Millennials Are Ruining Trust Funds

Through the organization Resource Generation, wealthy young people are giving away their money to advance systemic change.

Andrew Schwartz

With the support of an organization called Resource Generation, Kestrel Feiner-Homer is donating her family wealth to help combat systemic inequality. (Photo by Darla Jones)

In fall 2017, Alli­son Shack­elford found a book about phil­an­thropy in the apart­ment she shared with two room­mates. She men­tioned it to one, Tay­lor” (they were uncom­fort­able being iden­ti­fied), who said that, well, they got it through an orga­ni­za­tion called Resource Gen­er­a­tion (RG). Tay­lor came from a rich fam­i­ly, and RG con­vinced them to start com­ing out” to peo­ple about their wealth, in a first step toward giv­ing it away.

“I’m like, ‘Bitch, feel guilty,’ ” says George. “You can think of it as the price that you pay. Feel that shame daily. Put that shame to work.”

That Tay­lor even had mon­ey was news to Shack­elford, who describes them as a low-key liver.”

But Tay­lor was deter­mined — albeit ner­vous — to let peo­ple in. Their prac­tice com­ing out” talk with Shack­elford brought both to tears. Tay­lor opened up about their nag­ging guilt: Why should they have all this mon­ey when so many have none?

RG, a nation­al non­prof­it that orga­nizes young peo­ple with class priv­i­lege, encour­ages mem­bers to donate a mean­ing­ful,” risky” por­tion of wealth to move­ments that com­bat sys­temic inequities at the root. But for some mem­bers, dol­ing out cash to friends and acquain­tances can grease the wheels of giving.

Tay­lor had heard Shack­elford com­plain about her stu­dent loan debt at 24 per­cent inter­est. Her $115-a-month pay­ments would add up to mul­ti­ple times her ini­tial loan over the next 23 years.

Tay­lor offered Shack­elford an inter­est-free loan, and paid off the debt with a sin­gle check.

This frank­ness is rare in a soci­ety where talk­ing about mon­ey in per­son­al terms remains taboo. RG com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor Maria Myotte has worked with a num­ber of pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions, and class is nev­er brought up explic­it­ly [on an indi­vid­ual lev­el]. Even, like, social­ist organizations!”

The rich in the Unit­ed States are rarely hon­est about their wealth — even with them­selves. A 2015 CNBC sur­vey showed 84 per­cent of U.S. mil­lion­aire investors iden­ti­fy as mid­dle or upper-mid­dle class rather than wealthy. Wealthy Amer­i­cans tend to com­pare them­selves to the bet­ter off, says Iimay Ho, RG’s exec­u­tive direc­tor, and pre­vail­ing social nar­ra­tives reas­sure the wealthy that they deserve what they have.

This is no acci­dent, says Ho. It serves the inter­ests of [white suprema­cy], eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ty and cap­i­tal­ism.” As Myotte puts it, If you’re try­ing [not to] per­pet­u­ate the same bull­shit, then we have to be aware of [the back­grounds] we’re com­ing from.”

Like many of RG’s 600-plus dues-pay­ing mem­bers, Kestrel Fein­er-Homer saw her­self as mid­dle class grow­ing up. Her fam­i­ly drove used cars and shopped at thrift stores. And look­ing back, I’m like, yeah, and we put radi­ant floor heat­ing in our house and bought a cab­in.” That, and she had a trust fund of rough­ly $200,000 in waiting.

In col­lege, Fein­er-Homer became politi­cized, attend­ed work­shops on colo­nial­ism, racism and priv­i­lege, but nobody was real­ly talk­ing about their expe­ri­ences of class,” she says. We were talk­ing about big­ger-pic­ture sys­tems, but not in a way that linked to our per­son­al experience.”

When friends com­plained about loans and dif­fi­cult jobs, Fein­er-Homer couldn’t relate; the dynam­ic made her uncom­fort­able. She kept qui­et, not want­i­ng to rub her sit­u­a­tion in her friends’ faces, or to be inau­then­tic.”

Then some­one at a potluck made what Fein­er-Homer described as an off­hand dis­parag­ing com­ment of the, oh yeah, this rich kid with his trust fund” vari­ety, and some­one else cut in that, well, she had a trust fund and here were the pos­i­tive things she was try­ing to do with it. It was kind of an awak­en­ing for me,” Fein­er-Homer says, just real­iz­ing how often I … played along with putting down wealthy peo­ple in order to not be asso­ci­at­ed with wealth and all the hor­ri­ble things that come with it.” She soon joined RG’s Twin Cities chapter.

Chap­ters some­times take new mem­bers through prax­is” groups, where they seek out and dis­cuss their mon­ey sto­ries. Much of Feiner-Homer’s fam­i­ly mon­ey came from sheet met­al fab­ri­ca­tion, so she has donat­ed to Cen­tro de Tra­ba­jadores Unidos en La Lucha, which orga­nizes low-wage earners.

How much to give? Fein­er-Homer vac­il­lat­ed between bursts of pas­sion — she received an unex­pect­ed $25,000 check when a fam­i­ly busi­ness sold, and fran­ti­cal­ly donat­ed it all with­in the year — to a more sub­dued approach that reflects her own uncer­tain eco­nom­ic real­i­ties as a low-paid school social work­er on con­tract with no 401(k) and a poten­tial desire for children.

Amid these con­cerns, Fein­er-Homer says, her chap­ter remains a source of per­son­al account­abil­i­ty and a polit­i­cal home” in which to deep­en and broad­en my analy­sis of class.”

Like many in RG’s grow­ing ranks — 28 per­cent of dues-pay­ing mem­bers joined in the past year — Fein­er-Homer has come to know the say­ing, It’s not my fault; it is my responsibility.”

If you had wealth and didn’t feel some shame about it , then some­thing would be wrong with you,” says Mon­i­ca George, for­mer co-chair of the Chica­go chap­ter. She ref­er­enced the Wall Street Jour­nal pod­cast Secrets of Wealthy Women. In one episode, Car­rie Schwab-Pomer­antz, daugh­ter of Charles, says she tries not to feel guilty when she declines requests for money.

And I’m like, Bitch, feel guilty,’ ” says George. You can think of it as the price that you pay. Feel that shame dai­ly. Put that shame to work.”

Andrew Schwartz is an edi­to­r­i­al intern with In These Times. He was pre­vi­ous­ly a reporter for the Wal­la Wal­la Union-Bulletin.
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