by GEOFF MEHL, Staff Writer
A recent column by The Michigan Daily’s Jesse Klein titled “Relative Wealth” was both thought provoking and perplexing.
The column outlines the financial wealth of her family and how relative wealth is based on where one lives compared to the average income of the area.
She is right, wealth is relative but I argue class is not.
“My family’s household income is $250,000 a year, but I promise you I am middle class. I live in a $2 million dollar house, but I promise you I am still middle class,” Klein wrote. “But wealth is a relative measure in some respects…because of the high cost of living in Palo Alto, I grew up middle class and I have found that my views on money sometimes differ drastically from those of in-state students.”
I took offense to this column; I felt like it doesn’t really represent what middle class is and what it is like to be truly middle class. I am writing this not to just get the frustration this article caused off my chest, but to give a voice to the University of Michigan-Dearborn students who are middle class.
I come from a middle class family, not upper middle class and certainly not upper class. Both my mother and father worked when I was growing up, I lived in a 1,500 square foot house in northern Westland and attended Livonia Public Schools.
I have worked since the day I turned 16 and by 18 I was pretty much on my own financially when it came to my independence aside from living with my parents. I paid for my phone; I had to buy my own car and insurance, took out student loans in my own name and financed my social life.
My family fits in what I’d like to call the “real” middle class. According to the United States Census Bureau, between 2009 and 2013 the average median household income in Michigan was $48,411 and according to several sources, including The Department of Labor Statistics, the middle class in America ranges from $90,000 to $140,000.
Many of the students at UM-Dearborn have families just like me. Their parents work hard to keep the lights on, food on the table and a warm bed to sleep in. We all work hard and continue to do so for the things we need and on occasion the things we want.
“My friends in Michigan have worked at minimum-wage jobs for months, saving up to buy that one special item,” Klein wrote. “I respect that kind of delayed gratification, even if I do not fully understand the appeal of the specific reward.”
To the opinion of a middle class person, this is something a “wealthy” person would say. Of course she doesn’t understand the appeal of a specific reward, because when you have everything you need, the things you want are just a paycheck away.
I am a working student at a dead-end job like many of you. I work to pay for my car, the rent in my house, the food I eat, the classes I take and clothes on my back. As many of you who are like me know, it’s nice to buy yourself a gift every once in awhile when you are so lucky to have the extra spending money to splurge and we like to show it off. Statements like Klein’s are what make the “real” middle class citizens cringe.
“Instead of expensive clothing, shoes and watches, the people I know from California spend money on travels and experiences,” she said. “Music festivals and exotic destinations are at the top of their and my wish lists.”
We middle-classers look at Klein’s above quote with a cocked-eye. Did the woman from Palo Alto, California just say that expensive vacations and exotic destinations are on the top of their wish lists? Yes, yes she did. I found myself internally screaming at this thinking “you are from where Michiganders want to vacation.”
I would also argue that Michigander middle class citizens also enjoy exotic trips and music festivals. I myself attended one of the world’s largest music festivals in Georgia in September of 2014. We all work hard for things we want, not just clothes and a chance to flash as Klein seems to suggest.
So the question is, is wealth relative? And my answer is yes, but class is not. Whether you live in New York City and live in a million dollar home or you live in Detroit, Michigan in a million dollar home, you are still living in a million dollar home. Because you drive a $40,000 Jeep Grand Cherokee and your classmate drives a $70,000 dollar Porsche doesn’t mean you are middle class.
In an area where the middle class rules, the hard working people of Metro Detroit find this sort of column out of touch. I cannot speak for all of us, some of us are better-off than others and some may have even worse situations, but I believe that more of us relate to the “real” middle class than Klein’s middle class.