What Middle Class Americans Have Less of: Family Time


When my parents bought their first (and last) home in 1965, it cost just about twice my dad's annual income.

Last time I seriously considered buying a house (about five years before the bubble burst), a comparable home cost about seven times my annual income, which in real terms was just about the same as my dad's had been.

One of the clearest illustrations I've seen of what's been happening over the last 60 years:

A lot of this is consumerism and materialism run amok here. How big of a house do you really need? How big of a TV? How many cars? Many two-income families could live pretty well if they just downsized a little and had one spouse working full time and the other working part time or staying home to raise the kids.

A lot of this has to do with how we've chosen to define ourselves: by our work. What's the first question you ask someone you've just met?

Oddly enough, this is something a lot of social conservatives seem to get right. They're more likely to build their lives around their families and their churches rather than their work, which strikes me as healthier than the mainstream. Indeed, studies have shown that religious people of all walks of life tend to be happier and more satisfied.

You don't have to be religious to learn from them. I think a lot of this comes from being an active part of your community. Volunteering, walking the dog in the park, hanging out with the neighbours, being involved with your kids' school, that sort of thing.
I still wouldn't be a Frenchwoman for any amount of money or perks, though. I prefer to be a sex object/baby factory only recreationally.
@2. You can downsize all you want, it's still a pain in the ass to live on one paycheck these days, especially if you want to live in the city. But I do think that it is worth sacrificing financial comfort for family. Just be prepared for the crisis that manages to wipe out your savings every year, since you barely have any savings to begin with.
What do you mean "capitalism and materialism run amok" here? Um, you live in the *birthplace* of those things. Had you not noticed? What country do you think you live in? And no, it's not because of how "we've chosen to define ourselves" - that's cliché and an afterthought anyway. It's about MONEY, pure and simple. This "land of opportunity" has always been about "making a buck." And if you've "been sold a bill of goods" living here well, it's your own damn fault for drinking the Kool-Aid. Throw out your TeeVee and use your brain for once, and it may get a little easier. Duh.
We don't have any kids yet, but we've been talking about it for the future, and the one conclusion we reached is that we'll both have to work. Period.

We know other couples in our age and socioeconomic bracket who have done the single income thing (usually by layoff, not by choice), and it's such a precarious situation, living hand-to-mouth with no savings, where even minor financial setbacks can push you to the brink. Having to chooose between buying food or buying diapers whenever the car breaks down is a really difficult way to live, and not something I'd ever want for me and mine. All the extra family time comes laced with stress, worry and disappointment anyway, so what's really gained?
When I hear any one suggest some one has "less time" I remind them that EVERYONE yes Virginia, EVERYONE gets 24 hours each cycle. And then BAM it resets and you get another 24 hours. No one gets 25 and no one gets 23. So Virginia no one can say they have "less time" or "no time" or similar. What they DON'T HAVE is management skills nor the ability to tell some one NO I will not do that now.
"Having to chooose between buying food or buying diapers whenever the car breaks down is a really difficult way to live"

If that's what you perceive your choices to be between, then you really are living in the Matrix. Keep taking the blue pill. But don't then bitch about it and expect people to care.
Great post by Corydon @2, and a nice, measured counter by Rotten666 @4.

In answer to Rotten666 about the necessity of two paychecks for raising a family, I don't disagree, but I would say that a lot of families use their two paychecks and their children as excuses for not downsizing and not building up their savings. Just because we've been sold a bill of goods that it's the American way to maximize all things material doesn't mean we have to be as gullible as everyone else. (But hey, who am I to tell anyone else how to live?)

Confluence @5 and @8, if being incoherent was your goal, you did an excellent job in both posts.
Savings won't help you.
Crying won't do you no good.

Investments might help you.
But pay going down is no good.

When the Middle Class breaks, ain't no GDP.
Oh well, oh well.
@2 Its really hard to buy even a postage stamp, 2 bedroom, house in Seattle for under 4-6 times the median income. Unless you want to work on gentrifying the ghetto, and not being able to let your kids out on the streets.

No, this isn't consumerism gone wild. This is basic economics.

The facts are against you. American consumer spending, as a percentage of American income, has not gone up over the past 30 years. In fact, it's gone down. Americans are spending more money though, on housing and health care, two expenses that have inflated vastly out of proportion to regular inflation and especially average incomes, since average incomes have stagnated/decreased over the past three decades.
Housing is certainly more expensive. But most Americans wouldn't raise four kids in a 3BR 1BA 1100 square foot house the way many (most?) families did back in the day. Health care is certainly more expensive, but treatment options are a hell of a lot better, too. As for free time, back in the day, most homemakers spent an incomprehensible amount of time on laundry, cooking, canning, baking, mending, repairing things around the house, and taking transit. Folks back then didn't have lots of savings, and they didn't eat out (much) or travel (much).

A week in Hawaii or Europe was a once in a lifetime treat for upper middle class couples, usually just before they retired.

I think the biggest change for Seattleites is that this is no longer a small town. It's a city. Most folks in cities don't live in single-family houses. They live in apartments.

You can live quite comfortably on a single salary in Seattle if you're willling to live in an apartment.

If you're looking for the Seattle of yesteryear, try Tacoma, Spokane or Vancouver.
@13 And you think this is acceptable? Are you supporting the great income divide? Wealth via home ownership as a desirable value to pass on through the generations is a bad thing for people to aspire to?

Or, maybe you're anti-poor-people-in-the-city, and firmly believe that poor people need to go be poor somewhere else?
@14: Do I think it is acceptable for families of modest means in cities to live in apartments rather than single-family houses, the way they do in most cities in the world? Why, yes, I do. Is it possible to purchase an apartment and pass it on through the generations? Why yes, in fact, it is. Is this a bad thing to aspire to? No. Do I think this is anti-poor-people-in-the-city? No, I do not. Do I firmly believe that poor people need to go be poor somewhere else? No, I think you're an ignorant asshole.
@15 Condos are just as expensive as houses, in the end. Because you're always paying HOA dues. On a single, median income, I have found it difficult to find things in my price range. Supporting 2 people would make it neigh impossible. Maybe you just haven't been out shopping for places. Or, maybe you haven't figured out that ALL home prices have completely outstripped salaries. Getting a 2BD, 1BA condo is generally above $200k, or about 4x a Median salary. Not including HOA dues.

There are exactly 5 places (houses, apts, condos, etc) for sale to live with 2 bedrooms or more for under $200k between I-90 and 80th St. 1 of which is 627 sq ft. In the whole city right now, there are 60 for sale, with the majority being in Beacon Hill or south of that, or on the West Side.

So, what you're doing is pushing the poor families out of anyplace centralized, creating commutes that are disproportionate to the more affluant counterparts, and also creating a system of dual income required families.

Maybe I'm a little pissed at the idea that you can't raise a family in the city without sacrificing either commute or family time or both. But, you know...that's just me.
When I search, I find a 2BR 1BA 900 square foot condo in Magnolia for $165K. I would be delighted to raise a family in that dwelling, and it's way, way better than some crackerbox 10 miles outside the city limits. This is within a five-minute walk of one of the best schools in the city (rated 10 out of 10). Walking distance to QFC, Starbucks, Rapid Ride line to downtown, bike to Ballard, etc., etc.

I mean, go ahead and bitch as much as you like, but that is a fucking bargain. At a 4% mortgage with nothing down, including taxes and mortgage insurance, your payments would be less than $1,000 a month, and homeowners dues are $300 a month. What the fuck do you want?? Here's the listing description: "Beautiful 2 bedroom corner unit, these units are rarely listed, don’t miss your opportunity. This open floor plan with territorial views is spacious and beautiful. Entry includes floor to ceiling built-in book shelf, kitchen is open to large dining area great for entertaining, sunken living room boast territorial views, and sliding door to a private oasis expands your living area outdoors. Enjoy your outdoor pool, workout room, plus a club house for entertaining large parties. Pets welcome."

If I were your mother, I'd slap your whiny face.