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Rich is as Rich Does: The American Income Gap

May 15th, 2008 | by Omnipotent Poobah |

Bush Cares? WTF?I’ve had the good fortune to work white-collar, blue-collar, and sort of fuzzy gray-collar jobs during my life. I’ve been a low-paid mechanic and a relatively highly paid writer. I’ve built amusement park rides and made my way through a number of part-time, low-paying jobs - caterer, drummer, and ABC Sports graphics guy come to mind. I’ve been employed as a manager and as a worker bee. I was the median student in my 900+ high school graduating class and dropped out of college with 2 years under my belt to work as a freelance writer. However, it was a tough economy. I joined the Air Force instead.

I’ve never been too finicky about jobs. I change because something about the new one appeals to me. I’m decidedly lackadaisical about managing my career(s). I’d be the first to admit that my success has little to do with hard work or exceptional skills and more to do with being in the right place at the right time and having the ability to sling shit (much like I do with this blog) with the best of them. Now, at the ages of 51 and 53, Mrs. Poobah and I find ourselves in the top 3% of wage earners in this country - a designation that often labels us “rich”.

Million Dollars Homes and Testarossas
Most people in my economic class don’t consider themselves rich. I’m told even the uber-rich don’t see themselves that way. Although earning more interest in a day than some people make in a lifetime seems rich to me. I’m on the lower end of the third percentile. Folks like me don’t own multi-million dollar homes with Testarossas in the driveway, especially when living costs are as exceptionally high as here the San Francisco Bay Area. There’s as big a gap between me and the Larry Ellisons of the world as there is between minimum-wage ditch-diggers and highly paid computer programmers.

I don’t say these things to brag. I’ve arrived at this point in life completely baffled as to how I got here. I mention it because there’s a widening economic gap in this country that I’ve seen from both sides. Neither Mrs. Poobah nor I come from wealthy families. We know not only what it’s like to have less cash than bills, but some of our family members were amongst the poorest of the poor. We know how to be frugal, and to a great extent we still are. Yes, we could afford more expensive cars or a bigger house or frequent European vacations, but we don’t much indulge. We aren’t so far from our roots that profligate spending is comfortable for either of us.

I say these things because there are far too many people in my economic class with no sense of how hard it is to live on low wages. The only knuckles they’ve ever busted were scraped using their Montblancs to sign large checks or order the layoffs of a thousand people. They would have you believe that being highly paid is somehow a thankless job. They wail about the government taking their hard-earned money to give to those who have no medical care. They’d have you believe the burden of “creating” jobs is as great as working three of them to survive. They think salaries of 400 times the average worker’s are somehow justified. They cry about how hard it is to shutter a factory and send the jobs to India to meet their quarterly bonus target - although most of the crying comes in the headquarters of their personal wealth advisers.

A Little Secret: ‘They’re Full of Crap’
I’ll let you in on a little secret - they’re full of crap. I should know, I don’t find it difficult to live on high wages - I know I’m lucky. I have health-care and can afford to send my daughter to college. I can do this because I live in a 1775 sq. ft. tract house and not a palatial estate. I wouldn’t know what to do with a house the size of a Walmart if I did. Don’t believe them when they tell you how much they’re helping you by paying their “exorbitant” taxes or that you’re just jealous to complain about their userus interest rates on loans. They have way more than enough to share without adversely affecting anything other than their own outsized egos. Their attitude is let them eat cake and everyone else can scrounge for the crumbs.

Although I’m “rich”, I would dearly love to be much richer. I’d love to be able to emulate Warren Buffet and help the world with all the capital the rest of my crapweasel class has tied up in Big Dick-et items like yachts and private airplanes. I’d love to be able peel off a wad of bills to pay for the medical care of someone who’ll die without it. Nothing would make me happier than to cure disease, feed millions, or give kids an education.

I gladly pay my “exorbitant” taxes in gratitude and responsibility to a nation that’s given me so many things others cannot afford. I want to help those less fortunate than me and I try to remember that on the 1st and the 15th of every month. I give money to charities. I teach adult illiterates to read. I’ve pitched in as a disaster worker and loaned money I’ve never gotten back. And, I’ve done all those things regardless of my economic standing at the time. No matter how much I give, I know I can always give more, but I’m also mindfull that if I gave every cent and every minute of my life to curing the world’s ills, I’d still come up far short.

I only wish I were getting a little more help from the Texas wedding crowd and all the others like them.


See other fine hypertext products at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

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  1. 15 Responses to “Rich is as Rich Does: The American Income Gap”

  2. By steve on May 15, 2008 | Reply

    Yeah… I hear you but I came from nothing and have what I have because I played the game by the rules and I am only 34. The disparity in income does not bother but I am not uber-rich. And I probably won’t be. But I do what I am supposed to do to keep earning money. I think there are a lot of people out that are in the position they are in because of some other “extra curricular” activities they have been involved with like drugs, gambling, franchising kids with multiple women and whatever else. Too much of one thing always leads to something bad on the backside. I still think a kid can grow up poor and follow the rules, pay attention in class and get somewhere in their life that is far better from where they came.

  3. By rube cretin on May 15, 2008 | Reply

    OP,
    I’m an old man who did fairly well. Don’t know if i”m in the top 3 percent, but trust me i don’t worry about financial things. got several farms, gov subsidies, home in the city, numerous educated children, and grand children, leisure in excess, etc. Today i planted several trees and vines i will never sit under the shade of or sip the wine from. I see things around me that are unfair and many are responsible for where i am today. Things have got to change if we are go forward.

  4. By Dusty on May 15, 2008 | Reply

    Steve, I don’t know if your bragging or just bitching that people do bad things to ‘get ahead’. WTF? You seemed to have missed the entire point of Poobies post. Do you skim or what?

  5. By steve on May 15, 2008 | Reply

    No Dusty… I comment to what I want to listen too…:)

    I don’t feel sorry for the disparity in wealth… I just don’t… I take care of myself and family…

  6. By Dusty on May 15, 2008 | Reply

    Thats a pretty fucked up statement steve.

  7. By Paul Merda on May 15, 2008 | Reply

    I haven’t been around in months and yet I see little steve hasn’t grown up one bit. Still doesn’t see that just because you work hard, doesn’t mean you will earn a livable wage. Take a look around, millions are busting their asses right now just to put food on the table…no health insurance, no 401k, no pension for them, just years of hard thankless labor for a guy who goes to great lengths to pay him as little as possible. Things are even worse now then they were 6 months ago with the prices of everything going up due to higher energy costs while wages remain stagnant…yet it is all “their” fault for not working hard enough???? Puhhhhlease!

  8. By Omnipotent Poobah on May 15, 2008 | Reply

    Dusty,
    I’m not sure that Steve missed the point of the post. He’s just demonstrating the principle I alluded to, ‘I’ve got mine, so the hell with everyone else.”

    He’s right that many people put themselves in the pickle they’re in, but as many more didn’t. The problem is, those people have kids and those kids and kids of kids may not turn out well by following the rules because they aren’t equipped with the basic tools to do it.

    Steve, no one asked you to feel bad about the gap. It’s a choice and your choice is to be stingy and self-centered. I’m just pointing out that the world might be a little better place if more people gave of themselves a little more often.

    I think this is a short-sighted view and that if you aren’t working on solving the problem you’re part of the problem. But, we live in a free country, so you’re entitled to be an impediment if you want. Opting out is your right just as it’s my right (and I’d add that for me it’s a responsibility) to encourage people to do more.

  9. By Dusty on May 15, 2008 | Reply

    Well Poobie, I guess your right. Some people have no problem gleaning their piece of the pie out of the American Dream without feeling some responsibility to give back to the nation that handed them the opportunity.

    Yet, in the next breath, those same individuals will feign indignation at the idea that people would travel thousands of miles from their own countries to afford themselves the opportunity to do the same. They also don’t want to hear how people that were raised in poverty need to be given an opportunity to rise above their current station in life.

    The “I got mine fuck everyone else” crowd differs from the rest of us in that they are takers.They will take and take but never feel motivated to give something back. Self-centeredness is a trait that I consider a negative, a flaw in their character.

    I see that has the inherent difference between people with a conscience and those without.

  10. By manapp99 on May 15, 2008 | Reply

    You may not care for a million dollar home the size of Walmart but living in the land where many do I am personally grateful as are many who here who make a living working on them.

    Case in point. I was repairing the washer of one of my larger property management clients last week when we started talking about this valley being the land of opportunity for those willing to work. I brought up the fact that housekeepers here are getting $35 dollars per hour and the property manager told me he paid the family of five that cleaned his properties $185,000 over a five month ski season. A mexican family that may or may not be legal, he does not care.

    Granted we also pay far more than the national average for everything from gas to groceries to housing ourselves but we are able to live in the beautiful rocky mountains and make a good living due to the spending of the wealthy. If the lefties that want to penalize the rich for being rich were to be successful, the penalty would extend to the many middle class here that make a living off of them. Ditto for the other resort areas the rich like to vacation and spend. As for the fact that most of my clientele make mega times more than me, I don’t see that as being any of my concern. As long as I am paid a fair rate for my services why should I care what those paying me make?
    A man making 10 million or 10 billion a year does not diminish by one dollar how much I can make. It only helps me to be secure in the fact that he will be able to pay my bill when he gets it.

    BTW. This same property manager bought a duplex in East Vail years ago for 300,000 and is getting ready to list it for 3.5 million after the remodel he is undertaking. Just a regular worker who bought in the right area at the right time and worked his ass off every season taking care of rich people. I guess he should be castigated for working hard and getting lucky and ending up rich.

  11. By Dusty on May 15, 2008 | Reply

    First off..Mexicans are from Mexico. If you don’t know where they are ‘from’ then its bullshit to call them Mexicans.

    Try the word Hispanic ok? Jaysus.

    And thanks for your cutesy little stories about how well some of your friends and clients are doing. Your little homilies are hilarious as you evidently think these stories are the norm.

    Capitalism that is left unchecked only benefits the top tier folk and separates people into two groups: the haves and have nots. Its a fact jack that you always want to ignore manapp.

  12. By Chris Radulich on May 15, 2008 | Reply

    I have no problem with people being rich. I also have no problem with those that can afford more paying more. I do have a problem with upper management pay. Not the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates of the world. These people and the pioneers of their companies built business that provide jobs and decent livings for thousands of people. The also made many people quite wealthy. They are worth every penny that they have made.

    It is the Jack Welches of the world I have a problem with. He basically made money by laying off huge amounts of people.This is not really a worth while solution in my book and certainly not worth millions of dollars. If your solution to business problems is to fire 10% of your work force, you can hire a high school graduate ( assuming he/she/it can read) to run your company.

    There are only two reason why most upper management are paid the way they are. The first is that the relationship to the board is incestious. Every member of the board has a stake in paying upper management more. Even outsiders need to keep the upper management happy as they are appointed by upper management( the vote for the board greatly resemble the voting in the former soviet union).

    The second reason is it is not the boards money, so why should they care.

  13. By manapp99 on May 15, 2008 | Reply

    These people are mexicans, from mexico. My wife is hispanic (even though she hates the term) I know the difference. Jaysus. As a matter of fact when my step daughter was secretary for the La Raza group at her college she would have told you she was Chicana, not hispanic. Hispanic to her was a term the white man put on her. Whatever.

    “Capitalism that is left unchecked only benefits the top tier folk and separates people into two groups: the haves and have nots. Its a fact jack that you always want to ignore manapp.”

    I have given you facts to the contrary you wish to ingnore. Capitalism in this country is clearly not left unchecked and clearly does bridge the gap between the haves and have nots. The fact that you wish to ignore the opportunities here is the reason for your myopic view.

  14. By Dusty on May 15, 2008 | Reply

    Although earning more interest in a day than some people make in a lifetime seems rich to me.–I agree with this and frankly, its part of the problem with our nation. Wages have stagnated for years now. Yet, the top tier folks are doing wonderfully. Is it at the expense of the other 99 percent?

    Bet your ass it is.

    What is interesting is that the period from 1992-2001 saw financial growth in almost all sectors of the population, with median net worth (the mid point where half the population is above, and half is below) increasing and debt decreasing. In the period 2001-2004, the opposite happened, as median net worth fell and debt increased.

    In 2004, the total net worth (the sum of assets) of all 112,107,000 households in America was $48.3 trillion dollars. That translates to $430,500 as the average net worth for a ‘typical’ US households. Too bad this average was a very misleading number. While the average was $430,500 — the median (the amount where 1/2 make above and 1/2 make below) was $77,900. This can only mean that richest make a lot more than the poorest, skewing the difference. What you have is classic socio-economic inequality.

    http://www.levy.org/pubs/wp_502.pdf

  15. By Dusty on May 15, 2008 | Reply

    Horseshit Manapp, as a brown bitch I do not have a problem with the word Hispanic ok?

    As for your facts, I just gave you a dose of some that contradict your..um..facts.

    Under both Bush’s and a Clinton, we have seen the checks and balances that were previously put in place removed from many of the financial industries.

    Another fact:

    Top 1%: 1,121,000 households with $16 trillion in net worth
    Bottom 60%: 67,302,000 households with $2 trillion in net worth.

    The bottom 60% earned about 22-23% of all income. The top 1% earned 17% of the income - down from 20% in 2001. So HOW CAN THE TOP 1% EARN LESS INCOME, YET GET RICHER?’

    Simple - Net worth is not taxed, but income is. Also stocks and investments (which make up a much greater percentage of the net worth for the top 1%) are taxed at a much lower rate than income. The bottom 60% earn most of their net worth from income — which is taxed at higher rates. Having fewer assets to grow and add to net worth, the bottom 60% were like hamsters in a wheel when it comes to trying to move up in the American class structure. In other words, the harder they worked, the less ground they made up.

    I don’t hate rich folks, but I want them to pay a fairer share of the tax load. Equity…its all about equitable tax loads on all Americans.

  16. By steve on May 16, 2008 | Reply

    Dusty… isn’t it “Hayzoos”?

    You all don’t know what I do with my extra jack so to say I am self centered is kind of… well ludicrous?

    Do I give money to the bum on the street at the gas station? Hell no…

    Do I give to the SPCA? Yeah…

    Breast Cancer Research? March of Dimes? etc. Yeah… I have…

    There is a big difference… but y’all don’t seem to spot it.

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