Yesterday’s New York Times continued its coverage of rich, white, not-particularly-sympathetic New Yorkers and the decline of their American Dream. Unlike their woeful and possibly hoaxy article on DABAs –i.e. young women Dating A Banker, or, as Kanye and I like to call them, golddiggers–this one looks at the potential social upside of being surrounded by other young, well-educated people who have fallen on hard times, especially when those other people made a shitload more money than you do.
The tiny, white sampling of the population the Times writes about this time are art gallery workers, who are almost exclusively female. They’ve been previously caricatured in the media as hot trust-fund babies in little black dresses who take the job as a time-filler between college and marriage, often to a rich dude they meet in their line of work. Still, they are mostly Ivy Leaguers, many with master’s degrees. Parental subsidies mean these young ladies are spared the indignity of living in the outer boroughs or shoe shopping at Payless, and it’s a good thing, because art gallery workers “typically earn $19,000 for a junior position to $50,000 for a midlevel specialist at an auction house, perhaps a fifth of what peers make working in law or banking.”
But as their fellow banker/lawyer Ivy League alums hit the unemployment line, the overeducated but underpaid are having the last laugh:
The downturn has hidden benefits in the form of a social correction that puts them on more equal footing with their friends working — or formerly working — on Wall Street.
“Now we have an even playing field,” said Lydia Wickliffe Fenet, an affable 31-year-old who heads special events at Christie’s and says she has cut back on the number of nights she goes out and is choosing less expensive places. “My friends say, ‘Let’s go have a beer instead of a $40 drink.’ ”
Brooke Lampley, who is 28 and has been at Christie’s for four years specializing in Impressionism and modern art, said her college classmates who were laid off from their Wall Street jobs now follow more pedestrian pursuits. Most recently some of those friends went to a rodeo.
“I shouldn’t say it, but I was jealous of my college friends,” she said. “But not anymore. Their choices helped them establish lives, but not the ones they wanted. I’d rather be doing something I like.”
And to this I say, “Amen, sister.” I may not have gotten parental subsidies, but I too am a white girl with a top-notch education and who went into a creative field that pays substantially less than what my friends earned in finance, p.r., marketing, etc. My starting salary was $19,000 and macaroni and cheese played a large role in my life. It was worth it: I was intellectually stimulated, got to meet important, fascinating and/or famous people and could put my right brain to good use rather than cranking out numbing, exhausting hours at a white-collar sweatshop.
My better-compensated friends gloated about their salaries and the fabulous Manhattan real estate they bought, but like these art gallery workers, I couldn’t resist a frisson of pleasure when the bubble deflated. Actually, I actually got two bites at the schadenfreude apple: one circa 2000 when the tech bubble burst and my peers’ six-figure, free-sushi-Friday dot com jobs dried up, and one this year, when the i-bankers and hedge funders saw their filthy lucre evaporate. Granted, that second bite was kind of bitter, because some of my life savings evaporated too, and the industry I work in has undergone successive rounds of layoffs that have affected some of my nearest and dearest.
If I get laid off tomorrow, though, I will have spent the last 12 years in a job, and a business that I love. Money hasn’t been my main pursuit. And when the money goes away, those of us who didn’t worship it aren’t left as disillusioned and angry as the people who did.