Puppies in the Age of Reagan

Laura J. Brown '80 on poor professionals

I am probably only one of many people who are tired of hearing about Yuppies, but I can't seem o get away from them. When I write a story about renovation of old triple-deckers in a neighborhood near Copley Place the developers and the Yuppies are the gentrifiers, displacing the neighborhood's low-income established residents. When the City of Boston tries to push a rent control and condominium conversion control package through the city council, the real estate industry and the Yuppie condo owners stop it. Then Newsweek makes it all official by devoting an issue to the Year of the Yuppie. With such bad press, who would want to be a Yuppie?

Unlike many of my fellow alumni, that has never been a problem I've had to contend with personally I'm young, I live in the city, and I'm a professional, but nobody would ever argue I'm a Yuppie--I just don't make enough money. My friend Richard and I were discussing our persistent poverty recently. Richard, who is now editor of a respected Boston weekly newspaper, enlightened me about our status: "We're definitely Puppies," he told me. "Poor Urban Professionals." Of course I laughed, but Richard was right.

The term "Yuppie" has caught on because it describes young, urban, white-collar workers on their way up the corporate ladder without mentioning money directly. Money is implied. Sure, a Yuppie couple may be strapped for cash like the rest of us, but it's not because their salaries are low--it's because they're making payments on the condo, the late model Le Car and the slightly older Loyota, any number of credit card bills for woks and cursinarts and Marimekko sheets, membership fees at the Racquet and Tennis Club, and probably psychotherapy bills. Professional translates into making a good-salary and expected-to-make much more."

Richard's exchange of "poor" for "young" makes the acronym work out nicely, but it also incorporates a whole class of professionals of any age who don't make as much money as the typical Yuppie. This group primarily holds jobs in professions President Reagan has targeted for severe cutbacks--community organizers, social service workers, public employees in fields like housing and education, and many health care professionals. In addition, almost anyone who is involved in an "alternative" business like a food cooperative, a bicycle repair collective. Many of the people in these professions are young because it's difficult to raise a family on low wages that the federal government would like to make even lower. So some Puppies are aspiring Yuppies.

The rest of the poor, urban professionals aren't devoted to being poor, but have chosen to pursue jobs in professions that aren't economically valued as Yuppie jobs. Many organizers and other Puppies I know went to Ivy League schools like Harvard. Yale and Princeton, and could be making lost of money in another profession They're certainly not lazy underachieves many are compulsive workaholics. But Puppies don't get paid as much as stock brokers, real estate entrepreneurs, or corporate lawyers even if they work just as hard. It's no coincidence that Newsweek's Year of the Yuppie is the first year of Ronald Reagan's second term as President. Reagan's devotion to private enterprise as the cute for all evils is attractive to young people who want to live comfortably and make a lot of money.


As it becomes more possible to become a Yuppie right out of college or grad school, there may be fewer of us Puppies around. When I graduated, I followed up a job I started with Phillips Brooks House while I was an undergraduate, working at a community newspaper in East Boston. After a brief stint as a community organizer in Fall River I came back to East Boston to edit the paper, and finally left the paper to pursue freelance writing. It has become clear over the years I've spent with the paper that fewer and fewer students at Harvard of any other college in the city are willing to volunteer for a community newspaper of other community organizations that We Puppies manage. I guess the price of social change is higher than it used to be.

Laura J. Brown '80, former editor of the East Boston Committee News, is a member of the Boston Arson Commission.