When Thomas Stanley and William Danko published their best-selling book in 1996, they made much of the statistic that “80 percent of America’s millionaires are first-generation rich.” The majority, they pointed out, were entrepreneurs, many working in blue-collar professions.
Anyone could make it big, the two authors all but proclaimed; all you need is frugality and a few tax breaks. Don’t live in a pricey home. Put a cork in the Cabernet, and pop a Coors instead. But most important, open your own business. When it came to the secret sauce for scoring a million bucks, “a very big factor is self-employment,” Stanley said.
The ensuing years have not been kind to the working-class millionaire.
A little-noticed marketing report released last month by U.S. Trust contained the disturbing statistic that while almost a third of Baby Boomers worth more than $3 million claimed to have grown up in lower-middle-class homes, the number fell precipitously for younger cohorts, with 18 percent of Gen Xers and a mere 6 percent of such Millennials saying they came from working-class stock.
And when business owners were studied separately, two-thirds of the Baby Boomer group described their family of origin as lower or middle-class. Generation Y? A mere 12 percent.
In a nation that prides itself on its class fluidity and entrepreneurial spirit, this is just the latest sign that our engines of social mobility are, to borrow a cliché from the blue-collar automotive repair profession, stalling out.