Monday, February 28, 2011

Musings: Rich and Poor

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?


Anonymous said...

Great article Joan. Contrast these poor students who cannot eat with the million dollar homes in Poipu and the North Shore and you can understand the frustration many Kauai people feel. Instead of jobs for these people in less than full hotels, million dollar temporary vacation rentals produce almost no jobs at all while increasing the sprawl and reducing farmland. Kauai is in a very precarious position indeed.

Anonymous said...

Kauai lacks leadership. Until the voters of Kauai elect new and different people the current problems will persist.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that will solve all our problems because the county council can lower the price of oil, pull the global economy out of the recession, bring peace to the middle east and stop global warming if they could get their act together.

Anonymous said...

Anyone can complain...only some offer solutions. Of course Kauai can not solve the World's long list of negatives. However we can do a lot to solve the problems on Kauai. First we need leadership....not more negative people.

Anonymous said...

Try reaching the Mayor now to voice your concerns... you can't, he's in the Phillipines with his entourage. He will soon be going to Japan on your money too. His adminstration is a huge disappointment-a self-serving, greedy bunch who feel they are entitled to raises! Beth Tokioka seems to be running the show, casting the Mayor's actions only in a positive light. What happened to transparency? Why can't department heads talk to the press without her control? Folks, wake up, the Mayor and administration we are allowed to see is a publicity hallucination. Let's hope for a credible candidate next time around.

Anonymous said...

Cone on! He's good for two terms. He provides what the local voters want. Try changing that!
I like him.

Anonymous said...

The serious problems on Kauai tend to be national or global problems, as well.

Anonymous said...

The locals of Kauai once again prove that "You can't fix stupid". Good luck with the future.