(Not) Keeping Up with Our Parents: The Decline of the Professional Middle Class

By Nan Mooney | Go to book overview

4
CAREER AND CONTRIBUTION

Society or the 401(k)?

Henry, fifty, is a Presbyterian minister serving as the pastor for a small parish, with about seventy members, just outside Boise, Idaho. His job entails being a ministerial jack-of-all-trades, conducting services, writing the church bulletin, leading adult education classes, all for a base salary of $29,800 a year. His wife, a former public school teacher, now does periodic substitute teaching and homeschools the two youngest of their four children—ages eighteen, fourteen, twelve, and ten. The family essentially lives on Henry's salary.

“Making ends meet is a constant battle,” Henry admits. “We have to get creative wherever possible.”

“Getting creative” has included paying $40 a year to belong to a Community Food Resource Center, which picks up old bread, produce, and dairy products that grocery stores have pulled from their shelves and redistributes the food to group members. The church provides a house and a $4,300 housing allowance to defray utility costs, a boon in the present but a mixed blessing for the future.

“Not owning a house means no chance to build up any equity,” Henry explains. “The church does have a denomination-wide pension fund but it's not enough to support us indefinitely. I worry a lot about where we'll live and what we'll live on once I retire.”

Though the church provides health insurance, the cost of additional medical expenses, including co-pays on doctor's visits and the prescription drugs Henry and his wife take for heart problems and high blood pressure, have proved a major financial drain. In addition, as the kids get older, child-related expenses keep increasing, everything from clothes to school supplies to fees for extracurricular

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