When The Simpsons first hit televisions back in 1989, they were meant to embody most Americans’ notions of typical suburban family: the dad with a working class job, the homemaker wife, three kids, a cat, a dog—the usual. But 1989 was a long-ass time ago, and my, oh my, have things changed. Although the show’s cartoon characters aren’t subject to aging, the world around the Simpsons clan has kept up its societal reference points, leading some to ponder the question: Can a prototypical nuclear family à la Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie survive American’s modern economic horrors?
…C’mon. We all know the answer to that one.
And so does NPR’s Planet Money, which last month aired a story examining whether or not we could consider the Simpsons a “middle-class” family by 2021’s standards. To do this, they spoke with Dani Alexis Ryskamp, author of the Atlantic essay “The Life in The Simpsons Is No Longer Attainable.” Ryskamp went to super-fan lengths to determine the exact dollars and cents, such as pinpointing an exact shot of Homer’s paycheck in a 1996 episode and extrapolating that he would have made about $25,000 that year.
“Back in 1996, the median household income was about $35,000. So if Homer’s salary stayed in the same place relative to the median household income, Homer would be earning around $50,000 today, which is definitely a solid salary,” explains Planet Money’s co-host, Stacey Vanek Smith, before Ryskamp morbidly reminds us, “Tuition has more than doubled. Health care costs have more than doubled. I believe housing costs have more than doubled.”
“The idea that you could have one breadwinner in a family of five who had a high-school education, working a union job at a power plant and buying a nice house in the suburbs and supporting a spouse and these three other kids…at this point, [it’s] not normal but aspirational,” they continue.
So, yeah. Basically, most people would kill for Homer’s originally mediocre, middle-of-the-road lifestyle these days. Is The Simpsons an accurate depiction of middle-class life? Definitely no. Is it still funny? We’ll leave you all to devour one another in the comments section for that one…
Oh, and that episode featuring Homer’s paycheck? It’s from Season 7’s “Much Apu About Nothing,” so at least showrunners have caught up with the times in other aspects…sort of.
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