The Breakfast Table

Journalists and Money


Chicago accepts your love and returns it in full, and with large, wetsnowflakes.

I also enjoyed that article about fidgeting away weight. I often tell myyoungest stepson David (also known in this column as the Young SportsExpert) that he burns up more calories watching TV than most people do atthe gym. He’s always jumping up from, or over, the couch and running aroundthe room especially when sports is on. Maybe this explains his athleticphysique more than all the basketball practices he goes to.

For my closing volley, I want to talk some about an unspoken problem I seewith journalists covering money issues. It’s this: journalists, at leastfor the big city dailies, are not representative in their earnings of themajority of Americans, but tend to select topics as if they were.

Editors and reporters are not rich, but they’re doing better than most inthat umbrella class we call the middle class.

In 1995 the median annual earnings for all U.S. women working full-time was$23, 777; for men $32, 199. For families with kids (a group that typicallyearns less than families without children) the median annual earnings was$49,969–that’s if both parents were present. If only the mother waspresent it was a low $16,235.

Consider a reporter at a big city daily, a guy, earning, say, $70,000, atypical salary. He and his wife have three kids. The wife is the primaryparent and earns $15,000 working part-time. Even with $85,000/year theybudget carefully: they make two car payments, pay a mortgage, and are savingfor their kids’ college educations.

What’s hard to fathom is how much better off they are than most Americans.

I’m not saying that this hypothetical journalist should feel guilty; on thecontrary he works hard for his buck. What I’m saying is that people tend towrite about themselves. Plus advertisers aim at high-end earners. So,financial articles in the newspapers serve a relatively small andcomparatively well-heeled segment of the population.

This could be one reason why we don’t get more articles on how governmentpolicy impacts the daily financial lives of teachers, legal secretaries,carpenters, fast food managers, bookstore employees, and phone operators.And when we don’t get that, we forget that most hard-working Americans don’thave a lot of discretionary income and need government services for thetaxes they pay.

Privatization–of Social Security or health care insurance for the elderly orwhomever–best serves those with extra pocket change. When a household has$49,969 a year and two or three kids, they’re not poor, not at all, but theyneed government afterschool programs and health insurance when they’re old.And they’ve earned it. So, that, in a thumbnail, is my plea for morefinancial stories that serve households with less than $85,000 a year.

 Julie, girlfriend, it’s been wonderful working with you these past twoweeks. A real pleasure.

See you in the funny papers,

Warmly, Maud