New Rule For the Internets, Six-Figure Income Division

It is:

1. If you make a six-figure income, you are not allowed to argue on the Internets that you are poor.

2. You are not allowed to argue that you feel poor, which as we all know is just like being poor.

3. You are not allowed to posit the argument that if you hang around with people who make more than you, then you are allowed to have your wee little heart sing the Poverty Song because, after all, you make less than all of them and your life is sad.

4. You are not allowed to use your own poor money management skills as evidence of how challenging life is for those, like you, with six-figure incomes.

5. You are not allowed to use New York City, San Francisco or Los Angeles as an excuse for your piteous cries.

6. If you do any of the above, individually or severally, when the Internets call you out for being clueless, entitled, ignorant and an embarrassment as a human being — and they will — you will not then complain how your words were misunderstood and/or taken out of context and/or that people missed the real point of your argument.

7. This rule applies equally to any defending the right of those with six-figure incomes to mewl about their awful lot in life.

Note to the Internets: This new rule is effective immediately. Please feel free to enforce it. Direct all complaints here. They will be dealt with appropriately.

118 Comments on “New Rule For the Internets, Six-Figure Income Division”

  1. I don’t think even 4chan could stem the whining of BigLaw associates, who (as a group) have a sense of entitlement and disproportionate view of money that would make a U of Chicago law professor crumple.

    Mind you, I’m not saying such a cage match would be anything other than entertaining and perhaps a source of great revenue if ringside tickets were sold to benefit charity.

  2. I swear, if I have to hear one more person who makes more that 250k complainging about how they cant afford an increase in their taxes.

    I love how 280$ was included for cable/internet/phone. LOL poor people would love to have that 280 to spend on rent heat or food!

    when did people with money become such a group of whiners??

  3. I should not have read your link, Scalzi. Now I have to find an aspirin.

    Oh, and I second your motion.

  4. Well, dammit, I was going to defend their right so I could exercise MY right to call them out for being clueless, entitled, ignorant and an embarrassment as a human being….

    But I guess I won’t do that now….

  5. It’s really cute, Mr. Scalzi, that you think this will prevent anyone from complaining.

    I’d rather they complain, so we know where to march with our torches and pitchforks, actually.

  6. Dear 6-figure income,

    I love you. You are my friend. Please be part of my life.



    PS – If you’re busy, could you send me the number of your cousin 7-figure income? Thanks. You’re a doll.

  7. BrianM:

    I no more think it will keep them from complaining than I think insider trading being illegal keeps Skull & Crossbones alums from sharing stock tips at the annual virgin defilement.

  8. Aargh! I want to introduce her to my mother, whose income is just over $800 on SSI. After paying her room and board, she has $40/month to spend–that’s for everything she needs–clothing, prescription copays (which probably adds up to more than that alone), over the counter meds and vitamins, a cell phone (which she doesn’t have because she can’t afford it), personal hygeine products, etc., etc. I guess you could say she can relate to the sting of not being able to buy a $100 bottle of champagne any time you want.

    I actually started out kind of sympathetic, because I know that $120,000 actually doesn’t go that far in NYC, but then he just got stupid.

  9. $280 for internet/cable/phone? Perhaps they consider an iPhone plus all the premium cable channels to be necessities. Sounds like these folks are shocked, shocked! to discover they have to make actual decisions with their money instead of buying everything they want.

  10. So what if you make just over 6 figures and your wife gets stage four breast cancer and your crappy insurance company keeps coming up with reasons why you need to pay for every other thing that you need to help and treat her? Can you cry poverty then? Just asking.

  11. Masterthief:

    Indeed. This rule is indexed to the September 24, 2010 dollar.


    Oddly enough, the people recently complaining about how hard it is to live on a six-figure income tend to be perfectly healthy, as far as I can see.

    But in response: Someone in that situation isn’t poor. But they are getting totally screwed by their insurer, and I am genuinely sorry for them.

  12. Sorry about that…I should have dumped on the blog. John, please feel free to delete those comments. They were kind of depressing and embarrassing…Sorry again

  13. Yikes, what a whiny obnoxious person. Crying because she doesn’t want to live in Brooklyn, and can’t go to expensive dinners with her friends. I make a decent living, just barely into that 6 figure club. I live near San Francisco. I choose to live NEAR San Francisco because it means I get a decent apartment for a reasonable price, vs living IN San Fran, which is twice as expensive and I’d have to live in a sketchy neighborhood. I don’t consider expensive dinners with friends my “right”. Despite the semi-expensive locale, when I need clothes or food, it isn’t a problem to buy them. While I consider cable TV a luxury, I can afford to have it.

    Compare this to 10 years ago, before I went to nursing school and turned my financial life around. I was underemployed, and renting a dump in a crappy town in Massachusetts, an hour from any cities. Every winter we would inevitably run out of heating oil and freeze our asses off until we could scrounge up the money. All of our food came from food pantries and off-price stores. We ate a lot of Ramen. I owned one pair of shoes, and they were beginning to develop holes. Every stitch of clothing I owned was a gift from family members from birthdays or Christmas. And even then, I knew there were those less fortunate than me, because at least I had a place to live.

    So I have to say, at about $105K a year, working in San Francisco, living nearby, life is freakin’ GREAT, and I am incredibly grateful. Yes, it would be nice if housing cost less here. But the fact is, I choose to live here, because it is a nice place to live. I like it better here than anywhere else I’ve lived. So that is a choice I made, which led to higher income and correspondingly higher taxes. I could move, but I’ve tried that and was miserable. Whiny lawyer woman does not have to live or even work in New York City, it is a choice, a really expensive one. Suck it up, Whiny Lawyer Woman!


  14. Wow. Considering my husband and I just had the “I hope you can get a promotion at work because otherwise I’m going to have to keep upping my student loan debt to keep us solvent while I’m in grad school” conversation… yeah. My anger? It knows no bounds. I would commit human sacrifice to a dark god that will ultimately consume my soul if our household could clear even a FIFTH of what that woman is making.

  15. Here here!
    Now imagine what the billion or so people on this planet who live on a dollar a day think about us American middle classers who grumble…

  16. You are not poor merely because you cannot keep up with the Joneses. *facepalm*

    I earn significantly less income than Ms. Whiny McSheister, yet I find ways to afford a modest home theatre, a comfortable apartment, a decent wardrobe, a respectable cuisine, a reasonable retirement fund (though still somewhat anemic from the recent Attack of the Vampire Squids) and a few expensive habits. It’s called “budgeting”; it’s done by picking what’s important and what isn’t.

    Skipping the car, picking vacations carefully, being smart about where to rent/buy living space, and making purchases with forethought save a ton of money… far more than retaining the Bush-era tax cuts on the upper 1% of income earners would.

    — Steve

  17. People value different things and so make different choices and sometimes that results in vastly different incomes. If this woman had said to her friend [i]”You know, I’ve only got so many years of living in Manhattan and while I’m here I always envisioned doing it up in massively high style… so yeah, $120k isn’t poor at all… but it’s a big step down from (whatever). I just have to adjust to that.”[/i] then fine. I get that, I really do. You’ve been, in some respects, living a dream and now you have to choose between a high-paying job that makes you miserable but lets you live the dream and one that you’ll be much happier in, but that means you have to make different choices. Welcome to the adult world.

    That’s a big part of being adult. People make choices. Rachael above made her choice too (the grad school one). Neither gets to complain about the consequences of their choices to me – I don’t feel financially sorry for the woman in the post, but I don’t like the undertone of ‘let’s bitch at people who make money’ either.

    I’ve done the $100k/year thing. I suppose some people slack while doing that, but I and all of the people I worked with worked out asses off. 70 hour weeks were common and stretchs of 90 weren’t uncommon. Were we poor? Hell no. But I earned that money. If you’re working insanely hard and making very little and you’re not doing that because you’re investing in a better life, take a hard look at what you’re doing.

  18. “Direct all complaints here. They will be dealt with appropriately.”

    No they won’t.

    The reason? Dealing with such people appropriately would be illegal, immoral, cruel & unusual, messy, unsanitary and ultimately futile. There would just be an endless ant-like stream. Schloss Scalzi’s vast endless vistas would soon be covered by shallow graves.

    Depressedly and Cynically,
    Jack Tingle

  19. I will totally trade them my essentially 0% income tax (because I do not make enough to be considered taxable) for their salaries and retirement plans and health insurance and paid vacation time and job where I don’t have to go to work even when I’m sick because I can’t afford not to get paid for that time.

  20. @tumbleweed: 4chan is not your personal army. Much as many lulz would be had, the Scalz is right: at what price?

    The OP of the original post needs to downsize. Perhaps renegotiate a mortgage. Hire one of them’ thar fancy accountants who can maybe hit him with a willow switch across the arse about where all his discretionary income is going.

    (Seriously? I don’t remember what it’s like to have pay TV. The internet is my life line.)

  21. There is a lot to be said for strategically choosing where to live. I worked in San Francisco for over 20 years, but always lived in the East Bay and always chose housing within walkable distance of a transbay bus line. As Andrea @ 21 points out, choosing to live NEAR vs. IN San Francisco can cut housing costs significantly. Cost of a monthly transbay bus ticket is up to $132.50 now (was $90 when I was still commuting to SF). The math worked out hugely in my favor and I could spend all that commuting time reading.

  22. I should add, though, that they can’t have my current job, because I love my actual job and would do that TOO.

  23. I am with Andrea on this. You choose to live in those cities. They are quite expensive to live in. We know that going into it. I’d love to live somewhere less expensive than LA.

    Having lived at both ends of the spectrum, I don’t think I ever complained at all when I had maybe a twenty in my pocket to last through to the next paycheck, nor have I complained and whined about the money we earn now. I just don’t get it when people complain. Just be grateful. I really don’t mind the increase in taxes. I know that the money will trickle down to people who need it more than I do.

  24. Oh, and I should mention that the transbay bus fleet includes a number of fancy coach-style touring buses that are air conditioned, with tinted glass windows and the big, plush reclining seats, and now offers free wi-fi. They are interspersed throughout the transbay bus system, you kinda have to figure out what line and what time you will encounter one of those. Which I did and man, it was nice!

  25. I am not defending the blog entry. It was rubbish. But, one thing that kept nagging at me as I read it and the comments here and there is that Caitlin told something to the poster in what was clearly expected to be confidence. She literally whispered it to him. The poster then turned that statement into an article read by perhaps many thousands and she is widely derided (called Ms. Whiny McSheister here for example). Though the name may be changed, in all likelihood, Caitlin knows her story has been latched onto by the poster as a class statement. Though the poster is clearly violating the Scalzi rules, Caitlin is not. She used the word “poor” only as a relative term. Relative to the lifestyle she had been living, she might really feel poor (or maybe “poorer”). I don’t begrudge her that right. And I think it’s a lot different to feel you will be poor relative to your existing lifestyle then to state that you are poor as an absolute measure. And, the way she said it implies that she may have been embarrassed to say it, perhaps realizing that she really isn’t poor; it’s just a word she used. Attack the poster, he deserves all he gets. But, let’s leave the girl alone.

  26. If $120,000 a year is “poor”, then I might as well be a one-armed-schitzo-homeless space pirate living in the rusted out husk of a centuries old escape pod that was left to the ages on that garbage dump planet from the less-than-stellar Kurt Russell film Soldier.

  27. Charles:

    The author of that particular entry is a woman (she writes elsewhere on the blog of getting breast augmentation).

    You are making the assumption that “Caitlin” wasn’t aware that the author had written the piece, or that she had not consented to the story being shared. We don’t know whether that’s the case or not. My own assumption is that “Caitlin” consented, with the proviso that her name was changed to protect her identity (which as it turns out was a smart thing for her to do).

    Also, we’re not discussing a helpless “girl,” we’re discussing a grown woman with a law degree making more than the large majority of American income earners.

  28. Not every can move, of course. Many jobs that pay $120k in Manhattan will pay a fraction of that in Ohio. Going by this calculator, $120k in New York is about equivalent to $60k in Cleveland.

    Now $60k in Cleveland is not even remotely poor, but location does make a huge difference in what a particular income means and not everyone can relocate. I could live like a king in the midwest on my salary, but my job would earn me half as much there.

    $120k isn’t poor, but there are places where it is solidly middle class. In my town, a the SF Bay Area suburb, the mortgage payment on the median house would talk half your take home pay on that salary.

  29. I am currently making $7495.00 per year as the Social Security Disability does not pay me any more then that.
    That is about half of the current poverty level as described by the US government for single men with no dependants.
    I struggle to pay the bills. But they manage to get paid somehow. I Think I would be happier if I only had this or that, but the truth is happiness is relative. Am I in pain today? No. Do I have enough to eat? Yes. Am I in danger of getting kicked out of my tiny little house? No.
    Am I happy? Yes.
    Ok, another good day.
    I am alive, everything else is negotiable.

  30. The first comment from elgion shows what I find frustrating about the bitching from the top 20% about feeling poor, especially when it complaining about taxes: Right now the USA has a system where people who MOST need help and support because of health problems are forced to negotiate a maze of difficulty.

    The lack of a good SIMPLE TO NEGOTIATE social safety net also creates a background of insecurity and must-claw-to-the-top behavior that those of us who are currently healthy still need to negotiate.

    Most Americans are a health disaster/job loss away from disaster. Some of the health reform changes will help but we as a society are so busy fighting stupid us versus them cultural wars instead of seeing ourselves as a coherent community. I think the underlying fear caused by a poor social safety net fuels a lot of people to say and do stupid things in the desire to cling to being the lucky few Americans blessed enough to have security via employment and its employment-related status rather than acknowledge that making a good safety net helps us ALL out.

    Of course, the best job transition I ever made was leaving the realm of private law firm for the public sector. I work harder in my job and it took me years and years to work back up to the $120K salary the BigLaw associate is worried about. I am RICH not just because of my salary but because I have good benefits. Including social security. I’d much rather pay more taxes for a good safety net than go further into the tooth-and-claw society.

  31. A friend (with a Ph.D in computer science and a good job) was complaining a few years ago about how he had just bought a house (while keeping his old condo as a rental property), and because his savings were now lower than he’d like and he couldn’t buy as many toys, he was now “poor”. And when folks who were struggling to pay for gas to make it to their next payday complained, he tried to excuse this by saying, “Well, I’m poor for me.”

    He really didn’t understand why folks weren’t sympathetic.

  32. I’m beginning to think that when rich people say they feel poor, what they really mean is that they feel ordinary.

  33. Man, they are everywhere, aren’t they? Well, there are a couple million of them, after all.

    What the folks who complain that we should not bitch at people for having money and complaining about their expenses don’t understand is that we’re not bitching at them for having money, or even complaining about some of their expenses. (Let’s face it, real estate prices in New York City are still ridiculous.) We’re bitching at them for “feeling” poor. Because they don’t have to feel poor. They choose to do so. It’s a behavior they can change, the same way that they can change their lifestyle.

    I do begrudge them their right to feel that way. Because it’s idiotic for them to feel that way. And it is caused by envy. They feel poor compared to richer compatriots because they envy and want to be as rich as their compatriots. They want to have the respect of those compatriots, they want to be the cool rich people and have things, lots and lots of things. (Which is why they give less proportionately to charity than the middle and working classes.) It’s irrational for them to feel poor, to be so obsessed with that pursuit of looking wealthy that they can no longer process reality. It is a form of mental illness. And we don’t help them on the road back to sanity by telling them that their insane perspective is sane and understandable. That’s like telling an anorexic that indeed she is fat and should not eat anything. And just like an anorexic killing herself, the wealthy people who “feel” poor have driven this country into that metaphorical ditch and sometimes do it to themselves too.

    Rick: “But I earned that money. If you’re working insanely hard and making very little and you’re not doing that because you’re investing in a better life, take a hard look at what you’re doing.”

    Your assertion that to be wealthy, all one has to do is work very hard in the “right” professions is again a perception that has nothing to do with reality, such as the the fact that a lot of wealthy people inherit money and/or get most of their income from investments, not salary nor long work hours, and that boosts from family wealth, education from that family wealth, etc., all play a part. I have a relative who is the kindest and hardest working person I know, a single parent with two kids, cast into financial difficulties due to another person. She could not afford college, but is extremely intelligent. She makes less than $30,000 a year, even though she works at a skilled job for many hours. She does not get a 401K. Right now, we’re just trying to keep them in health insurance. So you can imagine my reaction to someone claiming that she is poor because she is not worthy and special enough, does not work hard enough and did not make the “right” choices. That skewed perspective has little to do with reality, in my opinion. Like the fact that wealthy employers will screw their employees, if indeed they bother to offer jobs in the U.S. at all.

    When you have people in your life who are suffering like that, or when you are, having a rich person on the Web claim that they should be allowed to feel poor is like having an ice pick shoved into your heart. And maybe if they could get their heads out of their asses long enough to see that they rule the world, they might realize how much pain they are causing by their words instead of complaining that they are being villified. But since their viewpoint is so distorted, I don’t hold my breath. It’s back to the 1800’s for us, and we can only hope the Millenials will change the world later on.

  34. Kat: “such as the the fact that a lot of wealthy people inherit money and/or get most of their income from investments, not salary nor long work hours, and that boosts from family wealth, education from that family wealth, etc., all play a part.”

    But if we’re talking about people in the low six figures with six figures of debt (especially if they’re New York lawyers), like the person referred to here, then we’re not talking about people who inherit money.

    Complaining about being poor? Stupid. The linked article was incredibly stupid, but then that author is usually incredibly stupid. Complaining about people who think $120,000/yr. in New York is insanely rich? Yeah, that’s a bit more reasonable.

    There’s upper middle class (making a six figure salary at a very tough job, whether in New York or Columbus), and then there’s rich (living off of investments, not having to worry about limiting expenses–people making 7 figures or more, or with 8 figures of wealth). Don’t conflate the two.

  35. Sure, Kat, I get that there are bright people who work hard and, for whatever reason, aren’t making $100k. Sometimes that’s choice of field, sometimes it’s location, etc. I also hear a LOT of people including here whine about people making $100k – but they’ve made other choices. Rachael above has apparently chosen grad school. That’s awesome, but a consequence of that is financial hardship (I know, I’ve done it). Don’t make that choice, then complain about money when you’ve just voluntarily chosen to defer working for education. Similarly, someone who chooses social work or a like field might work VERY hard, but never make a lot of money because it’s a profession that doesn’t pay that much. Again, that’s something I respect, but it’s a consequence of their choice. Someone who chooses to enter a field that’s not paid well can’t really complain that they’re not being paid well. Oh, they can, but it seems silly.

    There’s a few points I’m making… let me unpack them.

    First, you can make good money if you want. It’s not insanely hard. I did NOT say you could be wealthy. I said you can make good money and, in general, that’s been true the last 15-20 years. You put words in my mouth (directly after quoting me…) and then disagreed with something I didn’t say. Don’t do that please.

    However, making a very good living at your job might require working in a field that you don’t like or find fulfilling. But become a very good software engineer and you’ll do well. There are other fields like that. However, you’re NOT going to make this money working at a job that’s 9-5, no overtime and the kind of work you leave at the door as you walk out.

    The catch here is that many of these opportunities require a college degree and some time. If someone can’t get that, it’s MUCH harder and some people can’t do college. The cost of college is one of the things that worries me as it means bright people can’t enter some fields due to dollars.

    Second, $100k isn’t ‘rich’ or wealthy and it’s a little tiresome of people to assume that anyone who makes more than they do is rich. Now, $100k is upper middle class in most cities where you can make that from a normal job (i.e. software engineer vs CEO) and in a few it’s just middle class… but in no way is it poor. It’s not, though, rich. Think about this… 2x the median income = rich? Really?

    Third, if money is important to someone (and there are a lot of comments here and elsewhere long the lines of “I’d love to make that much”) then what are you doing to make more money? I’m going to riff on Scalzi’s “If you want to write, write” theme here. If someone wants to make more money, take some action that moves them in that direction. Oh, I know, the economy sucks (trust me, I know… ) and it’s hard. But unless you’re just starting out, the last 15 years have mostly been high economic growth years. If money’s important to someone, they’ve mostly had good opportunities to make it.

    The fact is that unless you inherit money making $100k+ means you have to work hard and do that for a long time and a lot of people simply don’t want to do that. They want leave the office at 5 or 6 on Friday and have the weekend to themselves, or be able to go to every one of their kids’ games, etc… and making significant money often means you sacrifice other things. Again, I’m not saying that everyone who works hard will make money or that there aren’t people who work hard and don’t make a lot – I’m saying that there are very very few positions where you can make a lot of money and slack.

    Are there individual cases like yours (well, your friend’s?) Sure. Now, tell me, why is her individual experience more valid than mine? Right, it’s not. Reasoning from the particular is a fallacy… I’m merely stating a few general thoughts – I don’t pretend that there aren’t exceptions all around. Specific cases don’t, though, invalidate the overall point.

  36. I’m more horrified by the carnival of misogyny that’s sprung up in the comments of the original post. (Harry @12, I blame you for making me look.)

    Anyway, I think the phrase “a better class of problem” is appropriate here. You may perceive your “I feel poor” income as a problem — which it is, to you — but the moment you lose sight of the fact that many other people would kill to have your problem instead of their own, you need the clue-bat applied to your head. (Hint: talking online about your feelings of poverty constitutes losing sight, especially in this economy.) Acknowledge the fact that you have options for how to deal with it, recognize the fact that having those options is a blessing, decide which matters more to you (the dream job? or keeping up with the Joneses?), and get on with your life.

  37. Ghods.

    John, you know Keith and I live in the Bronx. The numbers that blogger quoted are high, for anywhere in NYC except the exclusive brand new luxury apartment complexes with ‘name drop’ locations. And the ballpark of ‘fixed expenses’ is about 20-25% to high.

    (Sigh. yes, it IS 90 for a monthly metrocard-unlimited but if she’s paying 2700 for a studio apartment, It had better the hell be walking distance to her work downtown. The unlimited metrocard would not be needed then. I’m paying 2/3rds her ‘rent’ for a 3 bedroom in a nice area of the Bronx. Close to two parks, even.)

    The girl has a choice. fuel a lifestyle of keeping up with all the brand new things, keeping her at a job she hates, or take a real look at what makes her happy.

  38. Now I understand why the middle class is supposed to be disappearing. Apparently ‘rich/poor’ is no longer a spectrum but a binary dichotomy. Who knew?

    This is good for me, since with no dependents on ~$30K a year (at current Sterling exchange rate), I am not in any way poor. It therefore follows by the Law of the Excluded Middle that I must now be RICH! Woo-hoo!

    All Whateverites are hereby invited to a champagne party on board the megayacht which I shall just now be buying in celebration of my new and exalted status. I think I shall call her – not perhaps the New York, but at least the Philadelphia Lawyer. Bring a bottle and an Elder Sign, and take the second right after St Helena. Date tbc.

    (I trust that the new rule does not apply in reverse. Not much point in being a definitional fat cat, if one can’t gloat about it on the Internets…)

  39. @38: what Mea said.

    Also, Cornel West once spoke at my college about the “algebra of blood”, and how you can’t compare one person’s pain against another’s. Pain is pain. I would add Fear is Fear. And whether it’s rational or ridiculous… it is still fear. And people often behave in extreme ways when they are frightened.

    I would like to think that if we could alleviate people’s fear (of being poor) by either improving social safety nets or raising awareness (I [was] poor. I’m here. Get over it.), there would be less fear and loathing.

    And I was poor, in a rural community. My senior year, after a particularly venemous discussion among the intellectual elite at my high school about the Welfare Problem, I wrote a scathing rebuttal. I came out as being poor. It was terrifying and liberating and no one quite knew how to take it. Poor people were black and dumb and in the middle city, everybody knew that. To skewer the stereotypes brought me some liberal-intellectual joy, I admit, but it was terrifying as well and I couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t known that I was about to escape to college (in another rural community, but at least it was in a different state)…

    Because admitting you are poor is admitting weakness, and we are hierarchical apes who will take advantage of weakness; the more (perceived) scarcity, the more that uncivilized behavior becomes the norm.

    tl;dr version: what #38 Mea said. ;)

  40. Second, $100k isn’t ‘rich’ or wealthy and it’s a little tiresome of people to assume that anyone who makes more than they do is rich.

    Bull and shite. Just because the bar has been raised by that top 1% does not mean that $100K isn’t ‘rich’, just that our standards for ‘rich’ have been obscenely distorted to the point that somebody can type that with a straight face.

    I live in a 675-square-foot condominium with an underwater mortgage because the value slipped out from under me. My car is seven years away from being considered an antique. The only reason I have an iPhone is because I have parents who love me very, very much. I’ve been maintaining this lavish lifestyle on unemployment income for close to two years. By the standards of those six-figure earners who feel ‘poor’ I might seem to be two steps away from skid row.

    And if I ever catch myself thinking that I’m poor, I remind myself that the vast majority of the world’s population would be ecstatic to be as ‘poor’ as I am.

  41. Huh, I hadn’t even heard of Caitlin. I thought you were referring to Prof. Henderson. I assume he was part of the solution? (As in: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.”)

    Have there been other recent examples of the well-off talking poor floating about the interwebs recently?

  42. My problem with the article (and a lot of the articles like it) is the assumption that it’s reasonable to live alone in a big city. Even in the near-Boston suburbs where I live, having a 1-person apartment or home is considered a luxury. Maybe that’s different in New York, but somehow I doubt it.

  43. Brian: “But if we’re talking about people in the low six figures with six figures of debt (especially if they’re New York lawyers), like the person referred to here, then we’re not talking about people who inherit money.”

    Yes, we are. People in the $100K and $200K income level do inherit money from their parents, who are often also in that same income range or higher from investments. More, before inheriting, they usually received money help from their parents, had a college education paid for in whole or part by their parents, had parents cosign their student loans, mortgages, business loans, pay for insurance or a car to get them started. While some people in that income range are like Alia, most of them started in the income range they are currently enjoying and it skews their perspective. Their debt is largely by choice, not necessity. And not all of them are working 90 hours a week to get their salaries. Henderson isn’t working that much — he’s a law professor. They aren’t always doing the “tough job.” The much tougher jobs are down at the bottom and they often require 90 hours a week simply so that their families can eat. Try standing for ten hours a day at your job.

    “There’s upper middle class (making a six figure salary at a very tough job, whether in New York or Columbus), and then there’s rich (living off of investments, not having to worry about limiting expenses–people making 7 figures or more, or with 8 figures of wealth). Don’t conflate the two.”

    I didn’t, and you didn’t pay attention to my post, which is that the anger is toward the person “feeling poor” which means the person has lost touch with reality. Making the tax cuts for the top 2% permanent will add 4 trillion to the deficit over the next decade, according to the CBO. Not having the tax cuts means that their taxes go up a miniscule amount back to 1990’s rates (when the economy thrived,) which they can afford. Meanwhile, we have tent cities. These people have isolated themselves from reality and don’t understand the value of their money. They are again like an anorexic who can’t see what her body actually looks like, because as Sheila said, their perspective has been obscenely skewed.

    Rick: “First, you can make good money if you want. It’s not insanely hard.”

    See right there, that tells me that you have lost touch with what most people deal with in the world.

    “I don’t pretend that there aren’t exceptions all around. Specific cases don’t, though, invalidate the overall point.”

    Yes, they do because they aren’t random exceptions. They are common. My sister is not unique. You are trying to build a myth that well off people are mostly so because they are smart, worthy and work hard and poor people could be well off if they wanted to. It’s Ayn Randian nonsense.

    The reality is that I am not poor and people who make my income bracket and above are not poor. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have problems, and worries and can’t complain about them. (Hey, I do all the time.) It does mean, though, that they can’t call themselves poor and demand even more financial advantages from the government than they currently enjoy, causing enormous damage to the entire U.S. workforce and economy. That you demand that the U.S. people commit to austerity and sacrifice, but hey baby, not you. That you aren’t as rich as Warren Buffet does not make you poor. And you are hurting people when you say it does. You are building a political climate in which poor people are screwed over again and again, making them poorer.

    What I’d really like to see is the people making over $250K in taxable income (and again, taxable income, not gross income,) say, “Wow, I’m in the top 2% of income? I had no idea I was doing that well. I’m so lucky.” But like the anorexic, who looks at her ribs showing and goes “I’m so fat,” too many of these people instead look at other wealthy people, and at their bank accounts and nice things and say, “I’m so poor.” (I don’t really like using this as an analogy and so I’m going to stop now, but it is unfortunately apt about the psychology.)

  44. Cheers to Kat again for putting it so well.

    As for Rick: I haven’t seen anyone reply directly to your assertion that people working 90 hours a week and making little money can be compared to someone working 90 hours a week and making lots of money. You said they can both choose to find a way to work fewer hours and still make a livable income. (I’m referring to the bottom of post #25.)

    The difference is this: the person working 90 hours a week making lots of money can save up, quit their job, and have months or even years to live off their savings and figure out what they want to do next. The person working long hours for little pay is much less able to do that, and so is less able to come up with an alternative way to earn money.

    People forget that the richer you are, the more “choice” you have. There’s an old saying: “Thinking is a luxury.” That is, the richer you are, the more you are able to ensure you are well rested and *able* to think carefully about something.

    I’ve been so overworked and underpaid that I literally couldn’t think straight, and I know that “choices” are useless if you can’t keep your head above water long enough to consider them. My choices improved dramatically when I got out of a shitty situation I was in, but not before. And no, I don’t get to be the self-rescuing capitalist hero here — I got out of that situation due to dumb luck and the actions of others, not “choices.”

  45. Wait, there’s another one of these idiots? I honestly thought that you were still catching up on recent news, and were talking about U of Chicago prof Todd Henderson, who was trying to claim that he and his wife, who make somewhere in the $250-450k range, weren’t actually *rich*, and that Obama was being a big meany for calling them that and trying to raise their taxes.

    He was doing the same I-barely-get-by line. My head almost exploded. I make way less than him, and I am rich, rich, rich.

    Anyhow, economist Brad Delong, based on that dolt, has a great explanation for why many rich people feel less rich than they used to. They compare up, not down, and the people up are much richer:

  46. Rick @45:

    “Third, if money is important to someone (and there are a lot of comments here and elsewhere long the lines of “I’d love to make that much”) then what are you doing to make more money”

    The hey-make-better-choices line of thinking is much appreciated. What other serious social issues do you like to reduce accusations of “whining” and ill-conceived motivation? And the double down on “if you want more money, just decide to get more.”

    I totally dig the Tony Robbins meets The Secret mentality.

    But, I suppose I shouldn’t be bitter, because I’m off the hook for my employment problems. On account of my being in the just starting out category.

    But, thanks much for blaming me and then absolving me of my guilt. That’s mighty white of you.

    It isnt weird for people to respond to a self absorbed blowhard with mocking cries of if only I had your troubles bub. I think you’re missing the implicit criticism there.

    And if you weren’t really trying to convey a blame the poor people for their bad decision making and laziness, maybe you should have made better choices for the structure of your argument.

  47. @Rick: “However, making a very good living at your job might require working in a field that you don’t like or find fulfilling. But become a very good software engineer and you’ll do well.”

    People have beaten on your other points, Rick, but allow me to call out the wrongness of this.

    I’m a software engineer. I hire other software engineers. You need a rare and peculiar sort of talent. You cannot be a good software engineer without loving it, much less liking it. For many reasons, but I’ll name two. One, it’s a skill that requires thousands of hours of practice to be good. Two, it’s a Red Queen field: the tools and methods change as fast as people can stand it. Unless you are relentless about keeping up, you will soon be obsolete.

    It’s like saying you should become a professional musician even though you don’t like it. Sure, coding pays better than music. But if you don’t love it, you will suck, and you will be fired. You might luck out and find some Dilbertesque company where nobody can tell you’re hopeless, but that’s a poor life strategy, if only because those places rightly go out of business all the time.

  48. Have you seen this?

    A college professor who between his wife and himself pull down over $300k, complain about the coming tax increase. They are barely getting buy.

    What people don’t realize is that the tax increase is only on TAXABLE INCOME ABOVE $250,000. So if you make $250,000 you are NOT GETTING A TAX INCREASE. It is for the bracket above. At $250k, you should have atleast $30-50,000 in deductions (minimum) so you are really not paying higher taxes until you have income above $280,000/year.

    Lets say you have $400,000 in taxable income. You have a tax increase of 3% on $150,000 income (above $250,000)

    Tax increas $4,500. Or 1.125% of your taxable income. That isn’t much.

  49. Guess:

    On the idea of a progressive tax system- It’s amazing to me how many people seem to forget that or, I suppose, not appreciate that significance when commenting (in the world at large, as opposed to right here) on the tax increase.

  50. @Other Bill:

    I genuinely think that a lot of people don’t actually understand how progressive taxation actually works, certainly the Fred Thomson Ads on MSNBC play to that.

    “This represents a 30% increase in taxation…” which sounds a lot like you’ll pay 30% tax, except it also means you could be paying a fraction of a percent more in the real world.

    The problem is your expenditure does rise to fill your outgoings and if you don’t make an “active” corrective decision about your money management and set a budget then you’ll have problems. One of the nice things about earning over $250,000, especially if you don’t have kids is that you just don’t really think about budgets – the money is just _there_.

    But drop that by two thirds and start spending your own money bootstrapping a new business and believe me, $50,000 a year starts looking awfully attractive :)

  51. Rick @25: speaking as somebody in one of those “you make good money but you work your ass off professions”: spare me. The people cleaning your office on those late nights likely work just as many – if not more- hours than you or I did, probably at more than one job, and at shittier jobs, for less pay. IT professionals and lawyers don’t simply make money because of ‘hard work’, they make money because they are in white-collar professions for which the entry bar is pretty goddamn high.

  52. Eh. Sorry folks, but I see a lot of hypocrisy here and lot of self-righteousness.

    The hypocrisy – When John posts about getting off your ass and writing and not making excuses it’s all cheering and kudos… but when it comes to money, the excuses come out. In some cases those are reasonable. But in a lot, it’s a choice people have made, not a situation they’ve had thrust on them. This is very different over the last couple of years with the economy deep in the toilet, but for the last 15 years or so there’s really been very little reason to earn less than at the least, the median income if you’re college educated and even reasonably ambitious. Are there plenty of people in situations that preclude raw ambition? Yep. Single parents, people who couldn’t for some reason do college, people who have suffered a disability, etc. But for many, it’s simply not that hard to reach $50k per year. If you’re a couple each doing that, yay $100k! You’re rich!! Oh, wait…

    The self-righteousness – The idea that anyone who makes much over the median income is rich. It distorts the conversation to say that $100k is rich, $50k is middle class and $25k is poor. There’s very little really separating these though…

    @300baud: You’re probably right about the software engineer thing. I almost didn’t use a specific job for this reason… someone will always pick at the example and ignore the point. Go look at, say, Microsoft or Amazon’s job openings. Theres a lot of jobs there, not all technical, almost all paying very well.

    It’s nice to say “You have to love X to do well at it” and perhaps that’s true to reach the upper end of some things. But go read the post Scalzi linked – “Caitlin” HATES her BigLaw job and is doing so well people consider her rich. There are plenty of people in jobs that they don’t like or are meh about who cleanup at payday.

    Anyway, you guys have fun. It’s one of the last nice days here so I’m going outside. Frankly, listening to people who make a lot of money whine about how they’re poor and listening to people who aren’t well off complain about how anyone who makes more than they do are rich are both annoying and life’s too short to spend a nice weekend day being annoyed.

  53. See now, I make $135K and live in a pretty high-cost area (Washington, DC), but I wouldn’t for a New York minute think of myself as poor, even though I know lots of people who make waaay more than I do. We’re firmly ensconced in the upper lower upper middle class.

    My wife (retired) and I have our own home which is mostly paid off (since we bought it 25 years ago and haven’t used it as a piggy bank). If we don’t have as much disposable income as we might, it’s in part because I put 10% of my pay into the equivalent of a 401(k) and another 6-7% goes to charities.

    We have quite enough to supply all our needs and practically all our wants, and those include travel, good wine and good food (most of which we cook), and lots of books. Our kitchen isn’t as well equipped as Nathan Myrvold’s, but then we’re not into making frozen-foam appetizers. We have more computers than we can use and more CDs than we have time to listen to.

    Hell, we’re not even good at budgeting. But simply thinking about what you’re buying goes a long way. A latte a day is a thousand dollars a year; I make my own cuppa at the office. If we shopped a little more cheaply, buying veggies at Safeway instead of farmers’ markets and drinking $8 wine instead of $12-15, we’d have lots more to spend on other frivolities.

    If you catch me whining, shoot me.

  54. To Eljion, re: people with six figure incomes who get sick and get screwed by their insurance:

    Yes, it sucks to be them, but still no whining is allowed. Low income people get sick, too, and are more likely to be up against it insurance-wise.

  55. Dana @66: We don’t want to go overboard with the “no whining; somebody has it worse than you” thing. Taken to its extreme, that means the guy who’s afraid he won’t be able to pay for heating this winter isn’t allowed to complain, because he’s not a one-legged goat-herder with leukemia living in a tent in Siberia.

    My feeling is that when anybody complains, they need to keep perspective, and think about who they’re complaining to. Six-figure incomes who get sick and screwed by their insurance are not likely to get much sympathy from four-figure incomes in the same situation; expecting it makes them look like jerks. And they should be grateful they have financial resources that might help them weather that storm. But that doesn’t mean they have to keep their mouths shut about the fact that they’re sick, or that the insurance company is a bunch of bastards, or that they don’t know how they’re going to make this situation work.

  56. Rick:

    “but when it comes to money, the excuses come out.”

    There’s a big difference between whining about wanting to be a writer without ever actually writing and having serious economic ladder problems.

    I hatemit when people whine too. But, you’re confusing blaming poor people for bad decisions with communicating that whining doesn’t accomplish anything.

    Also, its suspicious to me that you hear whining when people say the rich jagoff acting like a clueless rich jagoff is, in fact, a rich jagoff.

    I hate it when affluent people complain about how poor and difficult their burdens are. When somebody says I earn five percent of what that dickhole does and I’d sure like to live better I think that’s tragic.

    I imagine you’re one of those people that hears that fifty percent of america doesn’t pay income taxes thinks how messed up the tax system is. As opposed to say, it’s pretty godawful for Americans right now given that half our country doesn’t even earn enough to pay income tax.

    Shorter: Putting poor people upset about their genuinely challenging fiscal problems in the same boat as pontificating 400k earning douchebag is unjustifiably obtuse.

  57. Oh, dear, I think Ms. Worrier is sad. Granted I am OLD, but living poor ($4,800/yr) (tho not feeling poor – had roof and food) in Manhattan were some of the most exciting and happy years of my life. She is young and should be living within her means, whatever they are, and excited about her life.

  58. and life’s too short to spend a nice weekend day being annoyed

    But certainly not to short to make a long, no-tagbacks-I’m-outta-here comment to get in the last word. Ah, Internets.

    Dana @66: I’m wondering on what planet ‘our insurance is screwing us, my wife has serious cancer, we’re not sure how to pay for it’ is considered whining. I mean, really. He’s not complaining that the sheets on his wife’s hospital bed are only 300 thread count, he’s upset (and rightly so) that an insurance company is trying to screw his sick wife because it’s cheaper not to pay for her treatment and, heck, maybe she’ll die and be off their books if they stall enough.

  59. Isn’t that nice, Rick went off to a government paid park to enjoy the day. LOL, I love being called self righteous because I’m pointing out that well off people are being self righteous, although really I wasn’t saying that they are self-righteous; I’m saying that they are delusional and in need of therapy. Oh, and apparently, as long as you have a college degree and are ambitious, you can get a job at Microsoft and Amazon easy. That 1 job for five people thing — don’t worry about that. Seriously, I actually would like Rick to come back because he claims to have the secret to easily making money, even in a bad economy, and if he’ll just pass that on, I can pass it on to my relative and then the biggest problem our family has will be solved.

    But returning from Neverland, reading that article that 300Baud linked to, I’m astonished to hear that Henderson listed retirement savings as an expense. Savings are not an expense; they’re savings. And if you’re having a cash flow problem, then you have to reduce your amount of savings until you pay for those expenses you incurred. If you don’t want to reduce the amount you save, then you have to reduce the expenses where you can. But if you choose to put a lot into savings, that again isn’t the government’s fault or their problem. Why is it always the government’s problem if well-off Americans don’t know how to manage their money? If they are ambitious and hard working and responsible, then they should be able to figure out basic math.

    Again, this Caitlin person — I can certainly understand her trepidation at taking an exciting job with new opportunities but that was going to halve her income. That’s a challenge and the logistics of it are something to worry about. But that’s not the same thing as saying that you’re poor, when the reality means it would just make you middle class. Saying you are poor is delusional and irrational. Caitlin is ill and that’s going to have a great effect on her life, on her new career, and on the other people whose lives she effects. She needs help, not sympathy. But then she fits right in with the Republicans now.

    Krugman’s take on the Pledge to America says it well too:

  60. Kat @71 – to be fair to Caitlin, she’s not the writer of the piece; the gloss about how she must ‘really’ feel was put there by somebody else. For all we know, she is perfectly aware of how ridiculous (in a reality-based sense) it is to ‘feel poor’ because your income drops to a mere 75% of ridiculous; but perhaps she couldn’t think of a less irritating term for the feeling you get when other people who do pretty much what you’re doing and perhaps don’t even work as hard are living much higher on the hog.

    She’s also suffering a bit from Henderson’s far more clue-free rant having been on the Internets first.

  61. As one of the people who is subject to this rule, I could not agree more with it. It has been nothing short of horrifying to read the recent posts that caused this rule to be put into effect. Rich is a circumstance; entitlement is a disease.

  62. Too bad Rick bailed. I live right in Amazon/MS-land; have been unemployed for 6 months; have applied for those many, many jobs posted, every single week, along with all of my unemployed, college educated friends. Yet, we are somehow, mysteriously sabotaging ourselves. I’m sure Rick could explain it all to us, and shazam! we’d suddenly be somehow more worthy and making six figure incomes. That would be nice.

    It would also be nice to be tall, white, male, and straight, because that also seems to help a lot with the six figure income thing. Cuz being a kick-ass superhero in one’s field doesn’t help us short, brown chicks, at all.

  63. I’m curious – if this woman’s salary was going to be $120 000, meaning a salary of $10K a month. The article’s author says that would be about $5100 after “taxes and other payroll-type fun”.

    Is your tax rate really nearly 50%, even assuming she’s paying for health insurance as part of it? Because I live in Quebec, reportedly the highest-taxed province in Canada, and I take home a better percentage of my pay than that. Of course, I don’t make $120K either, but that still seems high since I keep hearing about how comparatively low taxes are in the US…

  64. “It would also be nice to be tall, white, male, and straight, because that also seems to help a lot with the six figure income thing.”

    I guess I’ve been going to the wrong Secret Cabal meetings, then. My 6’5″, Northern-European-mutt, hetero Ass has never quite managed 6-figures, or even more than 2/3rds of the way there.

  65. Rick, what a piquant mix of ignorance and callousness. There’s very little reason for anyone to earn less than the median? Perhaps in Lake Wobegon, where everyone is above average. But here in the real world that seems tougher. Oh, but wait, you weasel-worded that claim by applying it only to the college-educated. Because of course anyone who’s not college educated doesn’t count and can be ignored.

    And you don’t seem to understand the statistics you’re throwing around. That $50k is the median household income. It already includes two income households. So your cute trick of casually doubling $50k to $100k doesn’t work.

    And “there’s really very little separating” $100k from $25k?? Really? How’s the weather in that fantasy world?

  66. @Gareth #76 – Statistically, your tall, male, Euro-mutt peers dominate the six figure income & above realm. Sorry, but it’s true. I won’t pull a Rick, though, and tell you that you’re just not trying hard enough. :-)

  67. When John posts about getting off your ass and writing and not making excuses it’s all cheering and kudos… but when it comes to money, the excuses come out.

    That would have something to do with the fact that when it comes to writing, the only thing you need is a pen and paper but when it comes to earning money, you need a hell of a lot more than that.

  68. @Ceri That 50% number is probably a bit high, but not by much. Assuming a salary of $10,000 per month, she will have about $1800 withheld for income tax, $620 for social security, $145 for Medicare, $685 for NY state income tax, and $364 for NY City income tax. That’s around $3650 in withholdings directly due to taxes. But, most people have other stuff taken out as well. I pay part of my health insurance, for example and parking and have 401K deducted. She likely has some deductions like this as well, so I figure somewhere around 40-45% withheld is pretty normal. She will get a larger check in Nov and Dec due to maxing out the social security withholding.

    Please don’t jump on my about the 401K deduction. Yes, it’s savings, but you can’t live on it now and it’s a responsible thing to do for anyone to have retirement savings.

  69. Charles @80 You are perfectly fair when talking about the tax part, but just because I have $100 per pay period taken out for a medical savings plan and another $86 for public transportation doesn’t make me poorer, it just means that I don’t have to pay for that out of my bank account later, not to mention that it is taken out pre-tax so I actually save by doing that.

    50% is not the same as the 63% she’d be taking home based on your tax calculation. Taxes are automatic, the other withholding is my choice, as it is hers.

  70. On #4, you forgot Chicago.

    But #5 pretty much sums up my reaction to the recent net-conniption.

    I’ve always maintained that I’d make a horrible CEO for any company, because if you paid me over a million dollars to do anything for a year, I sure as heck wouldn’t come back to do it again the next year. However, I’ve yet to test this out in practice…any takers?

  71. Sheila: I make my money *as* a writer. (Well, writer, proofer, copy-editor, whatever clients want.)

    I do need a hell of a lot more than pen and paper, though. This internet-connected computer, I really do find quite helpful.

  72. I have four children — and I live in one of the big, expensive cities cited. We have a nice life: plenty of food, a (smallish) apartment, one car, not a lot of dinners out, no fancy private schools, no debt. We live near the beach, and I feel pretty lucky. Six of us live on a lot less than that lawyer. I think, though, too, that people with ambition who want to live in NYC have higher material expectations and, yes, a greater sense of entitlement.

  73. @Rick: When called out on not knowing what you’re talking about, shifting your claims to something else you know nothing about isn’t a step forward. And shifting it to an unexaminable generality, as you considered doing, is worse. The imaginary people in your head can get the imaginary jobs in your head, sure. But that has little to do with actual job seekers out here in actual America.

    You write: “The self-righteousness – The idea that anyone who makes much over the median income is rich.”

    Rick, everybody who makes even the median income in America is rich on the global scale. Rich is a relative term, a matter of context. What riles people up on this topic is privileged people unable to even notice their colossal privilege, and then use that ignorance to fire up their sense of unfairness. Oh, poor Prof. Henderson in his million-dollar house with his 400k of income! He’s just an average Joe, living from paycheck to paycheck.

    And that is exactly what you’re doing. It might be easy for you to go out and get a 100k job at Amazon. But your inability to appreciate that it might be different for other people is enraging when you combine it with your blindness as to the sources of your advantage.

  74. I used to work at Charles Schwab HQ in San Francisco. My husband went back to school and I was earning about $54k/year. This was enough to afford us a nice $1200 apartment (that was NOT in a sketchy neighborhood), toys, cable, internet access, dinners out in nice restaurants, etc etc. It is entirely possible to live in SF for less than $100k/year, even adjusting for inflation that’s occurred since I left in 2002. I have friends who do so and with children, in fact.

    My total household income is now less than I used to make by myself. Charles Schwab used to tell us, “You’d be surprised how little money you actually *need* to live on.” He was trying to get us to put more into our 401k’s, but I like to think of this quote from him whenever *I* start to feel poor. Then I remember how priviledged I actually am. I pray one day people like “Caitlin”, and her blogger friend too, learn the same lesson.

  75. Alia – he makes at least one new rule per episode of his hbo show. The podcasts for which are free on iTunes if you care. Some of them are really funny but sometimes he’s just insufferable.

  76. Jon Marcus: “Because of course anyone who’s not college educated doesn’t count and can be ignored.”

    To be fair to Rick, he wasn’t saying that non-college educated people don’t count and is worried that we lose bright minds in the workforce because people can’t afford college. It’s very true that the college educated vastly out earn the non-college educated, but a college degree isn’t a magic fairy either, as the many unemployed college people before and after the latest crash will tell you.

    Ceri: “Is your tax rate really nearly 50%, even assuming she’s paying for health insurance as part of it?”

    No, it’s not. She has to pay federal, state and city taxes, unemployment insurance and Social Security, which is more than if she lived in Texas say where there’s no state income tax. With her likely tax bracket, her total tax is comparable to yours in Quebec, which is not 50% (unless you live in Montreal.) And the federal and state taxes are voluntary withholding. If she thinks she will owe less, she can reduce the amount that is withdrawn from her monthly paycheck for those taxes.

    The other large chunk probably being deducted from her paycheck (assuming we are actually being given accurate numbers,) is first her contribution to her health and dental insurance, which is not a tax but an expense. At her job level, she’ll likely have a choice of different plans available, at different costs, so she can reduce the cost there, and if she’s high level enough, she may not pay anything for health insurance benefits and her company pays it all. The other “pay-roll fun” is money that is deducted to go into her retirement benefits. It’s not an expense like insurance, it’s not a tax like FICA, it’s savings and it’s before tax and tax free on all capital gains and dividend income. And she can determine how much she wants to go into savings. She can also access this money anytime she wants — it’s hers; she’ll just have to pay a penalty for doing so if she’s under a certain age. So if her take home pay is $5,100, that’s not because she’s forced to take that amount. When she does her taxes, she will take deductions — everything from mortgage interest on her condo to unreimbursed business expenses to depreciation on her computer — way more than you can take in Canada, plus she can sock money away in tax-free investment vehicles. So her taxable income will be considerably less. However, at $120K gross income, even if she gets it down to $90K, she’s still in the same tax bracket of 28% for federal. If she was earning $250K or whatever in the previous job, she was in the 33% tax bracket.

    Caitlin’s main problem isn’t taxes. She has lots of options for protecting her money from taxes. It’s condominium fees, paying for a parking spot for her car (which costs about as much as an apartment,) the cost of the car, designer goods she’s supposed to have to convey an image of success, etc. — things she may have to give up. She will be a middle class New York schlub, but she will be working in an industry with the potential to eventually pay her even more than her previous job. Meanwhile, a worker in New York making $50,000 is in the 25% tax bracket, not much below her, but that worker doesn’t necessarily have the chance to put before tax income into tax free investments, may have to pay entirely for health insurance, if he can get it, has to pay rent and gets no mortgage interest deduction, does not have nearly as many deductions, so that worker ends up paying a larger proportion of his income in taxes, cannot manage as much into tax free savings (and no employer contributions to it either,) and groceries, utilities, etc. all cost him the same as they do Caitlin. So he doesn’t have as much net income and he can’t get as much into tax free savings or even taxed investments as she can do, even with the big salary cut. She’s having to make some sacrifices, which if she’s planned and saved for it, should not sink her at all. If she’s been smart about investments, potentially her income wouldn’t even drop that much despite the salary decrease, although everybody’s investments took a downturn for awhile.

    Henderson wants his kids to go to private school to give them the best opportunities. That’s noble of him, but he has to sacrifice to do it, just as the Great Generation sacrificed to get their boomer kids to college and poorer parents sacrifice to get their kids food and school supplies. With the economic downturn — for which his unpaid tax cut is a major cause — that means he has to sacrifice a bit more. But he doesn’t want to. Instead, he wants to keep his tax cut and have the bulk of the tax payers — the 50% of the middle class who make less than he does, pay more tax proportionately and have less chance of savings and tax free savings — to sacrifice further in the economy and their taxes so that his kids can go to private school without further hardship to him.

    His argument for why we should do this is that he employs several people. But he doesn’t employ them; he buys services, same as I pay my plumber. And Henderson takes far more from the economic system — in tax cuts, using up public resources, etc. — than he puts back in by buying services or taxes. Further, because he insists that other families sacrifice so his own can sacrifice less for what it wants, he causes further damage to the economy, which can cause the cost of things to go up, such as food or his private school tuition, meaning he’s more in debt.

    When Clinton raised income taxes on high income people, the number of jobs created was more than in any previous recovery and we ended up with a government surplus. When Bush lowered the taxes of high income people twice, the number of jobs created was less than in any previous recovery and we ended up with a deficit. Giving tax cuts to well off people does not create jobs. Henderson’s argument is bogus. Again, it’s burble up, not trickle down.

  77. I have nothing to say other than I completely agree.

    Spoken as: A person working full-time, going to school part-time to get a degree to become one of those 6-figure income people and scraping by on less than 16,000 a year. And as a person who paid taxes last year AND DIDN’T COMPLAIN ABOUT IT.

  78. How about rule “8” – Just because you have a six-figure income, the taxing authorities shouldn’t assume you are “rich”?

  79. Not to dump on Rick, but it just isn’t as simple as he makes it sound. A functionally illiterate person living in a ghetto is going to have a hell of a time finding better than a McDonalds type job. A single mother on welfare often finds that an entry level job doesn’t even cover their childcare costs, so it is more economically sound to remain on welfare. Children of migrant workers tend to become migrant workers. Kids who have had an unstable home life are less likely to succeed in school. Some people have less cognitive ability than others, and really can’t do more than a basic job. Some are disabled, either mentally or physically. My severely mentally ill patients never had a chance. They truly can’t function and so they will always be poor.

    Even if a college degree were a panacea for economic woes, not everyone can make it to college. There are people who quit high school to get a basic job to help their families out. Some end up starting a family just out of high school, or even IN high school. Their college dreams may have to wait. Some people don’t do well enough in school to make it to college. Even if someone is smart and wants to go to college, it isn’t always financially possible. What if they can’t get any scholarships, and can’t borrow enough money to cover tuition at the school they got into? I cut it so close when I was in school, that if my grandmother wasn’t sending me $200 a month to help, I couldn’t have afforded to stay in school.

    I’m an example of someone who eventually made some good decisions, scraped and skimped to get through school, and now I make more than I ever imagined I could. But I grew up in an upper middle class town and got an excellent education, graduated high school, then had just enough help from family to make it through college. I started with a LOT more advantages than some. OK, going to stop my monologue here, but jeez, some people just don’t get it!

  80. Charles @ 80: payroll withholding and tax liability are two different things, please don’t confuse them.

    You can [i]choose[/i] the level of payroll tax withholding that you suffer from/subject yourself to/is tortured by/request is by filling out a W-4 and the state and/or local equivalent and submitting said forms to your employer’s HR or payroll dept. You know that, right? Because the W-4 and its state and local equivalents are simply guidelines for your payroll departments to follow to determine how much taxes to withhold from your paycheck, nothing more. You can fill out the W-4 (and its state and local equivalents) to whatever you want, thus adjusting amount of tax withholding comes out of your paycheck.

    The purpose of this is (amongst others): a) the federal and state/local governments have a steady income flow (just like you people who are conventionally employed), and b) you the taxpayer is not suddenly faced, at year end’s accounting, with a huge tax bill that you were not prepared for.

    401k contributions and medical insurance are tax deductible so those lower the overall taxable income to figure tax liability.

    The difference between payroll tax withholding and tax liability can be HUGE. The former is what you told your employer you *might* owe and take that out of my paycheck (which you did by filling out a W-4 and state/local equivalent), and the latter is what you *actually* owe based on the returns that you file.

  81. pops@92: No one in this country has been taxed like a “rich” person in decades.

    But yes, you are right. There should be different marginal tax rates for those who make $100k and those who make over $250k.

  82. I would love to clear $100,000 a year again, living in the SF bay area. I’d take home over $4,000 a month, which might let me pay my bills *and* buy health insurance for me and my partner – at $1500 a month. If I worked somewhere that let me set aside the health insurance money pre-tax, that would be even better! I would be living very well, supporting the two of us.

    Hell, I’d even take $90,000, and the ability to buy the health insurance pre-tax.

    You can keep your cable.

  83. I work in IT and support a family of four on a “middle class” income. But here’s a hypotetical: So if you make 250,000 US dollars a year, and you are currently paying $67,600+ a year in taxes, according to A 4% rate increase would mean another $10,000 per year in taxes.

    You did well in high school. You’ve gone to college, took out loans, gone to law school, took out more loans, eaten ramen noodles when you joined a law firm as an associate while you paid off your loans, and now here you are, ten years later, finally making decent money and enjoying your life. Some clown and his congressional yes-men has deficit-spent the country into a hole, and his replacement is trying to spend his way out of debt as well.

    Now this person is not poor, BUT: Why should this hypothetical person shrug his shoulders and say, “Oh well! Here’s another TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS because the government can’t manage their money. Whatcha gonna do?”

  84. RogerX: You clearly missed the lesson on ‘gross’ income vs. ‘taxable’ income; as well as the clarification that the sunsetting of the the Bush era tax cuts only apply to amounts above the initial $250k of taxable earnings. Please try again.

  85. @Kat – “People in the $100K and $200K income level do inherit money from their parents, who are often also in that same income range or higher from investments. More, before inheriting, they usually received money help from their parents, had a college education paid for in whole or part by their parents, had parents cosign their student loans, mortgages, business loans, pay for insurance or a car to get them started.”

    OK, firstly, that article was disgusting, and the lady in question deserves an education in what poor really is before writing such nonsense.

    But Kat I do need to correct you. I earn a good income, on the upper end of your scale up there. My folks are still with me, thank goodness, but I won’t inherit anything from them – don’t want it, I’d rather they spend it all having a good time with the time they have left.
    I didn’t have a college education so a loan wasn’t needed. I got my first car through working nights loading trucks.

    All I’m saying is that generalizations don’t often work.

    I travel frequently in Asia. One of the places I travel to is Manila. When you see kids scraping discarded tins with a spoon and putting the result in a second-hand plastic bag; then you have an understanding of poor.

    Poverty in all its forms is a curse, and with the way the American economy is going it is a curse that is going to affect a lot more people soon. I can imagine in a short time that same lady being unemployed (she’d be among the first to go); in her case I reckon it would be a good thing. Sometimes you need a kick in the ass to get your priorities sorted.

  86. Ok, I’m way late to the game, but I have a favorite gedanken experiment.

    First, quick background: my wife and I live in the SF Bay Area (Oakland) on a single income just shy of $60,000/yr. By modern, global standards, we are rich. We have good medical insurance, a reasonably new car, a decent apartment (if perhaps a wee bit small by US standards, but plenty big enough in a desirable area of the country). We eat high quality organic food.

    But what really seals it for me is realizing how much fun it would be to take a time machine and kidnap any pre-1800 monarch for a couple days. Taking him for a ride in an ’06 Honda Civic would be frightening to him. The AC would be ghastly wizardry, and then taking the car on the freeway would allow me to take him for a ride at speeds faster than he could have achieved with all the riches of his kingdom (even without breaking the law). Imagine him wetting himself when I point to my neighbor’s Corvette and explain just how much better its handling is, not to mention 4-5 times the power.

    I have an army of mechanical servants which help cook my food, clean my clothes, keep hot water ready for any minor whim (like washing my hands with hot water whenever I like), flush toilets, the list goes on. For the food, I have a gas range with electric ignition. I don’t have to stoke my ovens. I just walk up and turn it on. Every single thing that he had 5-10 servants to deal with, I have a metal box. And then I also have a refrigerator (with a freezer! Ice in summer!).

    You got the idea 4-5 sentences ago, but the point is, I live better than most kings did. I have things at my beck and call that they never dreamed of and some things that would frighten them. I am a commoner in my country and time, but I am far richer than kings of old.

    I am a 21st century digital boy. I live on 5-figures. I am rich by more than a couple standards. I approve of your rule, Mr. Scalzi.

  87. @Roger: “Why should this hypothetical person shrug his shoulders and say, ‘Oh well! Here’s another TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS because the government can’t manage their money. Whatcha gonna do?’”

    This is wrong thrice over. One, as Cyan points out, your math is wrong. Two, nobody here has suggested that’s the attitude anybody should have. And three, the problem is not government money management. It is us voters continuing to elect people who give us the services we ask for while putting the bills off to tomorrow.

    You’re also changing the topic. What we’re discussing is rich people with a sense of entitlement, including ones who think they are just too darned poor to pay their share of taxes. That’s entirely separate from the right level of government spending. Changing the topic like that looks like you’re trying to avoid the meat of the issue.

  88. RogerX

    Take a look back at Guess @ 59

    That was a good explanation of how the tax will actually impact people.

    I heard a commentator say on CNN yesterday “Sure it’s easy for Warren Buffett to pay the tax, but not for the guy making $300k a year.”

    Now I’m not sure of that really makes sense on any level. Given the nature of the tax system the tax is an equal percentage of both earners income.

    That said, I figured say the 300k is taxable and that individual is going to wind up paying slightly less than $200 more a month in taxes. Which is significant to me. But, for a guy earning $25,000 a month?

  89. LOL, poor Cyan — maybe this is the big problem. A lot of people earning $150K-$500K have no understanding of basic tax math. They keep going, we’ll be horribly, horribly hurt, as if tax were some sort of giant boogeyman. And they continue to be oblivious to all the government services they use.

    Jeff 101: “But Kat I do need to correct you” — no, you need to read the posts more carefully, is what you need to do. I was responding to a poster who said that nobody in that income bracket inherits money, only really rich people, which is not correct.

    And I said: “While some people in that income range are like Alia, most of them started in the income range they are currently enjoying and it skews their perspective.” Alia is someone who started off very poor. You are also someone who started off very poor. And so you and Alia recognize that claiming poverty at $250K or $400K is ridiculous. But the majority of upper middle class and lower high income people came from families in the same income bracket or higher and got help and college educations from those families. Their perspective of what poor is can then sometimes be skewed, especially if they are conservative, which Henderson clearly is. And their understanding of tax math and managing their debt doesn’t seem to be particularly good either, or they are pleading poverty and debt while socking away their money, or sometimes both.

    (However, I write really long posts, so I don’t blame you a bit, and appreciate you sharing your story.)

    Mark Sumner, a novelist and non-fiction writer, has sort of summed it up in this essay:

    We cannot continue to let people like Henderson and Caitlin claim unrealistic views and bad math unchallenged. They don’t get pats on the head and comfort that it will all be fine. They need to be woken up, because they are sending the rest of us into the dumpster, which is going to increase their own expenses. Going back to the reasonable tax rates they had before and paying that tax is going to save them money in the long run.

  90. Ceri @75
    It’s entirely possible if she’s including health insurance and deferred compensation in the deductions. NYC has high state and city income taxes that probably take another 7-8% off her income on top of the 28% or so in federal income tax. 7% for Social security would be 42% right there and then there’s the deductions for health insurance. Certainly her _marginal_ tax rate will be near 50%, when you add them all together. She’s in the federal 31% bracket.

    The trick when you see statements that the US has one of the lowest taxation rates is that the FEDERAL taxes on income are low, but states that are required to balance their budgets each year instead of running a deficit have increased their state taxes immensely. A lot of the anger on this issue on both sides is misplaced. The high taxation issue has been played as a national issue when it’s frequently a local issue. The people whining about the high-income whiners are ignoring the threshold of pain that anyone feels when you see even 40 cents of every dollar you earn get taken out of your pocket before it even gets into your pocket. It isn’t just comparing upward.

    On the other hand, it’s time for all of us to pay the piper in the US economy. The folks at the low end are paying by being out of work. The folks at the high end have been calling the tune for the past 10-20 years, so they should pay most of the bill.

  91. I just want to say that there are some of us who make six figure incomes and live in expensive regions of the country who are well aware of incredibly lucky we are to do so. We don’t necessarily feel the need to go out to expensive restaurants, buy designer clothing, or even pay for cable TV. (You do know that HD signals are broadcast over the air for free, right?)

    Not all rich people have their heads up their asses and some of us even realize that having a high tax bill is about the best “problem” anyone can ever hope to have. I am going to go out and celebrate when our tax bill reaches six figures (that’s the bill, not the AGI). We’ve come close, but haven’t yet broken that figure. When we do, I’m going to whoop and cheer and maybe even splurge on something.

    Till then, I’m going to continue to live in our modest house, and drive our aging cars and remember that we were happy before we were rich, so why try to spend more to change that. But then maybe that’s because both of us grew up on the poor side of middle class, although even then, we were never truly poor.

  92. What I find interesting is this quote from Rep. Mike Pence today on Meet the Press: “David, there is no question that there should be no higher priority for the Congress of the United States today than making sure that no American sees a tax increase in January of 2011, not one.” Now, I’m a big believer that our news media is run by those who are not so bright and was not surprised that David Gregory didn’t ask the obvious question: “So you support extension of the Making Work Pay tax credit?” Republicans uniformly support maintaining the tax cuts on high income earners because “you don’t raise taxes during a recession”. But, they don’t support extending the Making Work Pay tax credit even though it will result in a tax increase for nearly all Americans. Given that both are current tax policy and both are set to expire in 2011, how are they different?

  93. Oh Jeff, I’m so sorry. Yes, I was responding to Simon, who also sort of agrees with me. :)

    Right now the Republicans are blackmailing that everyone’s taxes will go up in January unless everyone gets the tax cut. I’m sure they have an elaborate argument for why the Making Work Pay tax credit is different.

  94. @Kat: No worries.

    The republican tax argument is ridiculous, and I boggle at how they convince people poorer than me that their tax policy is beneficial to them. The argument against the “Making Work Pay” tax credit is simple. They call it a socialist handout (because it’s a ‘credit’ not a ‘cut’). And the base buys it, even though it will actually put money in the pockets of much of said base…

  95. It’s not that anyone thinks that, in terms of US incomes, someone making 100,000 a year is really rich, it’s that when they ***complaining about feeling poor***, we want to hit them in the head with a shovel.

    Is this not clear to anyone? If you complain about feeling poor when you’re earning over $100,000 a year You. Are. An. Asshole..

    I live in Manhattan, so I get to say that.

  96. I’m a little surprised with you, Mr. Scalzi. Did you forget about editing? I would think that the only thing needed in that list is #6 – People can say anything they want to. But we can certainly ridicule them for saying it. And, in truth, all #6 should say is that people making stupid statements can be clearly ridiculed for their ridiculousness.

  97. BTW, if you want your blood to boil. Listen to this week’s “This American Life”, particularly the section on Wall Street.

  98. I feel rich with my five figures of Australian money (which happily is doing pretty well against the US dollar at the moment so online purchases aren’t too bad.)

    I think the key to feeling rich is: stay single!

  99. Heh. Just today I put up a post on my own blog marveling at how rich my wife and I feel these days. (click here) When we got married in 1993, we didn’t even make $10,000 our first year together. Now, 18 years later, we still don’t make anywhere close to six figures. But we do own our own home. And we finally opened our little backyard kidney pool. And our daughter is healthy and thriving in an accelerated learning program. And I just qualified for SFWA pro. And… hell, when you have the right perspective and put in the effort life requires, you can be and feel truly rich.

  100. #49, Gray Woodland sed,
    >Apparently ‘rich/poor’ is no longer a spectrum but a binary dichotomy.

    ‘rich’ has always been ‘twice what I make today’.

  101. Everyone I know who lives in the City (NYC) has one or more roommates. Personally when I worked in the City I lived in NJ and took the bus to work.

    NYC doesn’t appeal to me anymore except as a place to visit. It is a good city but not for me. Portland, OR is more my style. Portland proper is reasonably expensive too, but as with NYC if you live in the right area the costs are lower.

    Whining about making $120k as a single person in NYC is silly. But the “keeping up with the Jones” pattern is strong in NYC and some people are complete idiots. I wouldn’t want to move to NYC with my salary but if we had to, my wife and I could get by with my salary. I would probably live in Brooklyn instead though.

    Some people get very attached to city life and judge things from the pov of their small clique. I think that is what happened here and then the blogger decided to try to justify it to a larger audience. Which is stupid.

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