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A Westchester Afternoon: Post-Scarcity Suburbia

Riding in the car this afternoon, the news came on the radio. After the news was mostly over, Peter (about to begin the 3rd grade)  remarked on the absence on any terrorists in our neighborhood and in neighborhoods nearby. He seemed to think that terrorists must be prevalent in other people's neighborhoods but that we were somehow lacking them. And he wondered why.

Meanwhile, there is something that's been eating me all day.  I was reading the NYT article about the high mortality rate for heart disease in the New York City suburbs (which, given David's angioplasty, I read thoroughly), defying all the usual socio-economic indicators. I couldn't resist the temptation to check on the socio-economic indicators for this precise area. And I came smack up against the cold hard fact that our income is just about half the median income for families in our school district. No wonder I can't afford much babysitting!

There are these studies that show that a really large percentage of the population thinks they are middle class, and on the other hand there are also surveys showing that 20% of the population thinks they are in the top 1% financially. I knew, in principle, that by the inflated standards of this area, that we are poor. It is quite another thing to have the numbers in hand, to know that if I had the highest-paying job I've ever held, it would bring us only a small way toward the "median" income for families in our school district. (I don't even want to know what the average is, because with the really high incomes averaged in, the average is surely much higher.)  But despite my shock at confrontation with the actual numbers (which are probably a little out of date, and therefore a little low) mental arithmetic suggests that they are about right. The typical household in this area probably does have an extra seven thousand dollars a month to spend. 

I would like to say that I can't imagine what I would spend that money on, but it isn't true, because I've watched them do it. Moment by moment I have to resist the social signals as to what "normal" households spend. So I know. I know it in my very bones. Just why haven't we remodeled our kitchen three times in the past decade? Why don't our kids attend summer camps that cost $5,000 per child per summer? Why haven't we added that stone facade yet?

In an earlier post, I referred to this area as "post-scarcity suburbia." I was partly joking, but I think that term was more accurate than I intended it. Definition: Post-scarcity suburbia is a suburb in which you are able to contract for nearly everything a neighborhood is supposed to provide. While there may be some reciprocity between neighbors, none is necessary since whatever services you require are available for hire and you can (or are expected to) afford them.