Why Financial Confessionals Go Viral
They reveal income and geographic inequalities have normalized absurdity
The hypothetical couple were making $350,000 a year and just getting by, their income “barely” qualifying them as middle-class. Their budget, posted in September, showed how they “survived” in a city like San Francisco, spending more than $50,000 a year on child care and preschool, nearly $50,000 a year on their mortgage, and hefty amounts on vacations, entertainment, and a weekly date night—even as they saved for retirement and college in tax-advantaged accounts.
The internet, being the internet, responded with some combination of howling, baying, pitchfork-jostling, and scoffing. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York quipped that the thing the family was struggling with was math. Gabriel Zucman, a leading scholar of wealth and inequality, described the budget as laughable, while noting that it showed how much money consumption taxes could raise.
It was just the latest in a long line of budgets to go viral. Perhaps you recall the law professor making $250,000 a year who accused Barack Obama of squeezing him dry back in 2010. Or the marketing intern making it in New York on $25 an hour with hefty subsidies from her parents and grandparents (she was, as she put it, #blessed). Or the two lawyers earning $500,000 a year and “scraping by,” unable to save.
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