Archive for November 2007

What it means to be rich.

November 26, 2007

I stumbled into an article in the Washington Post this morning that includes this comment about the aspirational difference between “middle class” and “rich.”

“The middle-class aspirations include a decent home in a good neighborhood with a good school, and the ability to save for college and to make sure that your children have the opportunities to put themselves on a path to match or exceed yours,” Bernstein said. “If you’re upper class, you think about whether you want to move your horse from one barn to another barn.”

There are several things I find interesting about this notion, including one that happens to be purely about timing.

Teela’s riding instructor (I’m Teela’s dad) just decided to move her business to Arizona, so several of her riding buddies are thinking about new barns for their horses. All but one of them probably makes less than I do. For sure, none of them are rich. I wish I could afford a horse for Teela – a good one – because she’s put a lot of effort into her riding, and is at the point where she could start to compete. But I really can’t afford one, and if I could, I couldn’t afford to keep it.

My household income puts me in the top 6.5% of US households. The NY Times defines “rich” as the top 5%, which is a mere $157,176 in 2004 dollars. I live in the third richest county in the richest country in the history of the world, but I still worry about whether I’ll have enough money to cover a major illness or injury; whether I’d be able to find a job before my savings run out; or whether, if I save and invest carefully, Teela can go to a first or second tier university.

We’ve done a lot of things well, and we’ve been very fortunate, but from either an income or an aspirational perspective, I don’t think I’m rich. That puts me closer to Hilary Clinton than Barack Obama on the definition of “rich.”