Book Review Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It by Richard V. Reeves
My reaction to this book was “So what?” and “Tell me something I didn’t know.” Least you think I’m one of those upper middleclass folks who is angry Reeves is going after me and thinks my kids need to do worse so someone else’s kids can do better, let me disabuse you. My background and current status is middle to lower middleclass. My dad was a school teacher who always had a PT job to feed the family. My step-mom worked PT for a dentist. In high school I lived with my grandmother for financial reasons, in a one-bedroom apartment. I slept on a pullout couch in the living room. My wife’s dad was a coal miner. Her mom helped manage the apartment building they lived in. After high school, I joined the Marines and volunteered for Vietnam. I earned a BA and an MEd on the GI bill from state schools. I took the SATs when I was getting out of the Corps, and my scores were in the 99th and 95th percentile, but I couldn’t afford private colleges. I had a 31-year professional career, from which I was forced to retire for a lung transplant in 2013. During the last ten years of my career, my salary rose enough to put me into the top 20% of earners. That allowed us to save enough that we have a comfortable retirement, which will last until we die or the money runs out in 10-12 years. I have never lived in a house that cost more than $150. My wife had two children when we married, now in their 40s. Through an endless series of bad decisions, poor choices and a live-for-today attitude, they are in the bottom 10%, probably lower. Their combined net worth wouldn’t buy a ten-year-old car. We have two grandchildren living nearby in their mom’s $5k trailer to whom we try to provide some enrichment such as dance classes and some guidance, but we cannot afford to send them to college.
So, it may be true that the top 20% are getting richer, and that they help their kids stay in the top 20%. That’s always been true. Reeves states that in 1890, only 10% of kids 14-17 were still in school, the rest were working. Want to bet that the 10% mostly had well-to-do parents?
What matters to me is not how others are doing, but how I and my family are doing. Economics, as the brilliant black economist Dr. Thomas Sowell has noted, is not a zero-sum game, even if Reeves and his fellow progressives think it is. It doesn’t matter if some of the lower 80% get into the top 20%, only how many of them are rising relative to their own circumstances, not relative to the upper middle class.
Reeves solution, as always, is to tax more and throw money at the problem. Never mind that billions have been spent in the “War on Poverty” and poverty seems to be willing. Never mind that billions have been spent on the Head Start Program and that by 6th grade there is no difference between head start students and other students. But, it can’t be touched, it’s the “rice bowl” for tens of thousands of administrators and educators.
What the poor and lower middleclass need are parents that care and the ethics to succeed. Dr. Ben Carson grew up in the projects, with a single, illiterate mother. But she made her boys do a book report every week which she pretended to read. He became the world’s leading pediatric neurosurgeon, though he came from the bottom 10%.