Three years ago, almost exactly, I wrote this blog post in a different blog. I reread it and realized that for anyone who doesn’t “get” white privilege, this is it. AND, I realize this post focuses on the wealthy white, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand how us middle class folks have it easier (socially) too. Never have I heard about a white person being stalked in a super market because the clerk was afraid they would be stealing. Never have I heard about a white person being pulled over for no apparent reason on the road. But, this is on how the wealthy have a leg up on ALL of us but also, particularly, on the underprivileged minorities.
For years I’ve been thinking about people who come into life within families of wealth (I’m talking upper class and beyond) and how that affects their decisions as business people. I wondered if people from “classes” lower than those folks really get a fair shot at the “American Dream” and what it means for the poor and lower class of society.
My entire corporate career I’ve worked for a group of individuals who lived in a wealthier zip code than myself. While I’m not one to focus on people’s wealth, a few years ago was the first time in my life really interacting, on a daily basis, with people of money.
A couple of them even grew up in the wealthy zip codes, the wealthy school districts. I want to paint a small picture of some statistics of these zip codes/school districts and add some doses of reality.
In the high-class area, the following statistics are true:
- 98% have high school degrees
- 67% have bachelor’s degrees
- 25% have master’s or professional degrees
- 4% are unemployed
- 60% are married
- Percentage of Black and hispanic residents are “significantly lower” than in other city populations
- Average annual salary in this zip code was $113,000 in 2004
- Residents with income below poverty level in 2011 was 3%
Now, drive a few miles (really, just a couple) to the east and you have an ENTIRELY different picture
- 75% have high school degrees
- 9.5% have bachelor’s degrees
- 3.6% have master’s or professional degrees
- 23.5% are unemployed
- 29.7% are married
- Percentage of black residents are “significantly higher” than in other city populations
- Average annual salary in this zip code was $24,000 in 2004
- Residents with income below poverty level in 2011 was 33%
(all information was taken from city data comparing zip code 66208 to 64130)
If you drive in a high school parking lot you can see the differences too. Kids driving their one or two year old hand-me-down from daddy (his BMW or Volvo) compared to a 20 year old jalopy.
Now, I don’t expect anyone to make apologies for their wealth, or lack thereof. We all come from where we come from. God gave us all blessings in some ways or others. I also don’t want this to be a debate on the philosophies about how to FIX the situation because there are a million opinions and none seem to be working at the moment and, in my opinion, no approaches to “bridge the gap” are working. My point in this exercise is to discuss how growing up IN wealth makes for positive beginnings in life… no uphill battles. Well, maybe different ones I suppose.
Imagine life in a high school in the lower class neighborhood. I assume there are gangs. Safety is a factor. I imagine children from that school are less worried about their homework and more worried about their next meal. Maybe some of them carry the emotion burden of worrying about the safety of members of their family. Involvement in extracurricular sports isn’t something they can afford, or make time for. The teachers in this school are likely worried about how to retain a job and spend most of the time preparing the students to pass state exams (please read “Savage Inequalities” for a dose of reality on this topic. It’s mind blowing and sad what children in AMERICA are dealing with in the public school system.).
At the high school in the upper class neighborhood life is likely different. Kids there are very involved in student organizations and sports. This school has fundraisers to maintain the extra academics (beyond state funded) for foreign language and college prep classes. These students likely have less emotional drama (maybe different I suppose) in their home life so focusing on academics is not a problem.
Also, the students at the upper-class school are hanging out in the homes of VP’s, executives, and business owners. … Of lawyers, engineers, accountants, judges, and doctors. When a student is going to college from this neighborhood, they won’t have a problem getting an internship at any of the area hospitals, banks, law firms, architectural and engineering firms, construction companies, etc. These adult children will have had a personal relationships with some decision makers at these companies so finding that new job will be easy after college.
And beyond college, if this young adult from upper class wants to start his own company he likely knows tax attorneys and bankers that wouldn’t charge him money for advice or actual services. He also has the luxury of possibly receiving a quick loan from Dad for his start-up. He also has the luxury of less worry, probably, of failure in that he knows of his Dad’s safety net to float him while he figures it out.
Life for the lower class student will be much different. His leg-up will be through marketing himself and cold calling. There won’t be any name dropping and even if he knew of names, he wasn’t going to keggers at those houses. His Dad won’t have any connections to help and definitely won’t have any support for the young adult if he wants to start his own business (not if the average salary is a fifth of that from the upper class zip code).
I’m not saying that hard work doesn’t pay off, it does, but I do believe being born into money yields its benefits that people from classes lower than “upper” won’t ever have.
The members of the tiny capitalist class at the top of the hierarchy have an influence on economy and society far beyond their numbers. They make investment decisions that open or close employment opportunities for millions of others. They contribute money to political parties, and they often own media enterprises that allow them influence over the thinking of other classes. The capitalist class strives to perpetuate itself. Assets, lifestyles, values and social networks… are all passed from one generation to the next. -Dennis Gilbert
Does this bother me? On a societal and philosophical level, yes. For my own personal living, no.
If people remain in their respected neighborhoods then they will assimilate with their surroundings. I will never be upperclass. There are various reasons why I will not, could not live in the upperclass neighborhood. I’m just fine at middle class. I was born into middle class and am staying at middle class. I wear middle class clothes, drive a middle class car and take middle class vacations. I have so many things to be thankful for in middle class. There are burdens in middle class also. I know, in my heart of hearts, that my family and I could survive on less. We could save less and share more. There is a gray area in providing a safety net for your family and hoarding your money.
But the people from lower class… This bothers me. The fact that the gap between lower class and upper class is so huge is amazing. The fact that after decades of government assistance the problems still exists. The fact that numbers don’t lie… That the minimum wage is so low. That after Obamacare people who couldn’t afford insurance still cannot afford it and those of us that could are paying higher premiums yet, and told to expect more… Every. Single. Year (insurance companies made out like bandits on this one, that much I know).
The fact that the ultra rich do control the media, the marketing, the inner workings of our country and drive our purchases… Drive the desires and wants of people lower than them… Drive people to think they need that car, watch, designer label. People who buy into those notions are doomed to fail. If you’re only making $24,000/year, you should not be affording yourself that Acura or smartphone (that’s just my two cents). And just because you just now got that $80,000 salary you shouldn’t afford for yourself that $300,000 house just because the bank says you can afford it.
So, yes, people born into upper class have easier chances at life. They really do. They also have a bigger responsibility to share so their gray area is even larger than my own… That’s a burden they need to address. If we were all addressing it properly, there wouldn’t be a society of people with 33% unemployment a few city blocks away.
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be that person? – 1 John 3:17
But, not having those easy beginnings aren’t so bad after all. Peace, friends.
Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. – 1Timothy 6:9-11