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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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This story was a sick mockery of the struggles of millions of Americans. Who produces your show, Mitt's daughter Marie Antoinette Romney Trump?

My personal triumph over economic challenges creates an example of what could be a solution for many more people.

In 2002, I sold my mortgaged home and embraced a career as a Singer Songwriter way before the recent economic downturns. The downsizing required took LESS time/money to support. The experience gifted me with a better understanding of freedom. Without realizing it, I had been stuck in a similar lifestyle to my parents, bound to creature comforts, entitled. I had traded away my time and energy to pay for the leases, contracts and mortgages bundled into my standard of living. Downsizing freed me.

Then Pulmonary Fibrosis disabled me. Due to my low income before, my SSD income with food stamps included is now $775/month. I tightened up even more. To avoid high rent, I live full time in my 20 year old tour bus (the size of a 1 bedroom apartment). I traded a mortgage for 14,000,000 square miles of National Forest. God bless America! To avoid high heat and cooling bills, I converted to Solar power and follow the good weather in my HUGE back yard. Electricity I don't need to for the "house" goes towared splitting water into Hydrogen fuel. On sunny days, it takes 1/3rd less gasoline when I roll and none when I park. Visit me at http://PatrickNeilBarber.com and enjoy the ride the economic downturn has given me.

Good heavens. Cotis says "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." Wow, the rich really are different than the rest of us. They apparently are disconnected from reality. Studies show that proportionately, the wealthy are much less generous, and even treat our fellow humans worse than do the less-financially-fortunate.
I'm writing this from the kitchen of my friend's rental home where I've been crashing after the short sale last year of my home. She refuses to take any money for rent or utilities. I listen to NPR often as I search for work. No rich person has created a job for me. Instead, my middle- and low-income friends have been my safety net, giving me job leads, housesitting gigs, food and moral support in this long journey through my extended unemployment. They are the ones who have seen me through my struggles of the last year and a half, not any rich person.
Unlike Cotis, I can provide evidence for my assertions. Being rich makes you LESS likely to care about your fellow humans: http://lat.ms/zOfCUh

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