HOST INTRO: In the May issue of Vanity Fair, Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz makes an urgent demand for change in a polemic that is wealth disparity in the United States, where one percent of the population earns nearly a quarter of the nation’s income. Stiglitz’s piece got Uptown Radio’s Juliana Schatz thinking about the place she grew up.
My first year of college I worked at Starbucks. I served double shots and skinny lattes to Westport, the land of hedgefunds and captains of industry.
A brain surgeon with a furrowed brow and loosened tie, always barreled in as our first customer. He demanded his scone be handed to him in the wax paper, no bag – even if it was against code. “I paid you 3 bucks, give me the scone,” he’d say. A few hours after rush hour was the Stepford babe, clad in expensive work out gear who very urgently demanded her ”¾ Equal latte – ORGANIC, right? – I’m in a hurry and I’m gonna miss my spin class – latte.”
My weekends coworker was in high school and only worked because her dad, an NFL exec, thought she needed some responsibility in her life. That and gas was pricey for her Barbie pink Hummer.
My second day on the job one of the regulars noticed I was new.
You’re not from around here?
That’s right. Just moved here for school. I’m from East Hartford.
Did you go to East Catholic?
I said no. I went to the public school with a subpar reputation; And then, he leaned over and whispered across the counter.
“I’m surprised you’d even admit you’re from there.”
And my thought then as it is now was, So what? I mean – I’d always known we were a little scrappy- but it was it really all that bad?
Before college, it never occurred to me that I was from the wrong side of the track. Who even knows what that means? Both of my parents had steady jobs – mom worked as a laundry worker and dad was a factory worker - I was rich. Other kids I knew lived in much rougher conditions: in projects, on food stamps or some other government assistance.
There were about 2000 kids at school. An eight person security staff and two full time police officers kept the peace at school
By the time we graduated, in a class hundreds less than what it was our freshman year, I knew nearly ten girls who had gotten pregnant. Handful of kids served time in prison. For some reason my close circle of friends avoided the undertow that caught some of the kids I knew. We went off to college, not stopping to see what we left behind.
I’ve traveled world, I am getting a masters degree at an Ivy League university and I’ve produced television.
But I still hear about how things are back home from friends and family. And what I’ve heard isn’t good.
When I read the piece by Joseph Stiglitz, it reminded me that America is still very much a “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of place. Stiglitz is right on one side – it’s not as easy for lower middle class – a growing majority in America.
But it’s not as black or white as taxes or policy. Because if that’s the case, why did I get out and others not? As I get further away from the place I grew up, I feel conflicted about all of this. It’s nuanced; it’s not black or white. There’s no doubt I want an equal distribution of wealth for our country, who wouldn’t? But I think it’s easy for academics to get to feeling a little guilt about this. To me – it’s a little more about hutzpah and a little less than holding our hand.
Juliana Schatz is a graduate student living in New York City and if you’re wondering, is a broke and happy.