What is Poverty? Are We the 1%?

povertyThis week I was teaching lessons on world poverty, and trying to get across to the kids, that make on average $86,000 a year in my school district, what real poverty looks like in the world.  I showed charts, graphs, pictures, videos, had a fancy powerpoint presentation.  We discussed and analyzed the material, and in the end, I felt that these students still had no idea what world poverty looked liked.  I heard from class after class questions such as, “Why don’t they just sell stuff and make money?”  “Why don’t they just not have more babies?”  “Why would they sleep next to their animals?”  The idea of a world without a stable government, stable economic system, no police or 911, doesn’t register as a real place in their heads (They kept referring to the movie The Purge).  They didn’t understand how a mother dies during childbirth, “Why don’t they just go to a doctor?”  My reply, ” There is 0.02 doctors for every 1,000 people in Malawi, so finding a doctor is a rare event in certain parts of the country.”  (Confused looks from the students.)  Even when we talked about the tent cities in America, they were perplexed why they just didn’t move out of the tent and get a job.  “Why doesn’t he just work at McDonald’s?”  “He would still be in poverty working 40 hours a week at McDonald’s with his kids to feed.”  These kids think throwing money at the problem and moving on with their lives is solving the problem.  It’s not their fault though.  In America we live behind a veil of consumerism, advertising, and the American Dream where you can do anything you want.  They don’t understand anything else.  If you are poor in America, then you made bad choices, and you are poor because you chose it, is how many think.  I agree with that phrase to a point, but I have also worked at very poor schools where 90% are on free and reduced lunch, and half my students will be the first in their family to graduate high school.  However, even these students don’t understand global poverty, even at the poor school.  American poverty is rich compared to most poverty stricken countries.  This is why unless you have traveled and seen this level of poverty first hand, it is nearly impossible to understand on what level we are talking about.

When I was doing my research for the lesson on global poverty, I realized that a third of the world lives on less than $2 a day.  I use that much in gasoline to get to work and back each day.  Then I eat about 3 solid meals and 2 snacks each day, and did I mention all the resources I use with showering, electricity, clothing, etc.  I easily consume about $30 a day, I estimated, and that is on the low end of my spectrum.  On a bad day of eating out a lot, or vacationing I could be spending well over $150-$200 a day.  So how rich are we in America compared to the world?

According to most online sources to be in the top 1% of the world you have to be making roughly, $32,400 a year to make the upper cut.  That puts most Americans into the top 1% club for the globe.  As a teacher, in a school district, that starts first year teachers out at $50,000 a year, we are all uber wealthy.  There is no vow of poverty in teaching, with 1%er money coming in on day one, with guaranteed wage increases along the way.  Congratulations,  if this was your goal, be happy with you newly discovered status.  But, lets continue anyways to look at this from another perspective.

Another way to look at the top 1% is through net worth.  So, what does your net worth have to be, to be the top dog globally?  $770,000 in net worth is the magic number to a part of the global 1% club.  How many of you just dropped out of the club now?  There are many Americans whose net worth reaches this as they near retirement, or their home values increase.  There are also many people who later in life inherit their wealth, and of course, compound interest can create this kind of wealth through saving.  So many of you didn’t make it into the global net worth 1% club, but that is alright because now you have a goal to reach.  Keep saving people!

Now lets understand why you “feel so poor” in America.  To be part of the top 1% of Americans, and be hated by all protesters, you need to be making at least $450,000 a year and have a net worth over $7,869,549.  So, with my family income of $110,000, between 2 teachers, we make the top 21% of Americans, and our net worth of about $420,000 would fall into the top 20%.  We are far from 1% for American standards, and this also keeps us out of touch with the rest of the world.  This is why my students and most of America is completely lost on the idea of global poverty.  We all feel poor because the bar is ridiculously high for Americans.  So, poverty for us is not having 20 presents at Christmas and only eating out once a month.  In most countries poverty is you are struggling daily to not die of starvation or in child birth.  A $10 mosquito net would save your life from malaria, but you can’t afford it and die.  We are all mostly in the 1% as far as our salaries go, and to make $32,000 a year we feel very poor in America.

A look at the income gap between the 1% and the other 99%.

Americans need to travel more to poor countries, and get out of our bubble of advertising, consumerism, and American ideals.  Once you see what everyone else is like in the world, you appreciate what you have, and you realize that the world needs help.  Compassion is the key to solving global poverty, and the 1% can help, but first we must be taught the compassion, by being aware that compassion is needed.  The income gap globally is widening, as you can see on the chart above, and the 1% is about to own more than 50% of the world’s wealth.  This issue of poverty can only be solved by the 1% as the gap is projected to continue.  The 1% will have more and more wealth, and with that, means more options to help the rest of the world.  We just need to get the message out there and have people understand what true poverty is in our world.  Get in touch with what true poverty is and then reach out to churches and mission groups.  Travel to those places in poverty and build a house, or help install  a clean water well for a village.  The more we are aware, the more we can seek out opportunities to use our power as the 1% to end global poverty.



Add yours →

  1. Great perspective on money and wealth. In this country we have no idea. We tell our kids to eat their food because a kid in Africa would love to eat it – even out of the trash. But I don’t think we really get it. Hopefully more can learn to give back more.


  2. Steve from Arkansas April 21, 2017 — 12:11 am

    That was insightful and bless you for teaching with that heart for students. I am guilty of being an ugly American who hasn’t seen much true poverty and worse still I’m wealthy even by US standards. I found this post both convicting and inspiring.


    • I’m glad you liked this post. This topic is special to me because so many of my students are missing compassion due to their lack of exposure to real poverty. We all just need a wake up call now and then to appreciate what we have also.


  3. Edward Bernays – good read on consumerism


Leave a Reply to Amy Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: