Discussion: Before Billionaires Wore Hoodies: The Forgotten Class History of '80s Youth

Discussion for article #235526

The poverty rate rose in dramatic numbers in the middle of the decade according to the National Poverty Center, so much that by 1983, the number of folks below the poverty line had risen to a little over 35 million people. By 1989, the poverty rate increased another 10 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and by the end of the ‘80s, the poorest families grew poorer in 32 states.

As another cultural milestone, this was also the time when “Homeless” entered the popular lexicon and didn’t identify mentally scared Vietnam vets or ‘hobos’. Coming off the economic recession of the late 1970s with high unemployment and sky-high interest rates, it’s easy to see why so many thought of the 1980s as a golden age… until the union busting, layoffs and working class poverty took over.

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They were outliers in a pre-Occupy time when wealth was nothing to be ashamed of.

You seem to forget that “Wall Street” was released around this same time and don’t confuse being upper-middle income or even upper-income with the kind of obscene wealth generated by investment banking, hedge fund management and being the CEO of a fortune 100 company. Anyone in this income stratum needs to be ashamed and the kind or salary a Jamie Diamon earns today would have made Gordon Gekko blush.

I was actually such a total pariah at my Rust Belt high school in 1989 that I didn’t even really fit in with the burnouts, though they kindly adopted me for a while, fed me PBR and pot and generally kept me going until I
could matriculate to a nice “alternative school” the next town over. I remember all of these archetypes well, but in retrospect, the thing that really jumps out at me is how narrow those class divisions really were. The preppie “richies” turned out to be merely slightly less lower middle class than we spawn of factory rats – their parents were middle management in a dead end podunk town, or they owned a car dealership, or dad was a dentist. The twins who were the prepster kings of my high school – the many-lettered golden boys, the creme de la alpha, the tippy-top of the social food chain – abruptly left town after their parents’ suburban cocaine ring unraveled. They’d been selling on the side to keep up appearances. Even the aspirational types were really just holding it together, though we didn’t know it then. These days, the rich are unfathomably richer.


I don’t know about high school in the 80’s, I graduated in in 1980, but in my high school, the term burnout simply meant someone who smoked a lot, if not too much, pot. One toke over the line sort of thing. I guess the term took on deeper meaning in the 80’s? Not sure that the 80’s are really unique in the sense described by the author,


Generational generalizations are so … 50s and 60s. In America then, the rich kids already knew to dress working class. Across the northern tier of America, from New England through what’s now the Rust Belt to the Northwest, they never lost it (well, aside from a few pockets like Greenwich). Grunge wasn’t invented in Seattle.

The Southern California, Texas, Florida celebration of gaudy wealth was a whole other culture. This doesn’t separate by decades, but by latitudes.


“The turning point for how this culture changed, she says, was the movie Clerks.”

LOL. You so crazy, Slice

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I lived in North Dallas and graduated in '84 from a public high school after leaving a college prep school. I can’t imagine too many other places than Dallas in the '80s that exemplified the excess and boomtown mentality of the era. Nothing was older than 20 years when we got there: everything was new, bright and shiny. I, of course, rebelled at that and my “cultural touchstone” when it came to the denim jacket I wore nearly every day was the Allman Brothers Band on the cover of their “Live At Fillmore East” album. Yes, I was searching for some deeper meaning to life than owning a Camaro and doing the typical social stuff. Naturally, I gravitated to the artists when I went to college. I kinda wish I had known about this alternate picture from that Allman cover taqken by the great Jim Marshall.
flipping the bird

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That was my thought, too. I was a child of the hippie era, and back then we all knew plenty of rich kids who nevertheless grew their hair long and dressed the part just so they could smoke pot and get laid. It’s called “slumming” and it’s nothing new, I think it’s been around since at least the Victorian age. (The same type are still around. They’re called “Libertarians” now.) Tangentially, this is also why I get so fed up with younger people today who constantly complain about how the Boomer hippies “sold out” - the ones you are looking at as “sell-outs” were never real hippies to begin with.

The names have changed but the innocent have never been protected. It is all about me as the behavioral norm, especially in blade runner era San Francisco. The hippie ethos of peace and love is finally dead, dead, dead. It is all one big Shock Doctrine. Confusion on a mass scale. Limitation is still a reality above which it seems to need a miracle. Welcome to Planet Traumatic Stress Disorder.