Poor by Choice Is Not Poor
Luxury poverty and mainstream journalism
Audio coming soon!
There is a well-understood generational pattern among minority immigrants from the developing world. The first generation does what it can to “make it” — working long hours for a pittance in boring, low-status jobs (think, gas-station manager).
The second, given a somewhat more sturdy foundation by their parents, works hard to achieve. They get highly educated, and earn practical degrees that pay well. Stereotypically, these are the doctors, engineers, or computer scientists.
The third… well.
The third are the dreamers (or the layabouts, depending on your viewpoint). Raised in homes of plenty, surrounded by educated and connected adults, they are the first to have real access to jobs that require substantial investment by parents throughout young adulthood (when they otherwise might have been expected to stand on their own two feet). They are also the first to have the compounding effects of a privileged network.
They are the first who do not have to worry about how they will support their aging parents — as their parents have retirement funds. Far from being a burden, one day their parents will die and leave them a tidy sum that they can use to get yet another leg up in life.
Therefore, they are the first in line to have the privilege of following their heart’s desires, of doing the work that feels meaningful. Secure in their safety nets -- they are the first that can take risks with their future.
Sometimes, the choice to find “meaning” rather than high income means that they actually don’t make as much as their parents, at least, not for a long time. And due to what appears to be a downward mobility, they can sometimes mistake their circumstances for that of their ancestors.
That is to say, they might feel “class solidarity” with working class Americans, without realizing that they enjoy opportunities the working class couldn’t dream of.
Recently, author Batya Ungar-Sargon went on Fox to say that “journalists are rich, they are the elite”. This claim made Twitter journos very mad.
“How can I be rich and elite, if I am broke?” they asked, sensibly. Many pointed to the average wages of journalists as proof.
If one interprets Ungar-Sargon's comments to mean literal, monthly income - she is obviously wrong. The average journalist salary — 42,000 a year — is middle America, at best.
But that’s clearly not what she means. More likely, she means that journalists are disproportionately like the “dreamers” — low-income in the way 3rd generation immigrants are low-income. While they literally do not make a lot every year, they are surrounded with a web of safety and connections, comforted with parental presence (and credit cards) well into adulthood.