Americans Deeper in Debt

My relationship with money is very strange. I’m constantly comparing myself to other people to see how I’m doing financially, and I’m never satisfied with my status. I live in a shoebox of a little house, I drive a low end car, most of my “stuff” is low end (computer, phones,mp3 player, coffee, groceries, etc.). I’m never happy. I always marvel at how other people can afford SUVs, and private school tuition. According to all the stats I’ve read, we are at the upper end of income in Baton Rouge. I know I don’t live in an exceptionally rich part of town, but I look at my neighbors’ yards, cars, houses, and I feel inadequate. I recall bell hooks, when writing about her BMW (maybe it was in Where We Stand: Class Matters), saying something about feeling this way as a child of poverty (which I was), which causes an emptiness that can never be filled. Of course, the drive to consume caused by hypercapitalism is the real root cause of this feeling. But just because I intellectually know this, it doesn’t make the feeling go away.

A New York Times article says that the average credit card debt for Americans is $8,500. Not as high as I suspected, but still high. We have no credit card debt, so in that regard we are fortunate. (Let’s not even go into my student loan debt, which is traumatic to say the least). The article in the New York Times is a fascinating lesson for me on finances. Apparently, we’re all living above our means, and it is escalating dangerously.

Over the past few years, I have learned to be more responsible with my money. I have learned to live on a budget. But I also know first hand how hard it is to live on a budget when you have no money in the first place. I never could understand why financial planners want you to save money when every penny you have is going for necessities. While I moved out of that state of affairs long ago, how to save money was a lesson I learned only recently. In short, while my finances are relatively secure, I still have that hunger from poverty, that insecurity over ‘not having,’ and the desire to conspicuously consume. And consume. And consume.

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  1 comment for “Americans Deeper in Debt

  1. Anonymous
    July 23, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    The Neo-Marxists have it right: the Proletariat has no desire to overthrow the Bourgeois so long as the Proletariat believes it can magically attain becoming Bourgeois!

    Exhibit A is American Idol and any gameshow or lottery that suckers us into falsely believing the Horatio Algier myth of upward mobility by the proverbial bootstraps.

    Exhibit B: The Wall Street Journal reports today on new IRS data showing that in 2006, the richest 1 percent of Americans claimed the largest share of the nation’s adjusted gross income in 20 years. The level is so high that the IRS suspects it might be the highest it’s been since the onset of the Depression. Naturally, as their income goes up, rich people’s taxes are also going down. The tax rate for the richest 1 percent in 2006 fell to its lowest level in 18 years, in large part because of the Bush tax cuts that John McCain wants to extend. According to the figures, the richest 1% reported 22% of the nation’s total adjusted gross income in 2006.
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121677287690575589.html?mod=djemITP

    For non-math majors, The wealthiest 1% possess almost a quarter of America’s $$$.
    Holy Gilded Age!

    ~S

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