After being cited in a Bloomberg article about the impact of falling Wall Street bonuses, Andrew Schiff is feeling the heat from Americans outraged that someone (anyone) who makes $350,000 a year could complain about their lot in life. The story has gone viral, sparked a boatload of copycat pieces and blogs, most of them highly critical of Schiff, who says he's received a torrent of vitriolic emails.
"I never expected to become the poster child for venality and greed," says Schiff, who is director of marketing for Euro Pacific Capital, where his brother Peter is CEO.
In the accompanying video, Schiff stresses he never complained to the Bloomberg reporter about his lifestyle, realizes he's one of the lucky ones and "understands why people feel bad reading about what I'm saying."
The point Schiff says he was trying to make is twofold:
First, living in New York City is incredibly expensive and $350,000 does not make you rich in Manhattan -- nor San Francisco or Boston or almost any major metropolitan area where Wall Street types tend to work and live.
"What I thought I could've had at my [salary] level -- the reality is different; it's just not there," Schiff says, while conceding he doesn't have to live in New York. "It's a choice I'm making."
Second, Schiff says it takes a lot more money to live a "middle class" lifestyle in NYC today than it did when he was growing up there in the 1970s.
He recalls growing up in a "very nice two bedroom apartment" on the Upper East Side. "We went to summer camp, we took vacations," he says. "To match that kind of lifestyle now takes an absurd amount of money and more money that most people think. That was the point I was trying to make."
Now "middle class" in NYC is not the same as middle class in most other parts of the country -- or even the state. But what Schiff is describing is something that almost all Americans can relate to, assuming they can get by the sticker shock of what it costs to live in NYC: The middle class is getting squeezed and the very definition of "middle class" is changing.
In the Bloomberg story, for example, Schiff is cited as saying he has a summer rental in Kent, Conn. Not surprisingly, he's gotten a lot of flack from Americans who are taking "stay-cations" -- assuming they have a job to take time off from in the first place.
But Schiff notes his grandfather, who was a carpenter -- "a working class guy" -- also had a summer house, "and no one was calling him 'Rockefeller'."
This decline of living standards, even for those Americans with well-paying jobs, "should be part of the debate," he says. "But it's too vitriolic. Too black and white."
Finally, Schiff says the original Bloomberg story was slanted. When he said "I feel stuck," Schiff says he was referring to a specific incident involving a major traffic jam, not a commentary about his bank account. That "inaccuracy" led to "further distortion in the copies and clones of the original article," he says, citing a piece on Gothamist as a prime example.
Another bit of media critique: Schiff is a marketing guy. He's not an investment banker, trader, analyst, "titan of industry" or "master of the universe" in any sense of the term. Hanging a story about bonuses and lifestyles on someone who, by his own admission, is at the bottom of the Wall Street food chain is sloppy journalism, at best. All sense of proportion seems to have gotten lost as this story pinged around the Web, something else that's different about America today.