The Poor Rich

 Posted by on 24 January 2006 at 10:07 pm  Uncategorized
Jan 242006

I thought that I was playing the world’s smallest violin in my post about The Poor Poor, but I just found an even tinier violin on which to play a mournful tune while reading this article by Daniel Gross on the struggling young people unable to afford whatever their heart desires just out of college. Happily, the author reviewing Anya Kamenetz Generation Debt: Why Now Is a Terrible Time To Be Young and Tamara Draut’s Strapped: Why America’s 20-and-30-Somethings Can’t Get Ahead has about as much sympathy as me for these self-pitying young women.

About Generation Debt, Mr. Gross writes:

In Kamenetz’s book, there are plenty of poor, self-pitying upper-middle-class types, disappointed that they can’t have exactly what they want when they want it. Sure, it’s tough to live well as a violinist or a grad student in New York today; but the same thing held 20 years ago, and 40 years ago. To improve their lot, twentysomethings have to do the same things their parents should be doing: saving more, spending less, building skills that are marketable, and aligning aspirations with abilities. It’s tough to have a bourgeois life at 26.

Kamenetz also makes cavalier statements about economics and career development. “The job market sucks,” she proclaims. It may not be as good as it was in the 1990s, but suck is a pretty strong term. She complains that a $700 personal computer, a necessity for any young person, is expensive. Huh? Computing is incredibly cheap. The first PC I bought, that crappy, tiny Mac, cost $2,000 in 1990 dollars.

Kamenetz complains that: “No employer has yet offered me a full-time job with a 401(k), a paid vacation, or any other benefits beyond the next assignment. I have a savings account but no retirement fund. I can’t afford preschool fees or a mortgage anywhere near the city where I live and work.” Of course, Kamenetz doesn’t have kids to send to preschool. And chances are, by the time she does, she’ll be able to afford preschool fees. Most people in their 20s don’t realize that their incomes will rise over time (none of the people I know who have six-figure incomes today had them when they were 25), that they will marry or form a partnership with somebody else, thus increasing their income, and that they may get over having to live in the hippest possible neighborhood.

Look. It’s tough coming out of Ivy League schools to New York and making your way in the world. The notion that you can be–and have to be–the author of your own destiny is both terrifying and exhilarating. And for those without marketable skills, who lack social and intellectual capital, the odds are indeed stacked against them. But someone like Kamenetz, who graduated from Yale in 2002, doesn’t have much to kvetch about. In the press materials accompanying the book, she notes that just after she finished the first draft, her boyfriend “proposed to me on a tiny, idyllic island off the coast of Sweden.” She continues: “As I write this, boxes of china and flatware, engagement gifts, sit in our living room waiting to go into storage because they just won’t fit in our insanely narrow galley kitchen. We spent a whole afternoon exchanging the inevitable silver candlesticks and crystal vases, heavy artifacts of an iconic married life that still seems to have nothing to do with ours.” The inevitable silver candlesticks? Too much flatware to fit in the kitchen? We should all have such problems.

And does her fiance have one of those crap temporary jobs all the drones in her generation are destined to hold forever? Not really. He’s a software engineer at Google.

I’m particularly unsympathetic to complaints about inadequate salaries from people who live in New York, since it’s an exorbitantly expensive place to live. That’s not exactly some well-kept secret, so if a person chooses to live there, then he/she must regard the expense as worth the benefits. And in that case, their complaints ought to fall on deaf ears.

More generally though, I’m aghast by the presumption of such adult children that they ought to be able to gain their independence from their parents without any reduction in their lavish lifestyle, as if the world owes them whatever standard of living in which they were raised. It’s long past time for such spoiled brats to grow up, I think.

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