That’s the price of a loaf of Eli’s Bakery walnut and raisin bread in my town.
I don’t live in some remote Arctic village where everything must be flown in, inflating prices to a crazy degree, but a suburban town 25 miles north of New York City.
I asked the men who own and run the store, one they spent $600,000 to expand and renovate recently — who can afford this bread? How many are they selling each week? (Five.) Sometimes they get an order for ten at once. $100, for bread.
Then I went out for lunch with my softball team, a co-ed group I’ve known for a decade. One of them says his teen-aged son refuses to drive one of the family’s two cars, a Toyota Corolla, because it’s “a cleaning lady’s car.”
Excuse me while I shriek: What the fuck?
My town, and county — reflecting the income divide that is deepening and widening in this country at warp speed — are becoming a place I no longer recognize.
The cars in our town’s parking lots now are shiny new Mini Coopers, Range Rovers, Audis and BMWs, not the dusty econoboxes I used to see. There are three art galleries selling garish, huge paintings of dubious beauty.
The median income in my town, in 1989, was $40,000, then $60,000. It’s now, I believe, about $80,000. That sounds like a fortune depending where you live.
But it doesn’t buy you much around here.
And the sort of hyper-competitive materialism my friend despairs of in his own son is normal amongst his status-obsessed peers, in a town far wealthier than ours.
Over lunch — wondering, as we all are, who will become the new President in two weeks and what our world will look like if uber-rich Romney wins — we had a long and impassioned discussion of the rich and the poor and the disappearing, desperate, job-seeking middle class.
Why do so many rich Americans not give a shit about those lower down the socioeconomic ladder?
“They’re losers!” said one, a retired iron-worker. He doesn’t think that, but many rich people now do — if they live in a big house and drive a shiny new Beemer and their wife wears designer clothes and their privately schooled kids are headed as legacies for an Ivy school and grad school, why, they deserve it!
And anyone who’s failed to scale the greasy pole of material success at their speed and height does not. Poor people are shiftless, lazy, poorly educated, unwilling to work hard. So goes the mythology.
It must be all their fault.
The two largest sources of new jobs in the American economy are part-time, pay minimum wage and offer no benefits. Slinging burgers at McDonald’s or folding T-shirts at the Gap will not, contrary to any Republican fantasy, help propel the hardest worker on earth into the middle class. These are working class jobs.
I know. I worked retail for 27 months, then wrote my book “Malled.” I saw firsthand the disdain the wealthy have for those who serve them.
Romney’s contemptuous remark — that 47 percent of Americans, those paying no federal income tax, are leaching off the rest of them, the productive ones — revealed a raw, vicious and useful truth. Many of this economy’s winners, gloating on third base, are convinced they hit a triple.
The rest of us can go to hell.
Here’s a recent New York Times piece about minority kids who get into top prep schools but can’t relate in any way to the privilege therein:
WHEN Ayinde Alleyne arrived at the Trinity School, an elite independent school on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, he was eager to make new friends. A brainy 14-year-old, he was the son of immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago, a teacher and an auto-body repairman, in the South Bronx. He was soon overwhelmed by the privilege he saw. Talk of fancy vacations and weekends in the Hamptons rankled — “I couldn’t handle that at that stage of my life,” said Mr. Alleyne, now a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania — and he eventually found comfort in the school’s “minority corner,” where other minority students, of lesser means, hung out.
A System Divided: To Be Black at Stuyvesant High (February 26, 2012)
A System Divided: ‘Why Don’t We Have Any White Kids?’ (May 13, 2012)
A System Divided: Integrating a School, One Child at a Time (June 17, 2012)
In 2011, when Mr. Alleyne was preparing to graduate, seniors were buzzing about the $1,300-per-student class trip to the Bahamas.
He recalls feeling stunned when some of his classmates, with whom he had spent the last four years at the school, asked him if he planned to go along.
“How do I get you to understand that going to the Bahamas is unimaginable for my family?” he said in a recent interview. “My family has never taken a vacation.”
It was a moment of disconnection, a common theme in conversations with minority students who have attended the city’s top-drawer private schools.
There was once a very clear understanding of noblesse oblige — that the privileged owe a responsibility to help those less well-off. No longer.
Increasingly, Americans have a servant class and a class that ignores them, until it needs their kids cared for or their doddering mother attended or their cars washed or their groceries delivered. They live in different neighborhoods, attend different schools, shop in different stores. They do not attend the same churches or share a bus, train or subway car. Rich kids think being “poor” means driving a car costing less than $75,000.
I watch it in dismay and wonder where, truly, the United States is headed as a nation, a polity, an identity in which to take pride. Social mobility is now at its lowest in decades.
From Foreign Policy Journal:
During the second half of the 20th century, the United States was an opportunity society. The ladders of upward mobility were plentiful, and the middle class expanded. Incomes rose, and ordinary people were able to achieve old-age security.
In the 21st century, the opportunity society has disappeared. Middle class jobs are scarce. Indeed, jobs of any kind are scarce.
Are you seeing this growing divide in your own schools, neighborhood, life or work?
How — if at all — is it affecting you and your kids?