There were two defining moments for me in terms of thinking about economic class.
One was in elementary school (I think it was in third grade) when my teacher asked us, “What economic class do you think you belong to?” I don’t remember what prompted her to ask this question, but most of my classmates and I responded that we were middle-class. Some of us even ventured to say we were upper-middle-class. She said, “No. You’re upper-class. You live in one of the richest suburbs in the state.” I thought about it, and I realized, even at that young age, that she was right. My parents weren’t the richest people in the town, of course. We didn’t have a vacation home or a tennis court or a swimming pool. We didn’t eat elaborate dinners, own horses, play polo, or go to debutante balls. But we were in one of the richest towns in the state, and we could afford to live there.
The second was in preparation for a “diversity day” at a school I was teaching at. We brought in an outside non-profit organization to train us and to facilitate the day’s activities. One of the representatives from that organization shared a bit about her own personal reflections about class and what class means. She hit an epiphany just as she was getting out of school (I forget whether it was college or grad school), when she realized she had no money (and even a little bit of debt), but she didn’t feel “poor.” She found out pretty quickly that socio-economic class wasn’t just about money. It was about access. Access to resources. Access to connections. Access to knowledge.
I feel that way right about now. My wife just finished getting a second bachelor’s degree. We have a lot of debt. We don’t feel “rich” right now. We don’t have a lot of disposable income. But we are not poor, and we don’t feel poor. It’s kind of a weird place to be in—to be in a “rich” class… and not actually have money.