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Penn Student Insecure About Being in the Bottom Half of the Top One Percent of Wealth


Photo by Edward N. Wolff / CC BY-SA 3.0 (with edits)

Jacob Swartz (W ‘20) comes from a modest background. He was raised by a stay-at-home mother and a father with a partnership at a law firm. Swartz attended a $60,000-per-year private high school, and went on trips to international luxury resorts with his family four times a year. He felt secure about his family’s finances when living in a gated community where everyone had similar levels of wealth.

Then he came to Penn.

“When I arrived at Penn, I immediately saw someone wearing a custom-tailored Dior suit,” he said. “The only Dior suit I have is off the rack. That was the first time I realized there were some rich kids at Penn.”

As his freshman year continued, Swartz said he felt increasingly more alienated and inferior because of his lack of wealth. “I always felt like I had enough growing up, but I guess I wasn’t really that well off,” he said. “Some of these people go out to dinner and blow hundreds of dollars at the best restaurants in the city once or twice a week. That’s something I usually only do once or twice a month—at most.”

Swartz wants other students in similar situations not to feel left out at Penn. “People like me, who come from, well, poor backgrounds, should not have to feel guilty about having less money than other people,” he said. “Sometimes, it feels like Penn’s culture is biased toward students in the top half of the top one percent of wealth, rather than people in the bottom half of the top one percent like me. Some people have to drive a Porsche, and not a Ferrari, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

UPDATE: Since the publishing of this article, Swartz’s father was promoted to senior partner, and the family's income now measures in the top half of the top one percent. Swartz says that he may have been too harsh in this article, and that people in the bottom half of the top one percent are all “kinda plebs.”