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

By Nan Mooney | Go to book overview

7
BRIDGING THE GAPS

Saving, Spending, and Debt

Natalie, forty, is an assistant professor of art and design, teaching photography at a major midwestern state university. She holds a bachelor's degree in fine arts and an MFA from the University of Iowa. She currently makes $39,000 a year, up just $3,000 from her starting salary five years ago since, shortly after Natalie's arrival, the school curtailed across-the-board raises due to funding cuts. Her husband, William, who is equally well-educated, with a BS in psychology, a professional teaching certificate, and a soon-to-be-completed master's in gifted education, earns $30,000 as a third-grade teacher in a local public school.

Neither Natalie nor William comes from an affluent background and they made considerable sacrifices to pay for their educations. Natalie chose Iowa in part because it offered her a teaching assistantship, which waived out-of-state tuition and came with a monthly stipend. While she was in school William put his own education on hold and worked full-time as a bike mechanic to pay their living expenses. In addition, Natalie took out nearly $30,000 in student loans.

“You take on this incredible amount of debt for an education that's required in order to enter a field that pretty much guarantees you'll spend the rest of your life underpaid,” is how Natalie sums up the situation. “It's not like going to medical school where down the line all that education leads to a big-money career. I don't anticipate our incomes changing dramatically at any point in the future.”

After graduation, while Natalie launched her teaching career with part-time positions at several universities, William returned to school

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