The 1%

Updated: Jan 29, 2019

|Author: Evan L.|

I want to take this time to talk about a personal journey I went through when I examined some statistical data. I know for many of you the phrase ‘statistical data’ is an automatic turnoff, but this is for all my engineering/statistically minded people out there. I personally love numbers, they make everything so much simpler, giving the illusion of definition necessary for me to pretend to understand the world.

Alright, enough talking, queue the list:

1. Median income in India is about $616 per person per year

2. Median income in the US is about $15,700 per person per year

3. Median world income is about $2,900 per person per year*

To put this in a personal context, I want to turn to a lovely person we met recently in our rural site visit over the weekend. Unfortunately, I cannot remember her name--quite telling of my priorities I think--but I do remember that she took care of many of the children in the village we visited. Not only did she teach them, but she provided snacks and basic medical care for each child. For this she received 8000 rupees a month. This is equivalent to about 115 USD per month or less than 1,400 USD per year.

Admittedly, this personal anecdote does not convert into a comparable international currency like the first statistics. However, I do think that these numbers illustrate a clear difference in the standard of living and opportunity this woman has. And her job is vital.

To drive home this point I would like to share a statistic I recently learned that I found quite shocking. According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report in 2018, in order to personally be in the top 1% of income earners in the world one needs to have to made 32,400 USD per year. This is a value that is much more attainable than I would have expected, especially as with only an undergraduate degree in engineering.

In first hearing this statistic I did not believe it. After some cursory research, acceptance set in and I began to feel like I had been misled for my whole life. Growing up in a middle-class family in the US, if you asked me, I would have said I felt that we were about average. However, these statistics shows that the majority of the United States--myself included--experiences a world that is far different from the average human on earth.

When we talk about the ‘modern world’ my first thought goes to the city of Seattle. I see the high-rise buildings, relatively clean streets, and buzz of people walking through eyes fixed on their smart phones. However, for an average person, the modern world looks far closer than expected to the world of the aforementioned woman.

I am still grappling with the death of this ignorantly optimistic view of the world. It has created a cognitive dissonance which is beginning to reshape how I see myself, the rampant pursuit of wealth in America, and the ‘developing’ world. I want to articulate myself more elegantly, maybe make a witty comparison that causes laughter but is surprisingly accurate and illustrative. The truth is though, I do not know how to feel so how am I supposed to know what to say.

*All three of these statistics are from a 2013 Gallup Report which looked at data from 2006-2012. The report uses the World Bank’s PPP (purchasing power parity) conversion factor to express the values in international dollars, which is standardized so they can be compared across countries. Values above (median annual income) are per person; values per household are $3,200 (India), $43,600 (US), and $9,700 (world).

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