Monday, October 17, 2011

Percentiles

As the Occupy movement continues to camp out in the downtowns of major metropolitan areas, I find myself wondering about the position of those of us who occupy the upper percentages of the income scale.

I'm one of the rich, you see.

That might be hard to discern from observation of my day to day life.  My home is nothing much to look at, a squat, rumpled, ivy-covered suburban hobbit hole, nestled in trees.  It's about half the size of the average new home in America, but it's perfectly comfy for the four of us and the dog.  We drive efficient and unsplashy vehicles.  Our kids go to public schools.  I wear clothes that look like they're older than my middle-school age children, which is because many of them are.  We've spent most of our lives saving and scrimping.

My own modest annual income places me pretty much dead center for individual incomes in the United States.  I'm fifty-third percentile, just like that grim and defiant young reactionary whose image has been making the rounds lately.   But my wife, driven and smart and competent woman that she is, well, she's done well lately.   Her recent job transitions and career progression have tossed us up into an entirely different income category.

And for the first time in our respective lives, we can't accurately describe ourselves as middle class.  We're not.  We're somewhere between 95th and 96th percentile, and that, I fear, puts us squarely into the upper quartile of the upper class in the United States.

Does that make us better of more "blessed" than those in the lowest quartile of the bottom thirty percent?  No, not in any meaningful way, no matter what Joel Osteen says.  It does mean our lives are easier, both in the ways that make sense and in the ways the system in which we operate favors the wealthy.   We have no trouble getting credit, which we use sparingly.  Having walked alongside folks who desperately needed credit, but couldn't get it, this is a nontrivial thing.   We have enough of a buffer of amassed savings that we don't face uncertainty week to week or month to month, and there are many in our culture who do not have that luxury.  At the moment, my family does not worry about money.  This is utterly untrue for a substantial portion of Americans.

That doesn't even begin to factor in the many billions of human beings on this planet who live at levels so far below the US poverty line that we Americans don't really grasp just how immensely challenging the simple task of their existence is. 

Should I anguish over where I find myself?  Should I wallow in guilt?  No, I don't think so, and I don't. 

What I must not do, though, is allow my families' relative comfort right now to seduce me into believing that everything is just fine with the world.  It's not.  Not at all, and letting material comfort blind me to the struggles and suffering of others gets me into significant trouble with my Boss. Not to mention that wealth and material power aren't anywhere near to being one of the metrics He uses to assess the value of my existence.

It's a tricky wicket.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

Rich?! We will eat you!...

okay, not really. Good post.

I tend towards the more introspective school of "let's figure out what's wrong here". Often times, the fault for my various failures lies entirely with me. I am in debt for a house that has lost value and, it could be argued, I had no business trying to buy in the first place, and I'm still paying for past mistakes financially, etc. and that's to be expected. It's what happens when you make, as my dad used to say, "piss poor" decisions. It's part and parcel of life and learning from one's mistakes. For some it's the only way we learn.

As to the occupy crowd, I truly think their focus would be better spent on where the true power is held: D.C. Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could have a representative in D.C. who said "no" to special interest groups, PACs and any and all corporate money? And I mean ALL. After all if no one plays the "game" with the corporations, if no one takes their money, indulges their influences then those corporations will learn to "play nice" as they'll have no choice. Right?

I believe you have to prompt "change" in the right places; the individual and the halls of political power in Congress and the White House.