Ellen Parnell and her husband, Donald Parnell Jr., seem like the kind of well-off couple President Barack Obama has in mind when he suggests raising taxes on families earning more than $250,000 a year. A surgeon at Fort Sanders Sevier Medical Center in Sevierville, Tenn., he drives an Infiniti. They vacation at a beach resort every year.The whole article is basically saying: Costs of living differ from one part of the country to another, with the implication that therefore setting tax rates at a certain income level doesn't work because it doesn't take other factors into account.
Yet, right now he is working seven days a week. The car is more than a decade old, the vacation home in Sandestin, Fla., comes at a moderate weekly rate because members of Ms. Parnell's extended family own it. Her family of five would like more room than they have in their 2,500-square-foot home, yet they can't afford anything larger. The downturn has them skittish about paying for renovations.
"I'm not complaining, but the reality is Obama may call me wealthy, but I thought we were just good old middle class," says Ms. Parnell. "Our needs are being met, but we don't have a load of cash to cover wants."
It is a tricky situation in which some Americans find themselves after a long boom: They are by no means struggling, compared with the 98% of Americans who make far less, but depending on where they live and the lifestyle choices they have made, they don't necessarily feel rich, either. Worse, in their view, they are facing the same tax rates as those making millions. Some of the expenses are self-inflicted -- like private-school costs and conspicuous consumption. Others, though, are unavoidable, like child-care costs, larger health-care deductibles and education expenses, especially college.
Now, there's no way not to have some sympathy towards the Parnells, although I wonder exactly how "unavoidable" child-care and college expenses are. And right above that, is mentioned the "self-inflicted" expenses of "private-school costs and conspicuous consumption".
Not to mention the vacation home.
Or not being able to afford anything larger than a 2,500 square foot home in a buyer's market. Heck, my manufactured home is around 900 square feet.
But then we get to the end:
For the Parnells, their perception of themselves is based on the math. The value of their house is down $60,000. Ms. Parnell says the couple's gross income last year was about $260,000. Taxes, premiums for medical care and deductions for Social Security and their 401(k) contributions cut the gross to about $12,000 per month. The family tithes $1,300 a month at their church. Their mortgage, second mortgage and payment on land they bought is nearly $4,000 a month. Other expenses, including their family car payment, insurance and college funds, as well as basics like food, utilities and donations to charities, leave them with about $1,200 left over each month."Taxes, premiums for medical care and deductions for Social Security and their 401(k) contributions cut the gross to about $12,000 per month"!?
"I'm not after sympathy. We are blessed. What I want is a reality check on what rich means," Ms. Parnell says. "I can pay my mortgage and I can buy some clothes. I'm not going without, but I'm not living a life of luxury."
First, that's a hell of a strange way to put it.
Second, "down to" $12,000 a month? In Tennessee?
The Parnells have a vacation home; they're tithing $1,300 a month; they have three mortgages -- the main mortgage, a second mortgage, and investment property; they are making payments on an Infiniti (ten years old, either it's used or they got the worst loan terms in history); they send their kids to a private school; they put away for retirement and the college funds of three kids; and they count charitable donations as "basics". They have (I guess they'd say "only") $1,200 a month left over -- an amount which would about cover my regular bills -- and they can't cover their "wants"? What the hell do they want?
(Yes, yes, I know, home renovations. You'd think they could print out a damn online coupon.)
Am I terribly screwed up in thinking one of us has a problem in perception of scale, and it ain't me?
ETA: Added the car payment, per ladysprite in comments.