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Voices of Wealth and Poverty: Better than Most

Rob Wininger of Los Angeles, with his wife and business partner Sandra. Even though income from the business can vary month to month, Rob calls himself upper middle class.

Jean Cotis of Sparta, N.J. owns a hair salon. She considers herself middle class because her income can vary greatly month to month.

Kai Ryssdal: To launch our new Wealth and Poverty desk this week -- our project about the causes and consequences of the growing economic divide in the United States -- we've been hearing stories of people; of how they live their economic lives depending on their place in the economy. Today, two who are comparatively well off. Both of them small business owners in the top 15 to 20 percent of American households.

Rob Wininger: My name is Rob Wininger. I'm 51 years old. I live in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

Jean Cotis: My name is Jean Cotis. I own Designer Jeans Salon in Sparta, N.J.

Wininger: I am the owner, with my wife, of F & R Interiors. We specialize in window treatments -- shades, blinds, draperies, shutters.

Cotis: What I do in the salon is I do cuts and colors.

Wininger: Just when I look at the world around us, we're probably more in the upper middle class. Although when we see some of our friends or the people that our kids hang out with, they're much wealthier than we are.

Cotis: I wouldn't put myself in upper middle class because my income goes up and down.

Wininger: We've been carrying on this private school sort of culture.

Cotis: My children, I pay tuition to go to Catholic school.

Wininger: So it's been a huge, huge aspect of our budget.

Cotis: I have no investments. I have no retirement accounts. I've invested in my children.

Wininger: We try to save when we can. But we have maybe $8-10,000 in the savings account, that would be for emergencies. So we're worried.

Cotis: Oh, my neighborhood. It's a small town. There's a lake. It's mostly a family town.

Wininger: Definitely safe.

Cotis: Mothers usually stay home with the kids. The husbands are out working.

Wininger: I have four children. None of them have really had a job like we had. So I don't know if I'm helping them or if I'm hurting them. There's never been a society -- ever -- where you don't have a gap between the wealthy and the poor.

Cotis: The wealthy people have always been the people that have taken care of the poor -- whether it be by employing them or donating their time, donating their money.

Wininger: There's someone who is working harder or who is smarter or who has created something, should be given more than someone who's not. Yes, I think they deserve to be rewarded for their labors and their activity.

Cotis: So I'll make as much as I make depending on how good I am.


Ryssdal: That was Jean Cotis from Sparta, N.J., and Rob Wininger from Los Angeles. We're gonna need your help to tell this story of Wealth and Poverty in America -- in words, sound, and pictures. Click here to find out how you can help.

Our Voices of Wealth and Poverty were produced by Fiona Ng and Gina Delvac.

Rob Wininger of Los Angeles, with his wife and business partner Sandra. Even though income from the business can vary month to month, Rob calls himself upper middle class.

Jean Cotis of Sparta, N.J. owns a hair salon. She considers herself middle class because her income can vary greatly month to month.

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All the class have one thing in common, educating the future generation. But the classes go about them in different ways. These families, who are in the to 25% invest so much in their children’s education. The concerning aspect of this is that they are not saving up for retirement or have any real budget for any big type of emergency.

Most upper-middle class families can afford to send their children to private schools, and therefore their children have the opportunity to receive a good education and find a job that can support their lifestyle. But what about the families that are diligent and hard-working but still cannot make enough money to send their children to college? Don't lower-income families that work hard to support their children have the right to see that their son or daughter gets a good education too?

I agree. It seems as if the only social class who does not struggle with schooling is the wealthy. Even people who are cushioned by a good job, who live in comfortable and safe neighborhoods, who always have more than enough clothes to wear and food to eat, struggle to get their children through college. By sending their children to good schools which teach children to work white collar jobs they give their children an opportunity to move up in life. At the same time, however, they are sacrificing their retirement savings and funds for the future.

I realized when hearing this podcast that these families are investing so much into their children that they are not taking care of their economic future and this will leave them vulnerable as they reach old age with no retirement savings. This underscores the trouble the 99 percent are in and the lack of a safety net if they shall fall.

It seems like both Wininger and Cotis are only investing in their children to keep their social status. They are trying to make it known what social class they are in to the public, rather than actually saving money for retirement or emergency funds. Like Wininger said “I have four children. None of them have really had a job like we had. So I don't know if I'm helping them or if I'm hurting them.” They are definitely being hurt; they aren’t going to know how to raise money on their own when they are older, so they will not be able to keep up the higher class exterior that they want. It’s hard to keep up your social class, so these kids might start at the top, and end up at the bottom of the social ladder.

I feel like everyone from whatever social class is always worried about money (like this 'wealthy' family) : how much they have or how they use it, from poor people to very rich people, money is always the center of our life because we need it to create our future.

I feel like everyone from whatever social class is always worried about money (like this 'wealthy' family) : how much they have or how they use it, from poor people to very rich people, money is always the center of our life because we need it to create our future.

"I have no investments. I have no retirement accounts. I've invested in my children." Its good to invest in your children, but to the point where you yourself have no investments, or retirement accounts is whats wrong. The American Dream is where "I can provide a good life for my kids, show them right from wrong and they will grow up and do the same thing." In this day and age kids dont have as great of opportunities as their parents, and by putting everything in them and leaving nothing for yourself is dangerous. Everyone needs that safety net of an investment or a retirement account in case your kids can't get into the best college or don't land that fancy job that will garantee them sucess. It shouldn't be the rich's responsibility to help, as a society hard work and determination is what got them there and thats what could get us there just the same.

Both Rob Winiger and Jean Cotis consider themselves to be either upper-middle class or middle class, but feel as though they live a lifestyle of lower middle class due to the fact that they have invested most of what they earn on living expenses and then caring for their children. Cotis has kids that she pays tuition for at a catholic school and Winiger has 4 kids so they only have 8-10,000 dollars in their emercency savings. Even though both of these families are considered in the middle class range due to their income, they live as slightly lower than middle class life because when a family or person is considered middle class, that label comes directly from their annual income, it dosnt factor in extra expenses for kids (in this case, for their educations). Both of these families invest the mojority of their earnings on their children. There is most definitely a gap between wealthy people and poor people, but where the middle class falls is slightly more hazy. The level of income puts both of these families at upper-middle class levels, so in that sense they are classifyed in upper-middle class; but after they factor in what they spend money on, their children, they fit in with a lower level social class because of the struggle for money and always present stress of how much they have after expenses.

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