Childhood and class

Poor and knew it. Utilities were regularly shut off. I learned to bargain with/argue with/stymie utility men and bill collectors who came around. Many times, we were without food, often saved by anonymous donations that would be delivered to our door. More fortunate friends and family would take me in for weeks at a time. I became part of the hand-me-down chain of my babysitter’s family (and my babysitter, AFAIK, didn’t charge my mom for watching me, though my mom would offer her what she could at times). We had welfare friends passing on their government cheese to us, since we were worse off than they were. No car, ever.

All part of being the child of a mother who dared to be single in the 1970s. The father easily skated out on his child support obligations, and I recall issues into the 1980s with my mom being gasp a woman, trying to get a lease without a man involved. With no car we were limited to apartments in the vicinity of the few places that would hire her, so it’s not like we could have cast a wide net for potential homes. We couldn’t move out of one hovel in a crime-ridden area until a man from church intervened and posed as my dad long enough to fool the landlords into agreeing to the lease.

For my 16th birthday, I got a magazine.

For my 18th birthday, I bought myself a new pair of glasses. I’d been wearing the same pair since I had been 10.

My own life has been a bit better since (and my mom’s done fine since meeting her current, quite nice husband), but it’s been hard to let go of the feelings of poverty. It’s hurt my last couple of relationships, which were with significantly more well-off women (one from an old-money aristocratic family, the other a trust-fund baby from a more nouveau riche family of entrepreneurs). It hurts me now, when I’m afraid to take some leaps that I can actually afford (like going to grad school overseas, or simply quitting work and doing grad school without any “safety net”). I guess it helps me save money and keep on top of my bills, though.

Middle going on local-upper, and I was very conscious because ever since preschool I would have to correct my classmates about what Dad did. No, he was NOT the owner of the biggest employer in town, he was the HR manager! He was an important man locally (this is what gave us the “local-upper”), but I was quite sure that the owner didn’t live in a 2B1b :stuck_out_tongue:

Grew up kind of outside the class system, but always aware that it was there. I learned very early how the detect others class background. My grandfather had a certain envy for the really rich upper class because in his own words “they could steal more and get away with it.”

Same here. It wasn’t until people talked about being able to afford a lot of stuff, like vacations and the latest and greatest electronics, that I started wondering. When those same people complained about not having money, I finally got it.

And I assumed the OP just meant lower, middle, and upper classes.

We were middle class and I was very aware. There were obvious rich kids, and obvious poorer kids at my school. It was clear I was in the middle by the car I drove, the clothes I wore, the vacations we took, etc.

Huh. I grew up on the lower end of middle class, I guess. There wasn’t a lot of money, there was pancakes or grilled cheese-and-soup for dinner once a week. Everyone got one serving of meat/taters/veg at dinner, and no more. Clothes and shoes from discount stores (though as long as it was In Style, I didn’t much care.) Small house, one bathroom, no AC. But mom and dad each had a car, we went on vacations (rented cabin in the woods) and while I didn’t get everything I wanted, I didn’t lack for anything, materially speaking. My school friends tended to be from the poor side of town and were somewhat neglected - when prom came around, I got the works, but my best friend showed up in what was obviously a thrift store gown - (back then, there was only one Bargain Barn thrift store that people would rather have died than admit they bought anything there! Not like it is now.) - that she went and bought herself. There were more upper middle class, and a handful of rich, types in school, but I had very little to do with them, they were like a whole separate species. They lived in a whole different reality! Jocks, cheerleaders, advanced classes, picking out colleges in junior year, going to the games, getting cars at age 16, summer sleepaway camp, not to mention their families owned their own camps on the lake complete with motorboats.

Poor and Hell yes we knew it.

I voted middle class, but really, I’d say we were rural middle class, which I think is different. Both parents worked, although my mother didn’t have to. My father was a railroad engineer. We had a three bedroom house, took vacations every year, certainly had more than we needed to get by. I had a new car when I was 16, plenty of clothes & things I didn’t need. I never felt we were rich in any way, even though we had family members who insisted otherwise. Had we not lived in a small town, though, I don’t think I would have considered us to be middle class. While we did have some savings, we had no long term financial stability. Everything depended on my parents being able to work and on my mother, who handled the bills, being frugal enough to make sure we lived just below our means.

I thought we were rich because everyone in my neighborhood was so poor. I was the spoiled kid who got a NEW bike for my 10th birthday. Turns out we were middle class, whatever the hell that is.

Heh, you might want to define “rich” since almost no one thinks of themselves as such, even when they have absurdly high incomes and/or assets relative to the rest of the country (and especially relative to the rest of the world, since we are by certain metrics the richest country in the world already).

The question is a bit different for those of us who grew up among the military. There the sharpest class division was between officers and enlisted. That division was the one I was most aware of as a kid, rather than any other sort of division based on income or other class markers. It’s not like those were totally absent in the military, but incomes and living conditions – in base housing, for example – were pretty similar, and in some cases identical, for the officers and enlisted people.

Middle class and I knew it. I had rich friends and knew I didn’t have as much as them, but I knew my parents both had good jobs and could afford enough things. We didn’t have fancy cars or a huge house but I had expensive private music lessons, expensive summer camps, brand-name clothes, and got the usual spoiled teenager presents like stereos, iPods, and cell phones. And I didn’t have to work. Rich, no. Pretty well-off, yes.

But don’t you think someone who works in a factory in Taipei for $1.50/10-hour day would look at your lifestyle and perceive your family as fabulously wealthy?

This illustrates my point perfectly as to why virtually no one thinks of themselves as rich: because there’s almost always someone out there who is much richer, and they’re looking up to them to gauge their personal standard of rich - not to the masses upon masses of people below them.

I said rich and didn’t know it, but after reading some of these responses, I STILL don’t know if I counted as rich. Expensive electronics?? We had one television set in our entire house, and didn’t have a CD player or internet until around 2000. Definitely no expensive vacations, no brand new cars or brand name clothes, and we were only allowed to get Breyer’s ice cream if it was on sale.

But I said rich because we lived in a safe, affluent neighborhood and I went to an excellent school. I don’t think rich is synonymous with extravagant.

Working class, so I can’t answer the poll. But I was aware that we were working class and that some other families had less money and some other families had more.

By working class, I mean dad was a mechanic and mum was a nurse.

Middle class and knew it. There was a class divide. It was a rural school, so most people were divided up into two groups: the farm/acreage kids who lived in the country because their parents wanted to, and the kids bussed in from the trailer park. Even when you’re little, you figure out the term ‘trailer trash’ pretty quick.

The class divide between the farmers and the people who could afford nice acreages and worked in the city was less apparent though. By the time we attended high school in the city, the class divides were clearly known amongst each school and you chose where to attend based on that.

I have a hard time defining my family, didn’t feel I could choose a poll option.

There were good times and bad times, and I think we were quite poor until I was 7 or 8 (when my dad first became a professor and we moved somewhere where cost of living was much lower), middle class until I was 15 or so and then poor again because my dad had a massive brain hemorrhage and became disabled, and we were barely surviving for years, and only with the help of family on my mom’s poverty-level income with astronomically high medical debt…

I almost always felt poor growing up, because my parents didn’t hide from me that money was very tight, and we didn’t have or do half the stuff most people we knew did. My mom was on WIC for all of her pregnancies, and us kids qualified for free school meals most of our school years. We shopped exclusively at Goodwill or wore hand-me-downs. We never went on a ‘vacation’. At the same time my parents were both educated and enjoyed many ‘high-brow’ things, my dad taught college for some time, and we always owned a home and one decent car, in a safe neighborhood.

For most of my childhood we were middle class, and I knew it. We had a three bedroom house, two newish cars and a motorhome for awhile, cable TV, and cool electronics (my dad has been a nerd pretty much forever)–I think some of my friends thought we were rich because my parents were kind of “conspicuous consumption” types, but we weren’t. I know we were pretty poor when I was a young child but I don’t really remember that. I think some of my classmates were rich(ish), but I don’t think I was ever too aware of that. Ditto the poor kids. I grew up in the '70s when hippie/grungy clothes were in and the whole expensive-athletic-shoes thing was just barely getting started (designer jeans hit when I was in junior high), so nobody really dressed that differently. I didn’t pay that much attention to class one way or the other.


I’m struggling to answer based on the many possible definitions of “poor” that are currently going through my mind. The neighborhood I grew up in, visually, didn’t look much unlike this one (nowadays it’s much much worse). Break-ins and other property crime were common in my neighborhood, as was vandalsim at the empty lot across the street from us. Mom shopped at Goodwill and Aldi, and the air conditioner didn’t come on until July (if at all) because paying the electric bill was always a concern.

BUT, we never lacked for food, clean clothes, or other necessities, and we were able to make regular family trips to Six Flags, the Smoky Mountains, Disneyworld, etc.