Monday, May 09, 2016

school segregation driving american financial hell?


theatlantic |  More than a half-century ago, Betty Friedan set out to call attention to “the problem that has no name,” by which she meant the dissatisfaction of millions of American housewives.

Today, many are suffering from another problem that has no name, and it’s manifested in the  bleak financial situations of millions of middle-class—and even upper-middle-class—American households.

Poverty doesn’t describe the situation of middle-class Americans, who by definition earn decent incomes and live in relative material comfort. Yet they are in financial distress. For people earning between $40,000 and $100,000 (i.e. not the very poorest), 44 percent said they could not come up with $400 in an emergency (either with cash or with a credit card whose bill they could pay off within a month). Even more astonishing, 27 percent of those making more than $100,000 also could not. This is not poverty. So what is it?

As people move up the income ladder, they escape material shortages and consume more. They have “things”—goods, houses, and, most importantly, education—to show for their higher earnings, but they do not have healthy finances. Having those “things” is of course an improvement over not having them, but only for the very, very rich (or the very, very unusual) is there any real escape from the pressure-cooker of American household finances.

At its core, this relentless drive to spend any money available comes not from a desire to consume more lattes and own nicer cars, but, largely, from the pressure people feel to provide their kids with access to the best schools they can afford (purchased, in most cases, not via tuition but via real estate in a specific public-school district). Breaking the bank for your kids’ education is, to an extent, perfectly reasonable: In a deeply unequal society, the gains to be made by being among the elite are enormous, and the consequences of not being among them are dire. When understood mainly as a consequence of this rush to provide for one’s children, the drive to maximize spending is not some bizarre mystery, nor a sign of massive irresponsibility, but a predictable consequence of severe inequality.