The Cadillac passage, for example, relies on an Oklahoma woman who doesn’t actually own a Cadillac, but sees one across the street and assumes her neighbors are strapped because of it:
Not long ago, Elena Gamble would have looked at the Cadillac parked across the street from her modest home in Elk City, Okla., and felt a twinge of jealousy.
“We live in a small town, and everybody looks at your clothes and what you drive and where you have your hair done,” said Ms. Gamble, who earns about $2,600 a month as a grievance counselor at a local prison.
Now, she and her husband—a prison guard who brings home $2,000 a month—are grappling with $10,000 in high-interest debt. They no longer go to the movies or out to eat, except occasionally to McDonald’s. They quit their Internet service. Their car was repossessed. “What we say now is, ‘If we can’t afford it, we can’t buy it,’ ” Ms. Gamble said.
And when she looks across the street at that Cadillac, her envy has been replaced by pity for the neighbor on the hook.
Here’s a reporting tip brought to you by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism: Cross the street and ask the neighbor what’s up with the car. We have no idea who they are and whether they can afford it. They might have been a better subject for the story, but we’ll never know.
As for the Gambles, notice that they did not have their Versace dinnerware repossessed, but their car, which some prison guards in places without subways use to get to work, and they cut spending by dropping Internet service, which is not really a frivolity these days, is it? The make and vintage of the car, by the way, is unidentified. It may be late-model Hummer, but I doubt that detail would have gone unmentioned.
Fran Barbaro, the subject of the article’s final anecdote, also provides clues that “envy” and an “extravagant mindset” aren’t the problems behind credit-card debt. Yes, she had art and a three-bedroom (wow) house, but she earned mid-six figures in the computer industry.
Her $200,000 personal debt is the result of “divorce, illness and motherhood,” including unidentified after-school programs that cost $25,000 a year and were apparently needed by her two boys.
The Times’s main point is fine with me. Its recycling of hackneyed myths is disappointing.