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Letters: Listeners respond to ‘What is Rich?’

Marketplace Staff Oct 29, 2010

Letters: Listeners respond to ‘What is Rich?’

Marketplace Staff Oct 29, 2010


Tess Vigeland: Time now for your letters that don’t ask for advice, but instead, tend to give it to us. Anyway, here’s our senior producer and mail lady Deb Clark to help out. Hey there.

Deborah Clark: Hello. So I’m thoroughly exhausted this week.

Vigeland: I’m so sorry.

Clark: It may surprise you to hear we got a lot of reaction to last week’s show. I’ve been sifting through it all. Turns out just about everybody has their own answer to the question, what is rich?

Vigeland: Well, we knew it would be a hot topic, and that was kind of the point, wasn’t it?

Clark: Yes it was. Some of our listeners, though, got downright angry at the very question. Mark Loomis, for example, he wrote in from East Greenwich, R.I. He said we should change the title of the show to “Psychological Issues of the Wealthy and Uber-Wealthy.”

Vigeland: I like that one.

Clark: He says clearly the problems of the wealthy are not as serious as, for example, not having a job, or health care, a home.

Vigeland: Hard to disagree with that.

Clark: Well he wasn’t just mad at the rich, though, he also had a few words for us:

Mark Loomis: I thought it was curious that you waited until 40 minutes into the special to relate to the average listener how broad income inequality is in this country right. I think you should consider spending a little more effort informing the public and less on coddling those who are most advantaged among us.

Vigeland: I did not think we were coddling, but were most people mad?

Clark: No, I would say mostly the show got a lot of people thinking about their own definition of what it means to be rich, which is great; that was sort of the point of what we did, I think. James Goble of Danville, Va., is somewhat representative:

James Goble: Wealthy for me is having enough money to pay my bills, put some money into savings, take a friend out for coffee, and maybe catch a movie. Just enough to be comfortable, and nothing too extravagant.

Vigeland: We certainly have plenty of people saying that they live happily on far less than $250,000.

Clark: Yes, Jill Weslowski from Milwaukee, Wis. She said in her email, “If you want to talk to a wealthy person, feel free to call me.” So of course I did.

Jill Weslowski: I earn a median income of $50,000 a year, and I live within my means. I haven’t felt that anxiety that comes from living from paycheck to paycheck for almost a decade — I’m 31. My only debt is my mortgage. The freedom from mental math is what makes me feel my wealth most deeply.

Clark: Mental math meaning she doesn’t have to hold her breath at the grocery store to see if her debit card’s gonna clear or wait for her checks to bounce, that kind of thing. For her, wealth is all about not having debt.

Vigeland: I think that’s an excellent definition of wealth. I took a look at some of the conversation on our website and on Facebook, and I noticed a few people saying they didn’t have anything against the really wealthy, but they did think it was a good idea to have them pay higher taxes because they simply have more disposable income.

Clark: Yeah, there was lots of debate and people should go check it out. One last thing I wanted to mention? Remember your piece about pop culture and how it’s shaped our views through the ages, etc.?

Vigeland: Yes, this was my excuse to bring back the theme from “Fantasy Island.”

Clark: Yes, my favorite part. Now you mentioned “Roseanne,” you said that show was an exception to all the middle-class families like the Huxtables from “The Cosby Show” — very comfortable.

Vigeland: Yeah, Roseanne, working-class all the way.

Clark: Yeah, except — as one listener, Molly Jackson, pointed out — at the very end of “Roseanne,” they won the lottery.

Vigeland: They did, didn’t they?

Clark: Yeah, I didn’t remember that.

Vigeland: I think I had stopped watching by that point.

Clark: Anyway, I thought that was funny. And we’ve had tons more mail over the last couple of weeks before the Rich show, but we’re out of time, so I’ll have to collect that and come back to it next go around.

Vigeland: Sounds good. Keep it coming. Facebook, website, you know what to do.

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