One of the things that makes life interesting are the unforeseen consequences of great events. There’s an earthquake; buildings fall down; things fall down in the buildings. The journalism about the event will concentrate on things like the Richter scale, deaths, damage and recovery. It won’t talk about your grandma’s china that fell out of the breakfront and smashed to bits, and how losing it that way was, in the end, sort of a relief, because you’re really a more modern person, and a casual entertainer, and dragging that century-old Havilland around was sort of weighing you down, but what can you do? It was your grandmother’s china. But in a small way your life was changed. It didn’t make the news.
I think of this often these days. The Grosse Pointes, like all communities in southeast Michigan and many elsewhere, are finally starting to deal with the consequences of the real-estate collapse. Doing our taxes this weekend, I noticed that once again, our property taxes have fallen, which means receipts at city hall have fallen, which means finally, finally, the Pointes are being forced to do what they should have done years ago — consolidate services across the five municipalities.
And then today brings a Wall Street Journal story, which you may not be able to read if you’re a non-subscriber, so I’ll summarize. The headline sort of says it all: Bank of Mom and Dad Shuts Amid White-Collar Struggle. It’s about the increasing inability of middle- and especially upper-middle-class parents to pay their adult children’s bills. It starts with college tuition, which I think any parent can understand, but it ventures into areas of “support” I thought were limited to trust-fund brats:
Angelica Hoyos, a 26-year-old living in Los Angeles, has put her photography and sculpture career on hold since her parents pulled the financial plug earlier this year after the family’s granite-countertop business suffered. Ms. Hoyos has moved in with her boyfriend, cut spending and earns about $1,000 a month doing free-lance design work and baby-sitting.
“My artistic career is put on the side because I have to make a living,” she says.
We also meet the Johnsons of Fairfield, Conn., whose two older kids are in college and whose youngest is just starting her search for one, but who are also suffering, even though they had considerable college savings. The older kids are plucky, saying they’re willing to take out loans to finish school at Johns Hopkins (at $50K each per year), and the youngest isn’t even thinking about the pricey diplomas. Mr. Johnson feels bad, however:
Further expenses such as first homes and weddings are out of the question. “They’re going to have to elope,” he says.
Take heart, Mr. Johnson. Not having a $150,000 wedding never hurt anyone.
Everything is relative. The Johnsons, we’re told, are living on one-fifth of their pre-crash compensation, and while the story goes on to say Mr. J. made “up to $550,000 a year,” and one-fifth of that is still $100K, anyone can understand how they feel blind-sided. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that maybe the Johnsons, and the Hoyos, just lost grandmother’s china. In the end, they might be freed by it. Certainly Angelica will be, who will learn sooner rather than later that when you have “a photography and sculpture career” that requires a parental subsidy, it’s not a career at all.
I’ve read stories like this before. A while back, the New York Times noted the reduction in the number of hipsters lounging around the hot areas of Brooklyn, now that mom and dad were no longer able to front their kids a New York City living stipend. Many of them were, like Angelica, nominally artists who had chosen to live in one of the most expensive cities on the planet, doubtless for the community of fellow artists and all the sidewalk cafes. I suspect by now many of them have faced the truth: They weren’t really artists but layabouts who know how to stretch a canvas. Now they know the truth. I hope it set them free.
(Artists: If you’re serious, try Detroit. Thriving arts community, tons of fun, and so cheap your parents won’t have to contribute a dime. Srsly.)
My parents helped me here and there when I was young and struggling, although the sums were vastly different. They paid for my college, but it was a hell of a lot less money for four years of state school back then. My mom bought me a $150 carpet remnant for my first apartment, and contributed $1,000 to both my wedding and my first house purchase, both of which I objected to, but they said they did it for my older siblings, and so they were doing it for me. Everything is relative. My wedding cost about $5,000 all-in, which was at the time one-third the national average. Who’s to say, though, that the ridiculous excess we’ve seen in recent years in just that area, weddings, isn’t due to nice people like the Johnsons, who just wanted to help their kids have a swell party, and ended up helping inflate the whole business? Would college tuition be as overpriced as it is if more kids had to work their way through, and couldn’t absorb the twice-inflation rate tuition hikes that have been normal now for, what, 30 years?
The financial crisis over the last two years smashed a lot of china. If it breaks the trend of extended adolescence, in which adults stay children well into their 20s and even beyond, thanks to the helping hand of mom and dad, that’s not entirely a bad thing. Everyone has to grow up sometime.
A pretty good column by David Carr on She-Who’s bootstraps, you betcha.
I haven’t been paying much attention to the California governor’s race, although it’s certainly interesting. Sez one voter in this story: “I prefer Meg Whitman because she has corporate experience and expertise to create jobs.” How many times do we have to learn the lesson that business experience =/= equal political savvy?
If you can stand to read one more thing about the iPad, our very own webmaster got his over the weekend. I won’t be buying until the second generation, if then.
And speaking of which, here’s his latest web-infant: Trowel Tart. The Tart is one of our very own, who is remaining anonymous for now because of her employer’s problems with outside work. The Trowel Tart’s her name and gardening’s her game. Drop by.
Yeesh! So late! Must start work. Have a great day.