Strolling down memory lane
The cover story for the May Atlantic by Neal Gabler titled “The Secret Shame of the Middle Class” references a 2013 Federal Reserve Board survey that found 47 percent of respondents would have trouble finding $400 to cover an emergency expense. The article’s author confesses he is among that number.
The article resulted in several other commentaries written about it this week.
Some refer to a squeezed middle class, stagnant wages, others refer to a lack of thrift and a misguided sense of chasing the American Dream, which was determined to cost an average of $130,000 a year for a family of four.
What struck me and sent me strolling down memory lane, was the question, “Are you better off than your parents?”
I’ve given the question some thought previously. Asking myself the question five years ago, the answer was “No.”
Though my husband and I had a comfortable existence — adequate housing, no debt including a paid off home, emergency savings — we weren’t in the same situation of middle class I grew up in.
Thinking of it now, I figure we’re probably close. But it’s hard to know. My parents didn’t discuss finances with or in front of the kids. All I have to go on is basically our living situation at the time.
So I visited the neighborhood I grew up in. Not literally, but through Googlemaps’ street view. I spent the first 12 years of my life in a house that my parents bought just prior to my birth in Monroe, Lousiana in an area on the east side of town called Schwartz. That was two years after Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson invented his first duck call right across the Ouachita River.
In my “tour,” I thought the neighborhood has held up pretty well. It still looks like the nice place to live that I remember.
The new owners of my childhood home have made some landscaping improvements and the street out front seems to be in pretty good shape.
Looking at appraisal district information, the square footage is about the same as the house I live in now but my home as a kid is valued a bit higher. The value can likely be attributed to the housing market and the fact that it sits on a lake.
But a house on the lake in Louisiana is just a house on a lake. It’s not a lake house. The lake’s there mainly for scenery. It’s mostly a swamp. There’s not much boating on it because it’s largely populated by cypress trees. You never saw people swimming in it either for whatever reason. My brother had a john boat though and we’d tool around a bit.
So I traveled up the street and down another via the wonder of Googlemaps and checked out the homes of my former neighbors, trying to remember all their names — the Palowskys, the Fords, the Barnhills, the Doolittles, the Elliots. I have forgotten more than I can remember.
I remember random details though, their dogs’ names or which ones pulled out all the stops for Halloween.
It was a fun trip and it gave me insight to answer the original question — am I better off than my parents?
Yes. But it has nothing to do with the economy. They too experienced a deep recession in the ‘80s.
It has more to do with personal choices.