Neal Gabler is everywhere these days.
Since landing the cover story in The Atlantic, The Secret Shame of the Middle Class, he’s been interviewed multiple times. I’ve stumbled across him on NPR, online, and the radio program On Point.
The crux of Neal’s article is that 47% of of American citizens couldn’t come up with $400 in an emergency. Neal wrote from his perspective, himself a member of that group.
On Point tried to tie the statistic to politics, asking if financial stress was driving the campaigns of Donald Drumpf and Bernie Sanders. Upon hearing that, I had to turn the show off. Not because income inequality isn’t important, or Americans struggling to get by is a non-issue. The opposite is true. Income inequality is important, and the shrinking middle class is very much an issue.
The problem is: Neal Gabler should not be the spokesperson for financial troubles.
In his article, he fully admits he is nothing more than a white, middle-age M.C. Hammer. We’ve heard this story before.
Neal Gabler didn’t have the rug yanked out from under him due to the loss of a job or unseen medical expense; he made every bad decision possible along the way to crippling debt. First off, he is an author. Such an occupation doesn’t lead to a steady income. I know, because I am a comedian. If you enter the life of art or entertainment, you choose to live a life of uncertainty where always it’s feast or famine.
For Neal, things worked out fantastically. He is a successful author. He has won numerous awards (Time Magazine’s book of the year; USA Today’s book of the year being two) and has written books that have been optioned by well-renowned directors such as Martin Scorsese. He’s also hosted a nationally-syndicated television program, a gig that isn’t all that easy to land.
Unfortunately, when things were going well, Neal’s wife quit her job to raise their kids. Yes, daycare is insanely expensive, but if at the end of the day you’re still earning more than you’d be saving by not working, you have to work. Then they bought a house in the Hamptons. It’s joked about via the line, “We live there full-time like the poor people, not only in the summer like the rich people.”
It’s funny because…
Wait, it’s not funny, because not only did they buy a house, they forgot the first rule of Tarzan: “Don’t let go of one vine until the other is safely in hand.” Translated, that means you don’t buy a house unless you’ve sold the one you currently own, and Neal didn’t sell his New York City apartment before buying the new home. That means he had to pay two mortgages at a time, and apparently that turned out to be a long time. Years, even.
He first sent his children to expensive private schools, and later allowed them to choose any university they wanted to attend. The more I read, the more my eyes hurt from rolling.
Then came the biggest “Are you freaking kidding me?” moment: Neal stated that he would continue to be the sole breadwinner, when he clearly couldn’t. He admits it was “masculine pride” that made him act in such a manner, and I about lost it.
How is that “masculine pride?”
I’m proud of my wife for earning her Master’s Degree and an excellent job to go with it. I’m proud of my wife for being a mother and a professional woman. To me, “masculine pride” is being proud of your partner for all she does, be that work, stay at home to raise the kids, or a combination of both. “Masculine pride” is not a macho thing where I feel I must square my shoulders and be in charge of the household and all finances.
From there, I had difficulty mustering through the end of the article, as I’d heard the story a thousand times already. From the aforementioned M.C. Hammer to just about every single athlete who went from rags to riches, and then returned to rags after retirement.
(Look up the 30 for 30 documentary Broke, for a painting of that picture.)
It is beyond odd Neal is being chosen as the voice of the struggling masses, because he does not represent them.
I am very lucky, and I know that. My wife and I both work, and used our combined income to buy an affordable house. It’s one of the smaller ones in our neighborhood, in fact. I drive an economical car, not a flashy one, with my wife owning the better vehicle in our garage. We plan on helping our children attend a midwest university, with in-state tuition, not a college far from home where your cost quadruples just because your licence plate is a different color.
As said, we are lucky.
I have friends who are not so fortunate.
One works split-shifts, because it’s the only job he could find. 4am to 7am, and then again 4pm to 7pm. Those hours don’t lend themselves to quality family time, and if you add them up, guess what? They don’t equal full-time employment. But can he get a part time job that fits into that schedule? Hardly. I have another friend who is applying to work part time as a pest-control serviceman, because the job he had reduced his hours and pay.
I could go on, using more friends as examples, but the point is: a vet bill hurts these people. A medical bill would cripple them. Not because they are continually trying to live beyond their means, like Neal did, but because of the cycle. The former lost his job during the great recession, and once you have too much time between jobs your resume doesn’t look as appealing. The other? Well, what can you do when your hours and/pay are cut other than look for more work?
To be fair, Neal never laments his situation; there’s no “Woe is me” air to things. He fully admits his mistakes, and does so unashamedly. But that doesn’t mean he should be the face of the struggling Middle Class. He had plenty, but chose to reach for more.
Tales of fuckuppery shouldn’t be championed as an assessment of what is happening to society at whole.