If the Washington Post hoped to give readers something to talk about, it couldn't have done better than to publish a front-page piece on Sunday about a woman living in a tony New York suburb who's "squeaking by on $300,000 a year," according to the intentionally ironic headline.
The piece has generated nearly a thousand comments, mostly negative, from readers outraged that the Post would publish a tale of woe about Laura Steins whose alimony of $75,000 is more than many Americans earn and who lives in a $2.5 million house with an $8,000 a month mortgage and $35,000 in property taxes. Oh, and she maintains a live-in nanny at $40,000.
Some thoughts about the piece. I haven't read all the comments but I'm sure someone in the nearly 1,000 comments must've pointed out the obvious: although the Post meant this to be a piece about the effects of the recession on even the highest income Americans, the piece really isn't about that at all.
It's more an article about divorce and what happens to families when the two-incomes necessary to maintain the lifestyles to which they've become accustomed are reduced to one. It's well documented that many families that experience divorce suffer diminished living standards. If anything is remarkable about Steins, it that she's faring remarkably well under the circumstances.
But, again, hers isn't a recession story; it's a divorce story onto which the WaPo's reporter reporter and editors tried to graft a recession story. Not all grafts work. This one didn't.
Also, this is the kind of piece that should make one wonder about the source's motive, especially since divorce is involved. It's worth noting that her ex-husband Ed Steins wasn't quoted in the story. Did the Post unwittingly get pulled into a sticky domestic situation?
Another point: as a journalist I've benefited repeatedly over the years from the kindness of strangers to open themselves and their lives up to scrutiny the way Steins has. But it's also been a source of amazement that some people are so willing to divulge such intimate details about their finances and personal lives.
A desire to maintain one's privacy would keep most people in Steins position (she makes $150,000 plus a bonus as a Master Card International executive) from sharing the kind of information she has.
I'm not complaining; we journalists need people like Steins who are willing to put it all out there. You have to wonder though about what the ripple effect of the story will be on her children who now have their business out on Front Street.
Despite the questions raised by the story, it's still worth reading, if only from an anthropological point of view. How folks with $2.5 million homes in Harrison, NY live is something the curious among us who don't run in those circles don't mind learning about.