SEA ISLE, N.J. — The eighth article of the “Class Matters” series in the New York Times was delivered the other day as I was getting ready to write about the latest fishing news. We’re on a barrier island where the inlets that connect the bay with the ocean provide a steady stream of baitfish like bunker and mullet that can’t help being a magnet for schools of hungry blues and stripers this time of year. The world-record striper was caught about 25 miles north of here in 1982 off Atlantic City at the Vermont Avenue jetty — a big 78-pound, 8-ouncer landed in the high surf during the throes of a hard Nor’easter.
According to the scuttlebutt in the local bait shops, the stripers off Sea Isle are currently biting best on a bright pink rubbery lure with silvery streaks. My wife says it’s exactly the same pink and silver color combination of the bikini that the girl next door was wearing yesterday. No dummy, I said I hadn’t noticed.
In any case, this latest article in the “Class Matters” series, “The Five-Bedroom, Six-Figure Rootless Life: For the Corporate ‘Relo’ Class, Good Jobs, Good Schools and Goodbyes,” has pushed the stripers off to the back burner.
The Times typecasts a “relo” as an upper-middle-class gypsy executive who moves every few years in order to keep from getting bumped from the cutthroat competition on the corporate ladder. We learn that the relo class, as a group, is married, mostly white, Republican, and making something like $250,000 a year. Their kids play soccer and go to schools with top SAT scores while the wives rush around in SUVs with color-coded itineraries on the front seat. Strongly squeezing the steering wheel of her eight-seat GMC Denali in impatient frustration, the “knuckles go white” on one of these frenzied wives when someone in the car in front pauses a second or two too long at a busy intersection.
What’s traded are grandparents and roots for $500,000 houses and salons that tattoo on lipstick and eyeliner so they won’t fade in the pool. “Relo children do not know a hometown; their parents do not know where their funerals will be.”
It’s an environment that’s safe and homogeneous, “cut off from the single, the gay and the gray and, except for those tending them, anyone from lower classes.” The cleaning ladies and the brownish crews who come to keep the greenery in shape live some 30 miles away.
Everyone makes sure that nothing and no one is out of step. “Toys and even garden hoses are tucked out of sight lest the subdivision homeowner’s association issue warnings and fines. Garage doors, all motorized, must stay shut.”
At best, it all sounds highly suffocating, like a string of well-appointed cages arranged with precision around perfect cul de sacs — nice, perhaps, well-manicured, but still cages — and not exactly the lifestyle that I’d see as setting off a new round of class warfare.
Still, the Times isn’t at all happy about the growing inequality in America, or about how we don’t seem to be bothered by it, or about how our “destiny” is influenced by class in “a society that likes to think of itself as a land of unbounded opportunity.” What the Times found in its polling is that most Americans say they’re living better than their parents and they think their kids will be better off than they are. It’s all too optimistic. Ronald Bailey, Reason magazine’s science writer, sees the Times concluding, “somewhat grumpily,” that Americans appear not to be upset that the slicing of society’s pie is more unequal than it used to be — just so long as they’re getting a bigger piece than they or their parents once did.
Overall, the Times series is beginning to sound not unlike a grumpy Ted Kennedy when, on March 13, 1991, he summed up the Reagan years. “We had class warfare during the 1980s,” he declared. “And the wealthy won.” In fact, the Reagan tax cuts exempted most of the poor from the individual income tax; the real income of the poorest fifth of U.S. households, after falling 17 percent during the Carter years, jumped by 12 percent during the Reagan terms; the unemployment rate fell from 7 percent in 1980 to 5.4 percent in 1988; inflation declined from 10.4 percent in 1980 to 4.2 percent in 1988; and the poverty population, after growing by 7 million during the late 1970s, dropped by 4 million in the 1980s. With each of those things, it’s the poor who won.
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