if you’re successful, you had help

What with the ongoing economic downturn, rising economic equality in America and the continuing Occupy Wall Street protests, it should come as no surprise that lots of people in this country are angry at our country’s wealthiest – the “1 percent.”

I, too, could be angry at those who grew up in families that had more money than mine. But it wouldn’t be fair to be upset at someone for having a bigger bank account and access to the trappings of a nicer lifestyle.

What does anger me is when some who are fortunate enough to be counted among the wealthy or upper-middle class believe they are more deserving of a good life than those who have fewer resources.

That’s the mindset I saw as I read this article revealing the unvarnished thoughts of five anonymous Philadelphia-area 1-percenters. I saw, albeit to different degrees, utter contempt for those lower than they on the socioeconomic ladder. They all stressed how hard they worked to get where they are. But they didn’t seem to recognize that much of their good fortune came through luck.

In the words of one business mogul who pegs his annual earnings at $2.5 million:

I feel that anybody can have wealth if they want to. It’s all about getting an education, filling a need in the marketplace. Anybody can have money.

He’s right, to a point. One oft-cited report estimates that by 2018, 63 percent of jobs in America will require some form of post-secondary education. The jobs one can get with additional education generally pay more than those that require just a high school diploma. Getting an education takes hard work.

But no one gets rich – or even secures a place in the middle class – without help.

Let’s return to those who discussed life in the 1 percent. One was born to parents who tapped her to work in the lucrative family business after college. She’s now worth $11 million. Another grew up in a large, working-class family and married a man now worth $20 million.

Even among those who weren’t born into or marry into money, no one is entirely self-made. That point is brilliantly made in this piece (beware the salty language) about how clueless some of the rich can be.

So … you were never a child? From birth, you were hunting and gathering your own food? You never had a mother to “hand” you milk?

You’re completely self-educated? At age 4, you sought out your own knowledge, and paid teachers out of your own pocket?

I don’t think you did. I’d have seen something about it on the news.

I pride myself on having risen into the middle class through education and hard work. And I could argue that my success is self-made.

I worked all the way through college, sometimes at two jobs! My internships didn’t come through family connections – I sent out resumes and writing samples to newspaper editors who recognized my talent even though they had no idea who I was! Instead of moving back in with my parents after college, I rented a room in a smelly apartment and made copies at Staples for $8 an hour until I landed a job in my field! (Mercifully it only took a month.)

I could argue that I got where I am on my own. But the truth is, I got a lot of help.

I gleaned a lot of information about the college-application process out of a book I received from my car insurance agent. I had a professor who tore apart my resume and redesigned it into a format that’s so good I’m still using it. My college expenses were partially covered by an on-campus work-study job, Pell Grants and subsidized student loans paid for through taxpayer money. I received scholarships funded by donors I’ve never met. You get the idea.

Now I volunteer with an organization that helps put disadvantaged teens on the road to college. I see it as simply paying forward the help I received.

Many of the poor and working-class simply aren’t aware of how to reach their goals. They need guidance from people who have this knowledge. If the fortunate ones among us share what we know, then more will have the chance to reach their full potential.

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