Hard-working Americants

There’s an implicit American assumption that, except for the fat-cats, all Americans who have full-time jobs are equally hard-working and deserving of…stuff.

Fat-cat has now been operationally defined by President Obama as anyone with a household income higher than $250K. I disagree. I think people who make between $250K and half a million should be called pudgy cats, and only those over the half mil mark should be considered fat cats.

In my household, we’re not pudgy cats yet, but we’ve been trying hard to get there. We got not-a-penny from Bush’s rebates, so that gives you a clue as to our minimum household income. Maybe we’re just husky cats. But…had the Bush largesse been based on average hourly wage, I bet we’d have gotten some of that govenment cheese. 

I don’t get paid hourly, but I get paid pretty damn good, if you pro-rate what I make against 40 hours a week. I can’t remember the last time I worked only a 40 hour week. Oh, wait…I can. It was my last vacation. Not every vacations is like that, but about half of them are.

It’s worse if I schedule the vacation far in advance. Sure as hell, there will be stuff that must be done that wasn’t in the schedule 6 months ago. This means when I go on travel vacations, I appear to be a hugely important workaholic. This is nice for improving my image with my in-laws, but it makes for some pretty exhausting vacations if I try to keep up in the fun department.

Together, my wife and I work more than 80 hours a week–in a short week.  She works part-time, nominally, and I work full-time. On average, it’s more like 110 hours, and that’s not padding it out by counting commuting and the other BS that people like to report when bitching about their long work weeks. And I’m a conscientious objector and slacker–I work less than most of my peers, and resent it more. 

My wife’s in medicine, works three 12 hour days most weeks and then is on call (usually called) on the weekends–another 10 hours on average that she actually gets called. I’m a computer geek, and I catch crap for slacking at 60 hours. I don’t think I’ve worked less than 70 hours a week in the last 3 months, though that’s not the usual. But it’s recurrent, a few months every year. Yesterday was 13 hours, from morning to evening elevator ding, never leaving the building and eating lunch at my desk. I made up for it with a 9 hour day today, ding to ding.

We are index fund, 401K maxing kind of people.  So we’ve already been punished for our part in the banking debacle–by losing near half the value of our carefully accumulated savings. We don’t have any debts to be written down, except our mortgage, which won’t be, and we won’t qualify any more for Obama’s mortgage assistance than we did for Bush’s rebate.

The median household income in this country is about $50K a year. My wife and I are way above that. But I’ll bet on a per-hour basis, we don’t make all that much more than those households holding down the median. If you take into account all the years of education, 7-day work weeks (of which I’ve had a couple of dozen this year), 13 hour days (only one this week so far for me, she has them 3x a week regularly),  my wife and I, for all our investments in education, diligence and excellence have probably gotten a 25% to 35% hourly wage premium over the workers who adhere to the median.

We are fortunate–we’re both still employed just like we were last year. If we both lost our jobs tomorrow, we’d be fine for a few years even if we didn’t bring in another penny of income. We’ve saved 20% or more of our inccome annually for the last decade.  We will, of course, have a good percentage more of our dwindling nest egg taken by various sneaky means to help people who are “less well off”” than we are. Mostly, these are people who, for the last several years, have driven more recent model and more expensive cars, have much more expensive TVs, newer appliances, many more and more expensive vacations, 50% more square footage in their decades-newer houses, and who have managed to do it all on half or less of what we make, just by using their credit cards and their parents and their willingness to keep paying high rates of interest to implement their own stimulus packages.

When you’re talking about the difference in America between people who make low- to- mid 6-figures and people who make mid 5-figures, the difference in most cases really is just extra focus and  consistent hard work over a period of many years. 

All my life, I’ve paid taxes to help the truly poor. I haven’t particularly liked doing it (see my previous posts about the poor), but it’s been an acceptable burden. Now, I’m being asked to bail out the somewhat-lazy and shallow middle class–those who are capable of working full time, who have enough self-discipline and self-respect to hold down decent jobs, but who have then decided to stop there.

They have the time to enjoy expensive toys, aren’t shy about buying them on credit and have speculated repeatedly in the bubble equity in their houses. Here’s the thing: for the last several years, there’s been no lifestyle difference between me and the missus and these guys, except our house is smaller, our cars are older, I don’t have a fucking boat, and we haven’t ever paid for an all-inclusive vacation or cruise. My toys are all paid for cash and slightly more shopworn than those of my neighbors, and we have less time to play with them.

We can’t afford to book vacations at the last minute–we fly Southwest and book way in advance. Every vacation where we have flown for the last several years has been to see family. We borrow cars and round robin with friends & family when on vacation. We try to treat friends and family for putting up with us, using all that not-Avis not-Marriott money when we’re on vacation. I end up working too much on vacation because we can’t afford to pay $900 a ticket instead of $200.

I’m sure there may be someone who reads this who thinks, what a cheap bastard. You’re right, I could afford $900 a ticket. It wouldn’t break the bank, endanger my next month mortgage payment or make a dent in my current lifestyle.

Here’s what I have to say to that someone, a la Jeff Foxworthy…

You might be an irresponsible asshole if you have more than $1000 in credit card debt.

You might be an irresponsible asshole if you have less than 20% equity in your home, even with the recent downturn.

You  might be an irresponsible asshole if you qualify for any government assistance that you didn’t qualify for 5 years ago.

You are an irresponsible asshole if you’re hoping right now that some  Obamanista change in government policy is going to save your ass.


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