"Where Is This Prosperity We're in the Midst Of?"

Published, NY Times: September 20, 1988

To the Editor:

For the long Labor Day weekend, we had guests at the vacation house we rented for two weeks at the shore - friends and relatives. Into the nights, we talked about movies, our kids, the sweetness of the corn, our jobs, Dan Quayle, our memories and our dreams. I don't know if the group that we formed would represent a statistical cross-section of the middle class, but I'm sure that we weren't so far out of the mainstream in our occupations, attitudes and aspirations as to constitute an aberration or a radical sampling.

So I'm left wondering about some things, in the quiet now that our visitors have gone, about the state of people in America, for example, about the prosperity that is being heralded by some. Prosperity for whom? Certainly not the members of our shore group.

A ''demographic study'' of our group shows seven adults (34 to 43 years old) and five children (2 months to 12 years) of three ethnic groups: Jewish, Afro-American and Italian-American. All of the adults were working parents - one bookkeeper, one painting contractor, one musician and four in human services. Six of the seven had some college; five had master's degrees. One member of the group owned a home. One owned a new car.

Two said they had savings, though of less than $5,000. Four of the college graduates had outstanding student loans in some kind of default status. None could even imagine how they would finance their own children's college. All agreed that life was hard financially, and not what they had expected it would be by the time they reached this stage in their lives.

I recalled that when my father was my age, and also a painting contractor, he bought a house for one family in Westchester, a seven-room Colonial on three-quarters of an acre. He paid $19,000 for it in 1963. (I wish we had kept it; it recently was resold for close to $200,000.) Twenty-five years later, at the same age and with the additional full-time income of a spouse, I can't afford to buy the house I grew up in. Most of the time, I have blamed myself for our plight, but the weekend gathering was reassuring, in a sad way, because it turned out that my contemporaries found themselves struggling, and feeling guilty, in similar ways.

Again, though, I must wonder where are the prosperous times we're supposed to be in the midst of? Or are we in the midst of a cruel joke? It seems that the disparities are great today between rich and poor, and that somewhere buried under the avalanche of positive economic indicators is an overburdened, under-rewarded middle class.

All in our group acknowledged being confused that since the Reagan ''tax cut,'' and especially since ''tax reform,'' our tax bills had gone up at a higher rate than our incomes, and none of us live in six-figure households. What gives, we asked one another? Well, we all agreed, trying to end our get-together on an upbeat note, as least we got to spend some time at the shore.

True, I thought, but for me that was almost a necessity. My memories of going to the shore with my parents and our friends and relatives are so golden that I couldn't possibly deprive my own family of the same opportunity, even though it took all of my savings to pay for the two weeks.

Perhaps, in these ''prosperous times'' one needs to turn to memories and family for comfort and consolation in order to know what prosperity really is! PETER V. LOFFREDO New York, Sept. 7, 1988