otherwise escaped unscathed. He saved his son the worst of it by fostering the boy out to distant relatives in the countryside, where the party's scrutiny was less intense. Though his relatives turned out to be the Thenardiers, and their neighbors were just as happy to beat his son for being from Not Around Here as his neighbors were to beat him for "supporting" the previous government.

All in, compared to what could have happened, and what did happen to many others, we were very lucky.

I get that here in the U.S., where the defining conflict of the last few decades has been against Communism, it's easy to joke about who will be first against the wall. It shouldn't be. Every time I hear that kind of rhetoric, it's a jarring reminder of how...weird this place is. This is not a pleasant and fantastical suggestion. We've tried this, repeatedly and recently. Even when I thought myself firmly on the side with the pitchforks, I was uncomfortable with these jokes, and now that I'm apparently more liminal than I thought, it's really starting to creep me out. If I had a trust fund? You bet I'd keep quiet about it.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 10:41 PM on March 12 [18 favorites]

Senior UNIX system administrator with 24 years experience.
I make at least 65k but less than 100k.

I made 28k at my first real sysadmin job in 1995.

Made 105 when I was at Halliburton for 12 years (that sweet oil and gas cash) but it's nice to not worry about my job when gas prices fall.

Grew up in a lower middle class single parent household in rural Oklahoma. Sometimes dinner was bread and gravy, sometimes it was nachos made with govt. cheese. I will never feel "rich".
posted by mrbill at 2:09 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]

For me, the synthesis of this thread invalidates the post's title question - income is not correlated to class except for marketing managers looking for customer segmentation attributes. As someone who has to often do that for a living (from scratch for untapped markets) I know that the income ranges correlating to consumer class are meaningless for such real world societal considerations of class. The privileges and the lack thereof, that our birth strata of society conveys upon us is our inheritance. Which we must find a way to live with, once we're out there in the larger world. I am reading this in so many of your stories. There is no value judgement, this is a sharing openly (within constraints) of our differing life experiences so that we can come to Metafilter community commenting with a soupcon of humility and awareness, of self and others, and so that we are gentle and kind with each other. I may not know you or your life story and circumstances, but today I've read enough to know that we have all had our ups and downs and this community is important to us in our life.

posted by infini at 4:05 AM on March 13 [9 favorites]

income is not correlated to class except for marketing managers looking for customer segmentation attributes

Oh it's definitely correlated, just not equivalent. Class includes considerations of present income level but isn't exclusively defined by that.

Put another way, this is why we make distinctions between categories like social class and economic class.
posted by Miko at 5:04 AM on March 13 [8 favorites]

I guess I'm upper middle class these days--my AGI is around $120,000, but OTOH as a freelancer I get zero benefits and have to pay extra taxes so that's probably equivalent to about $90,000 in a salaried job. That's triple what I was making when my last salaried job dried up 12 years ago, and ten times what I was living on 20 years ago. I grew up in a middle-class family, and that gave me the privilege of never feeling like I'd wind up homeless or unable to pay the power bill or have food in the refrigerator during my leanest years. But my lean years stretched out over the first 20 years of my adult life and my youngest child was 8 before I had some real breathing room, and that profoundly shaped the way I think about money. I remember standing in Valu City Furniture one day a few weeks after I moved to the East Coast for my first real FT salaried job at age 35 --still a low salary for a high COL area but no longer in the "low income" bracket--having decided to buy a new $50 bed-in-a-bag set for the first time as an adult, and I just stared at the options and couldn't shut up the voice in my head saying "you have a comforter and sheets and even if they're 15 years old and full of holes, you don't need this, you don't need this, you don't need this" and I walked away emotionally torn up and empty-handed. This enduring frugality is probably for the best (right now I'm having that same inner battle between wanting to remodel my hodge-podge kitchen and saving more for retirement) but there's a emotional burden to it as well. When I'm in my more depressive cycles it's easy to slip from "you don't need" to "you don't deserve."
posted by drlith at 6:48 AM on March 13 [8 favorites]

I really don't want this to come across as critical of any individual in this thread. I think everyone in here is trying to communicate and commiserate with their fellow MeFites, as intended.

However, I also think that currently there are only vague takeaways for how to improve interclass relations. I'd like to offer a solid takeaway based on the behavior on Mefi that alienates me the most, some of which is (unwittingly) in this thread.

In the effort to assure the financially insecure that they are heard and sympathized with, try not to phrase that sympathy as "Hey now, we're financially insecure as well. After all, we're terrified that we might become what you already are!"

It comes across as "We're just like you because we're scared we might become like you!" I think it's obvious that that (unspoken and unintentional) implication is hurtful.
posted by thoroughburro at 7:07 AM on March 13 [19 favorites]

Income is definitely not the whole picture. Perceived job prestige is a big thing. We ask what people do at parties, not what they make. (For the record, I've tried to stop doing this, with mixed results.)

My job when I was looking for work in my field after grad school was ushering at a technically professional theatre. It was often messy, super fast then very slow then super fast again, tiring work. I was paid cash and it was probably not quite minimum wage. But I was "working in the arts" not "selling Doritos and tiny glasses of wine to entitled people then picking up their trash afterwards"... *sigh*
posted by wellred at 7:28 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]

Income is definitely not the whole picture. Perceived job prestige is a big thing. We ask what people do at parties

Yeaaahh, ohh I know this feel. Once, I found myself at the birthday party of Molly Crabapple (quite famous artist) - me, a random nobody from the middle of nowhere in upstate NY, invited to this party by the friend of a friend who I was staying with on my way back from an interview. We're crowded into this huge Manhattan loft with enormous windows, so many very cool people, and ALL of them nice enough to make conversation as I made my way around the room.

Every one of them asked me what I do. Every time I answered, "I'm a stay at home mom," in a smaller and smaller voice, and watched their faces make confused shapes. Nobody had a response. Neither did I, really.

Bringing stay-at-home moms and other unpaid caregivers into the conversation here may be a derail on this thread, but also maybe not? Because even if I hadn't been in an abusive marriage where my finances were controlled, even if my wage-earning partner had treated our money like our money, the fact remains that my financial security depended on his day-to-day, minute-to-minute commitment to the egalitarian distribution of a resource that only he had direct access to and control over. What does our analysis of class and personal economic status say about unwaged workers?
posted by MiraK at 8:10 AM on March 13 [11 favorites]

I'm going to be the outlier here and say that, actually, income is strongly correlated with and a good predictor of social class.

I grew up in an upper middle class family, and as an adult I have been poor/working class/lower middle class depending on my circumstances and how you define things. All the ballet lessons and memories of childhood vacations in the world won't put food in your belly or a roof over your head. You can talk about being "broke" rather than "poor" all you want until your partner is delivering groceries for a living. And then... well that's literally what poor is until we create a universal minimum income and some people just choose to be grocery delivery people because it's fun.

Yes, it's true, my background does give me some privilege that a person coming from multi-generational poverty might not have. I know what shoes to wear to a job interview. I was not the first person in my family to go to college. When I found myself pregnant without health insurance, I knew that medicaid was a thing, I was probably eligible for it, and then I spent 2 hours calling different clinics to find someone who took medicaid and also would provide the kind of OBGYN care that I was looking for. These are resources that not everyone has, and I am eminently aware of the fact that while I am less fortunate than some people, I am more fortunate than other people.

That said, again, the awareness that piano lessons and being president of the French club look good on a college application doesn't pay the electric bill.

I find it especially disturbing when affluent people trot out the "income isn't the same as socio-economic class" aphorism as a way to somehow have their cake and eat it, too. While class privilege can make some aspects of poverty easier, if you're rich, you're rich. Period.
posted by the milkman, the paper boy at 10:37 AM on March 13 [11 favorites]

I think it took me about a half hour or more just to get through reading everyone's responses. It was starting to feel like it was going to derail into class wars for a moment. People aren't really talking about root issues here. Why do we blame individuals when we should look at the systems that support certain outcomes? Shaming/judging each other for what we have or don't have doesn't get to the heart of the issue. Our systems are based on inequity and it will continue to do so unless we dismantle the systems. Blaming each other does nothing but create distracting noise.
posted by jj's.mama at 12:34 PM on March 13 [7 favorites]

I still find this, from a 2011 interview with Paul Merton, describes it best for me:
"Well, class is awkward, isn't it? Am I allowed to call myself working-class now? Because obviously I'm now very rich. But the phrase 'working-class' is the phrase I grew up with – and so much of the working-class thing is about thinking you're not allowed to do stuff." The more he talks, the clearer it becomes that class was no joke for him as a young man – and still isn't, even now.

"When I started off as a comic, aged 23 or 24, I remember looking at another comedian who used to read the Guardian, and thinking to myself: 'God, I wish I read the Guardian.' And then I thought: 'Hang on a minute, just go and buy it. Yes I can!' But actually I had to get over that barrier. It's just like I used to say: 'Oh, I wish I liked jazz, jazz seems to be something you could really get into.' It's bizarre, isn't it?"

But then he starts to look a little uneasy. He can't bear, he says, to look as if he might have a chip on his shoulder – "cos that's what gets thrown at you – as if to complain about your position is somehow not allowed. And there's nothing about my life I can resent now. But how the working class are sometimes portrayed is – well, galling." I ask for an example, and he hesitates - but then, after a long sigh:

"Well you know, someone like Boris Johnson, he's done Have I Got News for You several times, but Boris doesn't know anything about – well, Boris is just not from the world where you think: 'I've got 36p in my pocket and the giro doesn't arrive for another two days, what am I going to do?' But that used to be my world."

Then he tells a story about standing in a park next to Fulham's football ground with his dad when he was only eight or nine. He looked across the Thames, and asked his father what was on the other side of the river. And his father told him there was nothing there; that he couldn't go over there.

"Then when I got to the age of about 19, I wondered if something was there. And this is going to sound ludicrous, but it's as it was. I thought I'll go and have a look. So I got off the bus, and instead of going over the bridge I went along the other side of the bank. And there was a rowing club, and people rowing; people from Cambridge, and Barclays, and stuff. And I felt so inhibited by them, I couldn't go any further on. I had to go back. These rowers and stuff – this is it, this is the thing – not feeling you fit in. I didn't feel as if I fitted in. Feeling that you shouldn't be there. That somebody's going to tell you off. That you're in the wrong place. And I realised I'd been told something at the age of 10, that you can't go there – that it's not for you. And I just believed it. So when people say: 'Oh what's wrong with the working class? All they've got to do is this and that.' Well no, it's not as easy as that."

He breaks off, looking slightly apologetic. "I'm just trying to talk about this without sounding as if I've got a grudge, cos there is no grudge. I hope this isn't sounding like a terrible sob story, I don't mean it to be at all."
posted by Grangousier at 2:21 PM on March 13 [19 favorites]

I find it especially disturbing when affluent people trot out the "income isn't the same as socio-economic class" aphorism

It shouldn't ever be made that shallowly, and research is now great at showing us that most of the time, the correlation holds true and class mobility is far lesson common than we think. But the two aren't entirely the same, and I think when people insist they are, it's about denying or minimizing privilege My extended family sits across some class divides. Many of them have incomes that would put them square into the upper-middle-class category, yet who would not be considered "upper middle class" by any social metric whatsoever. Having a high social/class status doesn't put any food on the table when the income isn't there, as a thousand decayed Boston Brahmins can tell you, but it doesn't mean nothing, either. And I am from a working-class-by-income-level family with no college degrees, but grew up in a wealth-adjacent context and am white and had access to good schools and good verbal abilities, and as a result for the most part, if you asked people to pigeonhole me, they would probably not tag me "working class."

When we consider the power of network effects, access to education and opportunity, and whiteness, we have to admit that all those things factor into what we generally mean by "class." Income is correlated but not the sole definer. Access to opportunity and other good things is often divided along lines that don't refer to income (like racial lines), so those privileges become a class factor no matter what.

Part of the problem is that the US has tried to map itself onto 19th-century British ideas of a three-tier class system. It doesn't work here, in part because of the much more widespread history of slavery and Jim Crow, and a lot of other social complexity. We really probably need some kind of two-axis diagram or perhaps a concentric-circle type chart to understand who has access to what kinds of power in the US and who doesn't.
posted by Miko at 2:58 PM on March 13 [11 favorites]

What I mean is that I'm completely fine with the research. I'm sure it is well-reasoned and intelligent research. I agree that there's definitely a lot more to class than just how much you make.

But I have to say I hear more affluent people saying it as a way to dissemble about having money than I hear it in an academic or sociological context. And it feels so shitty and hollow to hear people whose material needs are entirely met digging deep in grandpa's pockets for some anecdote about how, really, actually, they are poor after all and thus somehow more virtuous.

Also, as someone from a red state, this type of dissembling seems very clearly connected to Trump's America. We are told that Trump won because of distressed working class white men. In reality, Trump was elected by prosperous middle class white men, many of whom hide their affluence in working class cosplay, and thus are magically somehow "are not considered upper middle class" even though they are exactly upper middle class. You can own a million pickup trucks, Harleys, and pairs of cowboy boots, but if you make a lot of money, that makes you a rich person, not temporarily fortunate working class.
posted by the milkman, the paper boy at 3:21 PM on March 13 [8 favorites]

I agree, that's true. And at the sme time, those rural affluent people are not all that likely to have access to politicians or know how to use that system, to get access to good quality higher education, to own many lasting long-term productive assets like stocks or land, or to pass much on to later generations (also because they may in fact be leveraged to the eyeballs and have no idea how to handle money). Considered on the basis of incomes/assets alone, sure, they are upper middle class. Considered on the basis of network access and knowledge, they are probably as generationally locked out of that stuff as many others, and in the grand scheme, as always, while the middle and working classes make fine points about all this about this the rich run away with the spoils.

And it's also common for people to say "look at me, I had high social class status and it didn't help, I'm still poor," without recognizing that they could in fact have been plenty worse off financially than they are, if they hadn't the benefit of all the privileges they did have, and that plenty of people with just as much innate worth as them are in that exact boat.
posted by Miko at 4:55 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]

Of course those people know how to access those things. How do you think red states work? Texas, especially, is full of affluent suburbanites with rural and working class roots. All of whom have college degrees, vote, own land, etc. And they use their ample social capital to elect republicans and take resources away from poor and non-white people.

It's true that those people tend not to be the elite. You've got your upper middle class lawyer or engineer in the Houston suburbs, faithfully making moderate-sized donations to their local Republican candidates, driving $50,000 pickup trucks, with wardrobes from Cabela's and weekend hunting cabins, who consider themselves "working class" and "rural" when they're very much not. And then, yeah, you have people like the Bushes, or the Waltons in Arkansas, or Don Blankenship in West Virginia, who are the true elites who benefit from the support of all these smaller (but still affluent) people. And those groups are different, and there is almost no chance of someone from the former group -- despite, again, not being working class in any sense of the word -- joining the latter group. But that still makes the rhinestone cowboy cosplay and far-right voting habits a bad joke.
posted by the milkman, the paper boy at 5:14 PM on March 13 [5 favorites]

It's very nice to think "well off" = NYT reading NPR listening birkenstock and subaru Vermont liberals. And "working class" = virtuous small town churchgoing country music listening high school educated blue collar types. But that's not how the actual lines of social class in the US are actually drawn, on the ground.
posted by the milkman, the paper boy at 5:16 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]

Just as a note, the way much of this conversation has gone makes it clear, yet again, that the site is only truly interested in US perspectives, and only from a very particular angle, at that.
posted by doggod at 5:25 PM on March 13 [10 favorites]

As an American, I'm curious to know more about how this issue plays out elsewhere. I'm tired of hearing about this inequitable system here. Hope others will chime in. I've lived in Japan and that's just a whole other scenario. Anecdotally, most Japanese are middle class. Very few are poor. Not many homeless. I've heard this is due to high taxes among other things. When I lived in Japan, my fellow teaching colleagues came from the U.K., South Africa, Australia and New Zealand and Germany. I honestly don't know what they'd say about class because we never talked about it.
posted by jj's.mama at 6:34 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]

[One comment deleted. Please don't use the edit function to add or change content. Also, let's bring it back to Mefi specifically, rather than getting sidetracked off into general musing about class in the US.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:39 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]

I’m familiar with the profile of people you mention, the milkman, but that’s not the people I’m talking about here. Those people are unequivocally part of the elite and enjoy high class status. “Working-class chic” has been around for a long time, and rich lawyers driving trucks and wearing cowboy boots (work boots, gum boots, adjust for your region) is nothing new, but that’s an elite attempt to borrow blue-collar a red, not a reflection of actual class status.

I typed out a long thing about people in my extended family like those I’m referring to, but chose not to post it as there’s no need for personal details. Suffice to say they live in rural, red states (north and south), work in industries like health care, hospitality, and manufacturing, own homes and a lot of expensive engine toys like snowmobiled and jet skis, don’t have college degrees, vote but aren’t otherwise politically engaged and certainly not campaign donors, and in habits and personal presentation would not be considered anything other than working class. All have combined household incomes over $250k annually and live in places where those cost of living is very low, so their percentage of disposable income is high. The people in their communities are a lot like them. You’d find similar in any rural place with a
Large health care facility, vacation economy or big manufacturer. It’s a real profile and I share it to support the point that income/economic class is one thing, social class somewhat distinct. Your lawyer cowboy campaign donors, though, enjoy high statusn in both.
posted by Miko at 5:10 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]

That is certainly true. The pushback is because, once you've dropped to a certain level, economic class is truly the only thing that matters. And I think that's the level we're mostly talking about in here: poverty.
posted by thoroughburro at 6:38 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]

Rather than giving a number, since people have said it's fairly meaningless in an international context, I'll say that I live off 45-50% of what I'd get from 38 hrs/week of minimum wage here. The majority of that is government assistance.

I'm fortunate to have parents that won't let me sink too low, and as much as I find it very difficult and fear the control that comes along with it, if I had an emergency or couldn't afford to eat one week, I can go to them. It's a safety net.

There's also free healthcare here, and while uni isn't free, most costs are deferred until the theoretical day that I ever make real money.

I think it's also worth noting that I go to a university which is about as wealthy & connected as they get here. That's a great privilege. It also comes with spending approximately 60% of my weekly income on rent.

I'm also greatly blessed in my comrades. I can still have a social life, because the few among us with good work effectively subsidise the rest of us, and most of the time things are organised with an understanding that most of us are broke. I can still have a beer and a dart, because of people's generosity.

I could probably get more work. I mean, no-one's replied to any of my applications for a year, but I don't try as hard as many. I'd rather live a little closer to the wire and have more time for activism, at least right now. I'm fortunate not to have dependents or the like that I have to consider.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 7:43 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]

Like others, I posted my reply before going through all the comments.

I somewhat regret doing so now. I feel like people are going to think, how dare he be such a rabid revolutionary, he's doing just great. Regardless of the fact that the relatively strong safety net I have was won through revolutionary acts, by Maoists and the CPA in great part.

As much as seeing this thread was exciting, it's unfortunately only contributed to my ongoing dilemma. I really appreciate the discussion that goes on here, the handful of commies that I feel I've learnt so much from and want to continue to learn from. But this is undoubtedly the bougiest, wealthiest, most counter-revolutionary online space I frequent.

I really feel that very few people here can relate to my perspective. I live and breathe politics right now. My comrades are my friends, my social life is environmental fundraising events, and everywhere but here I'm living in the extreme left parts of society, trying to walk a centrist path between anarchists and tankies. I know it's a bubble. I'm fine with that.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 8:20 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]

As an American, I'm curious to know more about how this issue plays out elsewhere.

I can speak to this a bit from a UK perspective, leaning heavily on this book about this survey of a few years back which tried to map out some patterns of how class functions in the UK today. That survey looked at capital rather than income alone, and broadened 'capital' out into economic/social/cultural capital, all of which play a part in how class functions in practice. This isn't about disregarding the importance of money (I have also seen the "admittedly I'm rich on paper, but that doesn't really matter as such" thing here and in real life and agree that it's both annoying and missing the point). It's more about taking a broader view of who's got power in society, as per the (not British!) sociologist Pierre Bourdieu's idea of capital as being the thing that gives people 'rights over the future'.

So a few things we have happening now that affects how class works here:

- We increasingly think of class as less relevant to how we live, usually by trying to apply the 'traditional' model of upper-middle-working class, which certainly does not hold up as well as it used to. But, what's more likely going on is that class is harder to map and less explicitly visible, but not actually less important. Certainly we're not a classless society (and even if the only element you're interested in is economic capital, the gap between people with it and without it is growing).

- Current income is becoming (relatively, RELATIVELY) less significant in terms of the role it plays in economic capital. Wealth accumulated over time is getting more significant, as is wealth tied up in housing (the UK housing market and its role in society is a whooooooole other long story), as is generational transfer of wealth from parents to children. And of course, the interplay of these: you might e.g. not be from a massively wealthy background, but your parent died and left you a lump sum which let you pay some of a deposit on a flat, which you bought 25 years ago in a not-great area of London which then rapidly gentrified so your house is worth 5x what you paid for it... and so on.

- Also, age is becoming increasingly relevant. All forms of capital accumulate, with economic capital doing this the most. The intergenerational wealth gap is big and is growing.

- Cultural and social capital also have a role in class, and they are less visible than economic capital and also less visible as markers than they used to be. So, economic transfer from one generation down to another is easy to spot and recognise as such, even if you don't know exactly how much [child] inherited from [parent]. But cultural and social capital are harder to measure, and cultural capital in particular is masked in the language of meritocracy and hard work.

- On top of this, we have something of a national habit of a) still thinking in terms of the traditional upper/middle/working class system and b) fetishising the working class within that system as aspirational to identify as, based on some kind of sense of authenticity. This sort of thing is what the Pulp song Common People is about; this is also, imho, part of what's going on when some leftists from wealthy backgrounds fetishise 'traditional' working-class male jobs ("let's bring back coal-mining!") while shrugging off issues facing the cleaners and carers all around them. It does not mean there is no snobbery, there very much is still snobbery, but even snobbery looks different now and cloaks itself in the guise of individual taste.

- On top of that we have some kind of ongoing culture war which pits the 'liberal elite' against 'real people', partially imported from the US but also edited around British class sensibilities, which is easier to do when those class sensibilities have become increasingly divorced from how class is actually functioning. Good albeit satirical example in this Daily Mash article from years ago, in which a 'member of London's fancy, stuck-up liberal elite' is unable to pay rent after his 'salt-of-the-earth hard-working builder' landlord raised the rent again.

- All of this is of course having real effects on people's lives. There is decent evidence even within occupations of a 'social class background pay gap', in the same way that there's a gender pay gap. Increased precarity does not mean increased sympathy and solidarity with the precariat, it means people in better-off classes grabbing on even more firmly to what they do have in a way that accumulates more resources for themselves, and in a way that is often not even that visible because so much of it relates to under-the-surface capital. I've talked about this before on Mefi in terms of buy-to-let housing and further education.

- and finally, one surprising (to me) thing that survey found is that a very large section of the population consider themselves 'average', 'ordinary', 'in the middle' in terms of where they are in a class/wealth hierarchy. This went for people earning £200,000 a year as much as for people earning £20,000 a year.

I mentioned upthread that I'd done some work with my own employer, a fairly big organisation, on trying to increase diversity in our recruitment around socioeconomic background. This was important and worthwhile work and continues to be so, although it became increasingly obvious that a) not only were we not that good at it now but b) it was going to be much tougher to tackle than we would like it to be due to how much that features of socioeconomic class was hiding behind other things, like 'soft skills' or knowledge of our sector. How can we fix something we find it hard to see and even harder to discuss?

As for myself: I mentioned above that my salary is a little above the average UK income. I have previously been in less financially secure positions, including signing on for unemployment benefit with a new baby and one very rough period of regularly having to decide whether to buy food or heating because we couldn't afford both, so my current position feels very comfortably off to me and I have no complaints at all about where I am.

(Sometimes things still catch me by surprise, though. When I was doing recruitment work I went to a couple of graduate job fairs, and one question I got several times from students was "I haven't got plans for my last summer after uni yet, what kind of internship would suit me best for applying for this?" I don't know, mate; I spent my last summer after uni wiping arses for minimum wage.)
posted by Catseye at 9:29 AM on March 14 [14 favorites]

I more mean in the sense that we tend to assume everyone in the room is coming from the same background we are.

I just wanted to pop in to write that I don't want to make any feel bad or alienated, so I will make sure to be more careful in the future not to assume this. I think for me it's best to continue being more thoughtful with my participation by reading what other people have to say rather than posting and replying. Thanks everyone.
posted by FJT at 10:57 AM on March 14 [4 favorites]

we tend to assume everyone in the room is coming from the same background we are

I don't tend to assume that, since most of my adult life has been spent around people with enormously different backgrounds from mine. In fact my default assumption used to be that almost no one in the US shared my background, because the upwardly-mobile rural poor aren't actually super-common in any city I've lived in, nor any place online I've hung out in.

A couple MeMails out of the blue, from things being discussed on the blue, opened my eyes to the existence of a few people from similar backgrounds on the site. Since then I've really tried my damnedest not to assume anything about the average MeFite beyond an ability to communicate on some level in written English.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:41 PM on March 14 [11 favorites]

I grew up in Australia’s south west, in a working class family with a bricklayer father and a stay at home mother. We lived in an old house rented on a farm near my grandparents’ farm. This family farm was bought from the government when returned WWII soldiers were offered land at very good interest rates if they proved they could clear it of native hardwood timbers and develop dairy or beef industries. My grandfather went deaf from using gelignite blasts to clear tree stumps, my grandmother ran a small dairy wth her children, six, lined up on the verandah in suitably sized cardboard boxes to keep them safe from snakes and wandering off into soaks and dams. They lived in a wood hut with a mud floor. They had bread and dripping for a lot of meals.

That farm became very valuable real estate in a part of the world that has become famous for gourmet foods and viticulture. But the way with farming life is that sons inherit, but not all sons. My cousins have lived on pretty lavish trust funds since they were 18. They have had their homes and businesses purchased for them. My siblings and I, and all other cousins, have been very working class as we moved out into the world. My uncles and aunts who didn’t inherit have lived much more precarious lives, principally because their childhoods were spent providing hard labour to the farm and they were forced from school at 14 to do so. I was the first in my family, on both maternal and paternal sides, to go to university. My father was always wretched about not gaining the farm and it coloured his behaviour most of his life, especially simmering resentment, drinking and violent control over his conjugal family.

Education for me, and all of my cousins who later went to university, has provided a way to shift class. I became a teacher because my family’s working class belief that study was inherently lazy, and time reading la-di-dah books should be useful. I was used to working on farms during my childhood, and worked two jobs during my university years, received no money from my family, except that their very low incomes meant that I could get government assistance of $280 a month. Yet even $280 from the government made me feel rich and independent.

Having no fall back with family meant at times I put myself into the hands of relationships I should never have entertained. My background also put me off ever starting one with a person from a middle class or upper middle class family, or if I did end up with someone a lot richer, I was always faking a sense of solidarity by effacing my own origins. I think marriages and relationships are coloured intensely by class background, and they affect severely the outcomes in life for each person in them.

Being a teacher is not a big income stream but it is really secure for the most part. I was able to get a mortgage and support my husband through his technical studies. His family big note their class provenance but they did not provide him with any fall back either. The most impacting part of his family background is that it did not promote any work ethic. There were no chores when he was a child. Failing was ok, not dire at all. He had a posh schooling which he had no sense of family pressure to succeed at academically. So he failed all his classes and that was fine. The whole family had an idle upbringing really which has coloured the way he sees work, and also the contributions others make to his well being. It just happens because people who love you, pay for everything and they don’t need to be thanked because that is always the way it has been.

We are no longer together and this attitude has been a killer, it still is. It’s hard to detangle whether the class aspect of an idle childhood, or the natal family home’s easygoing environment where anything the child did was fine as long as he was happy contribute. But both, among a range of factors, have produced an idle narcissist. My family has produced an anxious need to be useful always, and to probably made me an insufferable codependent enabler of narcissism. I had not considered the attitudes to money so starkly as a factor until reading this thread, so for that I can selfishly say that it has been a useful one as far as I am concerned.

I am with someone now who makes a lot more money than me, but who is not rich. Our time together has been marked by the erratic nature of contracts, his huge alimony burden and the impacts of divorce which means he has no property or savings and a massive legal bill that is still being paid down. Divorce is also going to ruin any security I have had in life. I am now chronically ill and living on income protection insurance [yay, middle class ideology of seeing a financial planner when I was 29 and paying the premiums for years] and I will not be able to get another mortgage. In some ways money inflects our relationship. Mainly because if he was another man in my life who had no money and expected me to pay for his education, mortgage or holidays, it would be over already. He has a similar rural background to me, and his education also shifted his class. He has always been expected to work hard, and he does. There is never an idle moment in his life and coming from where I do, I really appreciate that about him.

A brave post Sciatrix, and very illuminating.
posted by honey-barbara at 5:14 PM on March 14 [11 favorites]

Good conversations and definitions in this thread. I understand some perceptions better than before.

Wait-new typo word concept of the day-hefore. Suggested use, it was much better/worse hefore.
Poverty is painful and crippling, especially if it is a companion piece to depression or illness, on top of it being a cornerstone of capitalism. However a life of modest means, carefully contrived is also a way to save our planet. Poverty is not noble, neither is it proper to judge the individual, only the society which engenders the state of poverty, by its doings.

Many of the doings of the current government have attacked the basic property we all have in common, the National Parks and Wilderness Areas we all can enjoy equally, and hold in common, and use at low or no cost. Then the destruction, and planned destruction of the air we all breathe, and the water we all drink, at least the tap water in all towns and cities. Then the speculative real estate market that drives people out of choice cities, or towns, or areas still habitable. The loss of the family farm, the incorporation of agriculture, and then the gross waste of food, all these things are building in to what makes life painful for those who are not the chosen. Anyway.
posted by Oyéah at 9:34 AM on March 15 [2 favorites]

Having two of my late stepsister's early-20s kids, and one toddler grandkid, living with my mother, her husband, and myself a couple of years ago when my stepsister was hospitalized was a profound and heartbreaking lesson about class and poverty. She was a lifelong severe alcoholic with mental health problems, unemployed, and a long string of abusive partners.

The older of the two kids, the young man, has since high school struggled with alcoholism and addiction, he's had legal troubles. When his mom became mortally ill, he was in a city far from here, in a halfway house. My mother and her husband, his grandfather, paid airfare to get him here and offered him a place to stay, their home.

The younger of the two, a young woman, became a single mother at 17, after dropping out of high school, had an on-and-off again relationship with her daughter's father, who was physically abusive. She had only ever worked at one job, at her stepmother's stripmall daycare center, never had a bank account, never driven a car nor ridden public transportation. Her boyfriend couldn't be bothered to drive her to the hospital to see her dying mother every afternoon, and one night when my mother and her husband drove her home, her boyfriend physically threatened her and her grandfather. A few days later, she asked if she and her little girl could stay here, with her brother and the grandparents who'd always shown her love. They welcomed her with open arms, of course.

About eighteen years ago in the family there was much worry and debate about what to do to help these two kids after an intervention with her mother revealed that they were living in profound neglect -- the younger girl, a toddler at the time, found in a bedroom surrounded by her own feces. Should those two young children (their older brother was living with his dad) be removed from my stepsister's care? As is usually the case, this was unlikely to happen and indeed did not -- best that they stay with their mother, who everyone hoped would properly care for them once she left rehab.

Now it's 2016 and they are young adults who had lived their entire lives in poverty and neglect, surrounded by addiction. The young man would visit the hospital by day and drink himself into a stupor every night. He was fine, though, because he wasn't taking drugs. Until he was. My mother's husband, an alcoholic himself, couldn't and wouldn't prohibit alcohol and, also, the young woman drank almost a six pack every night as well.

The utterly adorable bundle of joy that was the toddler was a wonderful gift. Her mother was consistently attentive and patient, even though she rarely looked up from her phone, and we old folk marveled at the little girl's resilience, her enthusiastic making-do with ever-changing circumstance. She freely and frequently gave out random I LOVE YOU hugs, arms around our legs, and frankly she was the best thing to enter my life in many years.

My mother had a plan: her grandaughter (and here I should say that while not blood, she had always been the young woman's grandaughter) would get a bank account, would take driving lessons and get a license, and -- most important -- would study for and eventually pass the GED.

I'm happy to report that all these things eventually happened within a year, though it took some doing. This was a young woman who was profoundly passive, utterly disempowered. She'd never lived -- nor indeed ventured -- more than fifty miles beyond the city in which she was born. That any of these things were possible for her, she couldn't quite believe. Each accomplishment was hard-won, yet always felt tenuous, as if this were illusory, merely a fever dream...which is less metaphor than a fact of daily life, her mother languishing for three months in the ICU, then hospice.

To these two young people, I was an incomprehensible mystery, or at the very least, an exotic specimen from a world utterly unlike their own.

Their grandparents, elderly and struggling with the illness and passing of their own child, found all of this far beyond what they could shoulder. I did what I could to help: disabled and reclusive, and myself a survivor of childhood abuse and thus anxiety-ridden in a crowded and fraught household of frequently inebriated and grief-stricken, angry people...well, I had to stray far outside my comfort zone. These kids didn't know how to be guests, how to pick-up after themselves, and here, I thought, I could be a gentle example. I could sit with them late at night on the back porch, ask them about themselves and their mother. I myopically thought I could bridge some of the chasm between us with tales of my wayward youth, including the infamous police chase or the visit from Bell Security (about the latter, a broadcast engineer once sagely opined, "You don't fuck with the phone company.") But, you see, I'd been a middle-class kid in a small farming and college town -- even the police chase, brief arrest and jailing aside, ultimately resulted in little more than a slap on the wrist. No big-city juvie criminal record for me of course, and my misadventures coupled with substantial privilege undoubtedly only reinforced the sense that I come from another world. Which I do.

My dad grew up poor and hungry with five siblings, and a mostly unemployed, abusive alcoholic of a father, who killed himself when I was three, and a chronically ill mother who nevertheless did clerical work from a walker or wheelchair until she retired at 65. But by the time I hit puberty, my parents and my father's siblings and their families were all solidly middle-class, very aware of their upward mobility and presenting a unified front of "everything's fine", as such families do. My mother's parents were the kind of people who were founding members of a country club, appearing in the society pages. Although there were early periods of my childhood with coupons, pinched pennies, and powdered milk, my mother's parents were always a safety net. By the time my sister was a teen, my parents were comfortable in suburbia, my father an executive. There were times when I was a child when we were technically poor, and there have been times since when I've been technically poor, as I am now. There was also a time when I had a mid six-figure income. In no sense have I ever truly been in poverty, I do not know what it means to be poor. I'd thought I'd known distant cousins who'd grown in challenging circumstances, I occasionally thought this of myself. I had not.

So, yes, I was from another world and these two young people were as alien to me as I was to them. You must understand: I haven't lived a sheltered life. I mix with a wide variety of people easily, despite my introversion, partly because while I have significant privilege, no economic class feels like my experience. I expect people to be different from me and from each other. They always have been.

So as these two young people struggled, I initially thought I had at least an idea of what they faced, but soon learned I did not. In trying to help and understand these two, I began to see some of the chains and shackles dragging behind them, the result of a childhood of true poverty and neglect.

As this is long enough, I'll jump ahead and report that the young man, after we forced him to leave, spent some time in jail and he's worked a series of jobs, each kept as long as he's able. The death of his mother was followed eighteen months later by the death of his grandfather. He calls at night, every once in a while, and in a boozy fog he tries to stay connected with the woman he knows as "Tutu", his grandmother and my mother. They talk about how they miss my mother's husband, though in her grief she hardly knows how to make room for his, still floundering in her own.

The young woman and her adorable little girl returned to the abusive boyfriend and father...after he'd served a six-month jail sentence. They've moved, and moved again, and no one is quite sure where or how they are. She has her GED, so there's that.

I miss the I LOVE YOU hugs and I try very, very hard not to worry about that little girl and her inherited second generation of crushing poverty. In contrast to her exuberant joy, her mother is quiet, almost invisible, wary of attention, always wary. I try very, very hard not to imagine that's her future, too.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:21 PM on March 15 [11 favorites]

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