One of my least favorite things in the world is hearing a young person whose parents pay their cell phone/buy them plane tickets home for every holiday/give them thousand-dollar gift checks say something like, “I’ve never gotten any help from my parents, but I’ve managed to save some money.” Not because it’s bad to get any of those things, but because it’s bad not to recognize: Informal help is help. As this Atlantic piece by Mel Jones delineates in a dozen different ways, informal help is meaningful, and accumulates over time: altering decision processes, saving its recipients from trade-offs and time sucks, creating the class differences in America we know and love.
As you may or may not have noticed from experience (just kidding, you’ve noticed), the hesitation to admit informal advantage tends to come hand-in-hand with that informal advantage, which tends to come hand-in-hand with being white:
A seminal study published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives on wealth accumulation estimates that as much as 20 percent of wealth can be attributed to formal and informal gifts from family members, especially parents. And it starts early. In college, black and Hispanic Millennials are more likely to have to work one or two jobs to get through, missing out on opportunities to connect with classmates who have time to tinker around in dorm rooms and go on to found multibillion-dollar companies together. Many of them take on higher levels of student debt than their white peers, often to pay for routine expenses, such as textbooks, that their parents are less likely to subsidize.
College is where these separations seep in and sometimes become chasmic. Ten years ago, though I was supported very generously by a scholarship at UVA, I remember being so frustrated by having to spend my side-job money on basic things like transit or storage or security deposits, rather than on other things that might’ve greased the experience wheel a little bit—or being baffled by friends who applied for unpaid internships assuming their parents would automatically pay a summer’s rent in NYC.
The assumption of informal support actually felt universal, which it wasn’t, really, not even at a school whose population is certainly on the wealthy end. But it doesn’t help that people don’t know how to talk about this plainly—to accept that help is help, and it doesn’t mean anything other than money, and that money at the same time means a lot.
And, particularly when you look at wealth transfer as a plain marker of historical abilities to work unimpeded and invest in property, it’s no psychological boon to people who don’t get it, regardless of race, to know that so many people do:
Recent polls indicate that a large portion of Millennials receive financial help from parents. At least 40 percent of the 1,000 Millennials (ages 18 to 34) polled in a March USA Today/Bank of America poll get help from parents on everyday expenses. A Clark University poll indicated an even higher number, with almost three-quarters of parents reporting that they provide their Millennial children with financial support. Another survey saw nearly a third of Baby Boomers paying for Millennials’ medical expenses. A quarter of Boomers subsidized “other expenses” so their Millennial offspring could save money. Black and Hispanic Americans are less likely to be the recipients of this type of support.
Emphasis mine—the everyday trust fund, let’s call it.
Ironically, even though black and Hispanic Millennials are less likely to receive financial support from parents, their parents are more likely than white parents to expect their kids to help financially support them later on. According to the Clark poll, upward of 80 percent of black parents and 70 percent of Hispanic parents expect to be supported. And most studies show that a primary reason why people of color are unable to save as adults is because they give financial support to close family. This is important because when emergencies happen, many Millennials won’t have the reserve money to cover them.
“It doesn’t even have to be a life emergency,” Jones adds. “In the decision between paying for a professional networking event or a cell-phone bill, the latter is likely to win out. It should come as no surprise that Millennials who are free to choose both are likely to benefit more in the long run.”
Read the whole thing here.
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