I grew up in a very small town. Most of the gainful employment in the area came first from coal mining, and later, when the mines closed, from factories in the nearby industrial parks. Most of the fruits of that employment went from the industrial park to the local bars, because when Friday rolled around, that is where most of the workers spent their time after work.
My family started out in this country at the turn of the last century, fresh off the boat from the old country, literally with nothing. My great grandfather came here with the clothes on his back, fleeing from conscription in the Russian army. He went from nothing to a man of modest means in a relatively short time period by practicing the frugal lifestyle so common and even admired back then. I don't think he ever borrowed a dime, but somehow he ended up owning a sizable farm and had the means to travel back and forth to 'the old country', basically at will. That was a big deal in those days.
His children, second generation immigrants, did pretty well for themselves. They learned from their parents how to live well on what little they had, and to 'make do' with whatever they could. That was the greatest generation, and I believe they earned that title. Where it started to go downhill, I think, was with the boomers, my mother's generation. Now don't get me wrong, I don't think there is anything wrong with the boomer generation -- my mother did the best she could, in the face of incredibly harsh circumstances to raise me and my sister, but there were certain changes going on in society that I think doomed her from the start.
Now, when I say 'the boomers', most of you probably automatically think of wealth, because that is where alot of wealth is tied up in our country today, but you have to realize that there were a couple different sets of boomers. The boomer generation is where single parent homes were invented. The boomer generation is where pensions basically stopped, and employment became alot less certain than it had been. The boomer generation is also where women really began to face up to the challenge of entering the male dominated workforce and made great strides toward equality. The boomers have faced and overcome a lot of challenges in the transition from the old ways.
My mother was divorced in the 70's, on welfare in the 80's, kicked off of welfare in the 90's, began to make something of herself with a factory job because she had to, only to see her job shipped off to Mexico because of NAFTA in the mid 90's, at the same time losing her husband to a long battle with cancer, and despite all of this she managed to help me get to college (a first in my family), and helped me get through it. She didn't pay for it mind you, but she did the best she could, helping out here and there where she could. Although I worked hard for everything, without her, I would probably not be where I am today. I am well aware that the deck is already stacked against children from a single parent home.
After college, I like many others, basically succumbed to the debt monster. I grew up poor, and I knew it. Some of my tuition was financed by credit cards, so I had a massive debt already. What would it hurt to buy a new TV here, a computer there. It seemed like I would never pay it off anyway so what was the difference? I never had that kind of spending power before, so the thought never even really occurred to me that I was really living beyond my means. The ability to spend does not necessarily mean you are wealthy, or even well off. I had quite a bit of debt in those days, until I finally woke up and started to dig my way out of it.
Today, at 31, I have a good paying job that I don't mind (although if I didn't have to work, I wouldn't). I am not out of the woods yet with my debt, but I am very close. I have a nice chunk of money in a 401K, and am finally able to start saving 40% of my monthly take home on top of that (as of 2 months ago). I feel like I am finally in a position to begin to pick up where my great grandfather left off all those years ago. My success, if you want to call it that, is motivated by knowing where I came from and knowing that although it was essential to become who I am today, I don't ever want to go back there.