Tuesday, September 13, 2011

the deluded poor

On my lunch break from work today, as I walked to my normal hiding place, I overheard a conversation taking place between two girls walking on the opposite side of the street. They were young--probably college freshman--with dyed blonde hair and surfer-styled fashion, which made me assume they'd come here from Southern California (like more than half of the out-of-town kids at this school). At one point, I heard one of the girls say "Obama wants to take our money, because we're rich, and use it to help give poor people jobs. He's so stupid!" The other girl agreed vociferously.

It's an interesting statement for a lot of reasons, but the thought that leaped out at me when I heard it was: what makes these girls think they're rich?

San Francisco State University, where I work, is one of 23 universities in the CSU system. It's a school largely funded by state money, and the current budget crisis in California has lead to drastic cuts in that funding. This year alone, Governor Jerry Brown plans on cutting back at least 18% of the CSU total budget. What that means is classes have been cut, lecturers have been dismissed, services have been minimized, and tuition has been raised. It's so hard to get the classes you need here that it's now practically impossible to graduate in four years. Current average graduation time is closer to 6 years.

In all honesty, the only reason I can think of as to why people would come to this school at all is that they're either not willing or not able to spend the money to go somewhere else. In other words, they're not rich.

So what makes these girls think they're rich? I'm guessing they think they're rich because they're white and their parents aren't on welfare. Their lifestyles don't fit their concept of poverty, so they assume that they aren't poor. If they aren't poor, then they think they must be rich.

In a certain sense, they're right. This country is still a rich country. Even the poor people in America have a lot more money than people in lots of other countries. These girls probably come from families that own houses, have cars, have extra money to spend on unnecessary things like blonde hair dye. If the house comes with an extortion-rate mortgage, if the cars were bought on loan, if that extra money is balanced by ten thousand dollars of personal debt, they don't know about it. Their parents don't talk with them about finances.

The truth is, only very few Americans still qualify as "rich," assuming you're using the word "rich" to describe the people Obama's plan aims to tax (i.e. people who earn more than $250K a year). In fact, more than 90% of the people in this country earn a salary of around $31K a year, which is about one-eighth of what Obama's "rich" people earn.

And my guess is people in that upper echelon of wealth don't send their kids to state-funded schools, especially when those schools are going down the toilet.