Tuesday, December 01, 2015

What class AM I?

Back in 2008, I graduated and got a job making $80,000/year. This makes me a pretty lucky fellow, for sure! But how lucky? This was around the time that "The 99%" and "The 1%" started to become popular, and I saw a lot of people taking photos saying "We are the 1%, we stand with the 99%" and I thought I should do that too.

Wow, not at all! I was one of The 30%, maybe. Even given a lot of other factors that made life easier for me (no dependents, raises, bonuses, etc), there's no way I was close to The 1%.

This is not good, for a lot of reasons.

1. I left a ton of money on the table. Google told me the offer was non-negotiable, but everything's negotiable, especially if you have competing offers. You are doing nobody a favor by not negotiating, except a few thousand dollars stay in the company's coffers. That few thousand is pocket change to them and a real difference to you.

There was a successful anti-trust case over this. Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc. were making a ton of money by fixing employees' wages and agreeing not to compete. This is classic corporation vs. employees labor dynamics.

And I didn't know that. Watch something like Silicon Valley and you'll see caricatures of millions of dollars being thrown around at socially awkward children. I thought I was the new elite. I wasn't; I was the new labor.

2. That fat salary is not as much as it sounds like. Consider a tech employee making $80k in San Francisco. She wants an apartment. That costs $3000/month. $80k after taxes = $55k - $3000/month = $19k. Which is not peanuts, but it's hard to save money and start building wealth on that much income. (If she lived on the Peninsula, she might get by on $2500/month, but then she will need a car, which costs on average $6000/year, exactly eating up the savings.)

I guess my point is, I thought I was the new Upper Class. But I may have been the new Working Class. Certainly the new Middle Class. And that changes a lot of things about how you look at the world.

Everyone in America thinks they are just inches away from being a multi-millionaire. This is the only reason I can think of that anyone still votes for low taxes on the rich; we all assume we are basically them. Friends, even tech friends: most of you are not.


iris said...

Or, conversely, everyone thinks they are middle class: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2015/04/22/is-chris-christie-middle-class-class-and-self-perception/

Dan Tasse said...

Touche :) But but but I'm right--

A younger, less brash version of me would say "whoops, sorry, I've underestimated my privilege again" and repudiate my whole post. But you know what, F that. Let's talk.

Like the article says, by one measure, Christie is middle class: he and his wife (sort of) have to work. He may be out of it, at $4m wealth: invest that at 2.5%, live off the $100k/yr interest. I'm sure he's outgrown a $100k lifestyle, but maybe he and his wife could pare down a bit, or maybe after the kids are out of school-- you know, I think we can justify that everyone should be able to have a $100k lifestyle -- no wait, that's not practical; 50k? yeah, if you make more than 50k you're living too extravagantly--

But now I'm quibbling over crumbs again. Point is, there's a class of people above all this, and they have a ton of money and see the world very differently. Christie's bordering on it. You or I, even if we're making nice tech salaries, are probably not. (at least, for a while.)