It was cold, and the sky amply stocked with stars, when Koko and I went out walking this morning. A white crescent moon clung to a navy blue blanket, barely three fingers’ width above Venus, which glowed like a golden lamp.
As dawn arrived, the sky turned the palest lavender, and then got all fiery beneath spidery black clouds that loomed above the sun’s birth place. And I marveled, in looking up at the birds perched on telephone wires, at the way they start their day not eating, but singing.
We had barely stepped out of the driveway when we encountered Farmer Jerry, who was making what I discovered was his final drive into work. Or to be more precise, his day job. Even though he’s retiring, he’ll still be working on his farm, working for the community.
I see people I know retiring, and am reminded of my own not unhappy fate, which a friend so aptly described when telling me how he had responded to an inquiry about his retirement plan: die working.
Some people are literally dying on the vine, even though they are working, as a a Star-Advertiser article about the increased number of kids receiving free and subsidized school lunches points out:
"The economy is really bad," said Terry Proctor, principal at Wilcox Elementary on Kauai, which became eligible for Title I funds this school year for the first time in its history. "A lot of our parents are working two or three jobs."
Some 39 percent of students at the school qualify for free and reduced-cost lunch, up from 26 percent in the 2007-08 school year.
More students qualifying for the lunch program is "definitely one of the indicators of tough economic times," said Ivette Rodriguez Stern, program director of Hawaii Kids Count at the University of Hawaii Center on the Family. "The lower-income working families, they basically are slipping into the poverty ranks."
Many of the families I see are coping with reduced hours or the loss of the second or third part-time job that helped them make ends meet. There isn’t much of a safety net for these folks, who often make too little to live without anxiety, but too much to qualify for food stamps, Quest or housing subsidies, which are frozen right now, anyway. And with food and gas prices creeping up, they’re going to be pushed even closer to the edge:
Gasoline prices rose 4 percent last week to a national average of $3.29 per gallon. That's the highest level ever for this time of year, when prices are typically low. And with unrest in the Middle East and North Africa lifting the price of oil to the $100-a-barrel range, analysts say pump prices are likely headed higher.
But not everyone is hurting. As a special report on the world’s wealthiest people — anyone whose net assets exceed $1 million — in The Economist noted:
The Credit Suisse “Global Wealth Report” estimates that there were 24.2m such people in mid-2010, about 0.5% of the world’s adult population. By this measure, there are more millionaires than Australians. They control $69.2 trillion in assets, more than a third of the global total. Some 41% of them live in the United States, 10% in Japan and 3% in China.
The richest 1% of the adults control 43% of the world’s assets; the wealthiest 10% have 83%. The bottom 50% have only 2%. This suggests a huge disparity of influence. The wealthiest tenth control the vast bulk of the world’s capital, giving them a lot of say in funding businesses, charities and politicians. The bottom 50% control hardly any capital at all.
[A]s Credit Suisse puts it, “the past decade has been especially conducive to the establishment and preservation of large fortunes.” To get onto Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 richest Americans in 1995, you needed $418m. Now it takes $1 billion.
Which prompts me to wonder, how much, really, does one person need, especially when others have so little?