Talking about all of the material things you owned was both unwise, as it could be considered advertising to thieves, and could be construed as bragging, which was considered tacky.
Lamenting the things you didn't have made you seem ungrateful for whatever you DID have, which would get you labeled as a whiner, especially considering that we were all working class, so the majority of us had just enough money to have modest used cars while living in lower middle class suburbs around those of similar income and education. The adults would joke around about being behind on bills, but shushed when we kids came around, and there was always some small gift or celebration for birthdays and holidays, so that we never (or rarely anyway) felt the sting of what our parents were going through, financially. The big takeaway was to only buy what you could afford, and to avoid huge amounts of debt, if at all possible. We learned that all gains could be lost very quickly when we saw our parents going through the Reagan era layoffs, and some of our standards of living changed dramatically.
Generation X internalized our parents attitudes about money, for better and for worse. Most of us got some sort of secondary education because we realized that real, long-term prospects for a career, not just a job, were on the other side of a college diploma, as well as the salary that came with it. We did our best to be at least somewhat financially conservative, and do as good a job as our parents in terms of balancing our needs with our wants. Take care of business first, and maybe treat yourself to something later. Very few of us were, or are now, flashy types that had to have the best of everything to show off how affluent we wanted other people to think we were. We maintained, we thought, modest standards of living that could take small hits without disaster.
I now find myself talking about money rather frequently, as I have written at length about my own financial struggles. I knew, peripherally, that there were others, friends and family, experiencing similar difficulties, but like a lot of introverts, when trouble comes, I tend to keep to myself. I noticed a few folks around me having difficulties, but could not focus much due to being so wrapped up in my own issues.
I began to peek out of my own cocoon of worry, shame and self doubt, and started to not only pay more attention to the world outside, but look around to see how many more people were like me; everything should have been running smoothly, but for that one accident, or tiny mistake that sent their entire world tumbling out of control. It was far, far from uncommon.
Let me start this by saying that I am not anti-capitalist. All economic systems have their pros and cons, and the purest forms of all systems tend towards the problematic. But I have seen capitalism, especially as it's practiced in the United States, hurt just as many people, if not more, than those that have benefited from it. The engine of capitalism runs on the ability of a populace to spend money on goods and services. As people spend money, business and property owners put the profit back into the business, allowing them to employ others to help with the production of goods and services. Those people use the money they've earned to purchase goods and services, and the cycle goes on. When any part of that cycle is interrupted, it causes a break in the system. I realize that business and property owners are meant to turn a profit; but I have often wondered if the enormous human cost is worth it. The men and women that have been laid off repeatedly, if they are even able to find a job. Those that go years without finding a job, and when they do find one, the huge possibility that they will be making far less than they were previously. The ripple effect being that they now have less to spend and/or a less reliable income, so now you have homes being lost, and entire families moving from place to place based on the amount of money they have right at this moment. Lenders and landlords have an entire court system to enforce their rights,and while you can propose arrangements, and come up with workarounds, when your income becomes not only overburdened, but a moving target, often there is only so much you can really do before the little used car (desperately needed if the public transportation is spotty, and/or the job you COULD find is quite some distance away) has to go back, or you have to pack up your family and move, yet again.
While those at the top continue to reap vast profits from getting the same amount of productivity out of a fearful, overworked remnant, who wonder if they'll be able to duck fast enough the next time the axe is swung.
Have a car breakdown, or medical emergency, or some odd unforeseen expense while adapting to your new paycheck to paycheck existence? Unless you have a great deal of backup, a large network of family, friends, or other resources that you can tap until your financial situation improves, you will be subject to those that make their living preying on the most vulnerable among us. Loans that provide enough money to cover the sudden debt, loaned at a rate that provides an easy payment are rarely, if ever, available to those that are already facing financial difficulties from underemployment. When laws are made to curtail the subprime lending industry, they just find ways around the laws meant to stop their predatory tactics. All in the name of making money, of course.
It is difficult to watch those you know and care about struggle with the simple day to day tasks of keeping their families housed, clothed and fed exactly the way they were raised: get a job, pay your bills, don't buy anything too expensive if you can't afford it. The terrible thing being that it's the necessities that they can no longer afford, as while housing (and food, and utilities) costs keep rising (and occupancy limits becoming more strict), less money is being made by fewer people. But the owners are still making money, so this is seen as okay.
Especially troubling to me are the attacks on public sector employees. After cutting so many middle class jobs from the private sector, now it seems the objective is to eliminate as many well paying jobs from the public sector as possible. The public sector is the last bastion of middle class jobs in the country right now, and often the only way into the middle class for minorities. The mass elimination of these jobs, I think, would be the final nail in the coffin of the American economy.
I have never completely understood the concept of paying people as little as humanly possible, while expecting them to spend every penny, but exhorting them to save as much as they can, then blaming them when they can't. To me, it is the equivalent of setting someone up to fail, then mocking them when they do exactly what you expected them to do in the first place. There are those who have learned the game well enough to get ahead of it, which is wonderful, but that number grows smaller everyday. Which makes no sense to me. If were in the business of selling goods and services, I would want a well paid populace, because it stands to reason that the more money people have, the more they spend, which means more money flowing through the entire economy, not just to a fair few people at the top. THAT is how you keep an economy moving, not just flowing money to the top, and trusting that it will roll back down in the form of jobs that pay enough for people to LIVE, not just survive.
There is a man running for political office right now that might just be talking about a revolution. Although he calls himself a Socialist, I see him as a bit of a pragmatist. He knows working people need all the assistance they can get, and he aims to help us get it. If I were being honest with myself, I would admit to myself that it is something that really needs to happen. The current rapid depression of wages while costs skyrocket is not only not sustainable long term, it is creating a crisis of homelessness and poverty that, if left unchecked, is going to cause a revolution of a sort not seen since late 18th century France, and I doubt anyone currently in power wants to experience that. If we keep doing the same things we've always done, we are going to keep getting the same results we've always got. Time to do something different, perhaps?
But I am tired, quite possibly rambling, and have been dealing with a great deal of stress surrounding my living situation. Like so many others, the last few years have felt like a long trip over difficult terrain, and the journey not being over yet, I know I am still looking at probably another 10 miles of rough road. Sometimes made rougher by chance, circumstance, and the fact that we live in a world where you will be made to pay, and pay dearly (and repeatedly), for whatever mistakes you make.
Which someone will, undoubtedly, be there to profit from.