The $10.32 loaf of bread

2001-2006 Mini CooperS photographed in USA. Ca...
2001-2006 Mini CooperS photographed in USA. Category:BMW Mini R53 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.


For bread.

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.

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?

24 thoughts on “The $10.32 loaf of bread

  1. I don’t see this divide much in my life, mostly because I’m a student at OSU and we’re very diverse with an excellent financial aid program. however, I do sometimes see the results of this widening gap in Columbus, especially in neighborhoods where there are boarded-up houses next to nice little homes. I think if we don’t do something drastic soon, we’ll be facing a situation similar to what Russia went through before the Bolshevik Revolution.
    And seriously, what’s wrong with the Corolla? That’s the sort of car I might drive if I had a license and the money for a car!

    1. I think if we don’t do something drastic soon, we’ll be facing a situation similar to what Russia went through before the Bolshevik Revolution.

      I wonder. I really do. What do you think would be that tipping point?

  2. The division of classes is just as evident here in Vancouver. Those who lived here years ago say they no longer recognize the city. I have only ever known it as a place full of BMWs, 4 million dollar condos and kids kitted out in private school uniforms. It is a city for rich people. I have no idea how students and lower-middle class people make it here. Many of them commute 40 minutes from the outlying areas to drink fancy cocktails in trendy neigborhoods (if they can afford it). The saving grace is that all Canadians are entitled to health insurance. But there are a ton of struggling and displaced people here. They tried to move the homeless off of the downtown eastside streets during the Olympics in order to convey a prettier image. The reality is that this city is a lot less glamorous than it appears on the surface. So it’s a Canadian problem as well as an American one.

    1. Thanks for adding a Canadian perspective…although YVR is insane. Seriously insane. And you know how very, very bad certain city streets are, with hard drug use. I have friends who live there and they are horrified by the escalating costs.

      Toronto, as you may know, is shockingly bad on real estate prices. It’s one of the reasons I left and never felt the urge to return to live — when the sort of house I would want is probably $800k+. And I don’t have a 30% downpayment nor the additional $100K that is likely to be demanded as everyone pays way over asking.

      I wonder if Calgary, Ottawa, Halifax….smaller cities are facing this as well.

  3. i am seeing it, and it’s disturbing. i was on the beach one day with friends of friends, and we were talking about kids who “expect” certain things, such as a cruise for a high school graduation gift and a BMW as a first car. an extended friend said, “oh, my kid isn’t getting anything like that. maybe i’ll get her an audi A4, but that’s about it.” really? he’s *only* getting her an audi A4? poor kid.

    the middle class is dwindling. i lived in a mcmansion neighborhood for the past 6 years before moving out, and one of the reasons i moved out was because of those types of people. the parties i attended were lovely, but the conversations i heard about how great the neighborhood was because of all the people who were priced out. about three months ago i moved out of that neighborhood because i saw how my taxes were about the same as another mortgage payment, and there was nothing worth that amount of money there. not even a daily parade of all the trophy wives around the block.

    and that’s how we’re voting. based on who likes that separation and division or who is really striving for a melting pot.

  4. This is really disturbing.

    I did not even learn to drive a car until I was 30. My parents wouldn’t even let me touch theirs, and we never had fancy new cars, just decent used ones. So any kid who actually expects a thing for graduating from high school?! I was given two gifts by my parents when I graduated from U of T (which is Ivy tough to get into and through) and neither of them paid one penny for my schooling there.

    This notion of entitlement makes me ill. Thanks for sharing…

  5. There are similar income gaps in New Zealand. From the historical perspective it’s not entirely new. For a while in the twentieth century there was a pretense that everybody was on the same middling incomes. They weren’t, and manifestly so if you looked beneath the surface. But what’s happened in the last generation has been (a) it’s become very obvious – there is an expectation of consumerism that didn’t exist 40 years ago – and (b) the gap has widened. It is the widening, I think, that has most emphasised the issue.

  6. mhasegawa

    I read that NYT article from Sunday and quite honestly it was one of the more distrubing things I’ve read in a while. It made the increasing income gap much more personal than ljust ooking at statistics. Yes, the separation had to do with race, but it had much more to do with income and expectations of what the norm is. The rich kids expect to have it all without thinking about where the money comes from or realizing that everyone is not like them. I think this is part of the same mindset that doesn’t want to pay for public transportation or other infrastucture because it really impacts them very little. Is our future going to be bleak?

    1. I think the future is likely to be very bleak, for a variety of reasons.

      I watched the final debate last night and I am very fearful indeed that Romney may beat Obama. I don’t think Obama has done a great job but I have no confidence at all that Romney is going to make the economy any better for those of us who most need it. The man has never struggled. I only trust (hah) a politician that has some clue what real life outside a billionaire’s bubble actually feels like.

      And a “democracy” owned and paid for by the wealthy, which is increasingly what we have, is hardly going to address our needs.

      1. mhasegawa

        I think that Obama will win, but that won’t change the basic problem much. It is a question of major structural change which we aren’t ready for yet.

  7. I wonder. I just don’t see Mitt Romney having a clue about much of the electorate. He strikes me as slick, cold and efficient. Obama has a lot of work to do, if he wins, that’s for sure.

  8. I see what you speak of here in Australia too and am quietly shitting myself when I think of my childrens future. I once ate a $8 loaf of bread it was quite nice, I wonder what $10 gets you. Seriously though this is a truly scary topic seems to be a percurser. We had Occupy wall street protest here in oz it to fizzled, the media just slaughtered them no contest. Enjoyed reading as usual.

  9. Nemesis

    A timely piece, Ms. Malled… as to, “WTF!?!” in response to, ““a cleaning lady’s car.”

    Indeed. Woe is us…

    I dare say Barabara Ehrenreich, of “Nickel&Dimed” fame could elaborate upon that theme… or Chris Hedges for that matter [just two of many favourites ’tilting against windmills’].

    Personally speaking, and this is my particular area of academic ‘expertise’ [anomic strain/strain theory], I think we have probably already passed the ‘TippingPoint’… and my prognosis is ‘not good’ [to put it mildly]. I can’t tell you where, when or how the ‘spark’ will strike but I can say, somewhat authoritatively, that when it does… to paraphrase Tom Wolfe, there will in all likelihood be ‘A Bonfire of the Insanities’.

    Enough ‘o SlaveRebellions… The ZeitGeist can be influenced for the better. And you’re proving it right here. One blog entry at a time.

    Who knows?… with any luck, one BrightSunShineyDay… our aggregated efforts may yet bear fruit. However, until sanity reestablishes itself – perhaps we should start baking our own bread?…

    Thanks, Ms. Malled… ya know something, as regards the literary equivalent of, “Give us this day our daily bread”… you’re no ‘loafer’. [groan]

    Now, where’s that flour?…

  10. antonferrie8

    As a Brit, I won’t pretend to understand American politics on the same level as you guys. I just think the world as a whole has to get over the idea that ‘we’re in this alone’, stop feeding this selfish culture of ‘what can I get?’ and start thinking ‘what can I give back?’. That rings true for the Conservative-ruled Britain especially, where the poorest in our society, along with the middle-class, are being forsaken because of the governments obsession with cutting the top income tax bracket. I’m not an American, but if I were, I know what I’d be voting for in two weeks time – fairness.

    1. I doubt many Americans truly understand the ramifications of what they are voting for; many American women will be voting for Romney, while the Republican party is intent on removing pretty much all access to contraception and abortion beyond what legislators — male — deem necessary. People who are already broke and struggling will still vote for Romney who will destroy Obamacare and return millions of desperate people to unaffordable healthcare.

      The sad truth is that “fairness” is not the issue. It’s protecting one’s own interests.

      I agree with you.

  11. Nemesis

    “The chance to project an authentic alternative vision, one no longer beholden to wealth accumulation and its correlates social misery and division, is worth taking. These are not propitious times for democracy; first must come an awareness of that in order to rekindle the hope in its realization.” – Norman Pollack Ph.D. – Author of “The Populist Response to Industrial America” (Harvard) and “The Just Polity” (Illinois), Guggenheim Fellow, and professor of history emeritus, Michigan State University.

    [CounterPunch] – Against Complicity: The Moral Case for Silence

    [NoteToMsMalled: some ‘heavy lifting’ for those unfamiliar with the vernacular of the SciencesSocial… but splendid literary references make for a compelling read. Topical. To say the least.]

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