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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