Who Really Are the 1%?

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Who exactly, are the 1%? Apparently in America, that title goes to anyone who makes more than $350,000 a year. However, even within this bubble of the top 1%, there is a huge difference between an anesthesiologist who earns that much and a multi-billionaire who earns that much within a New York minute.

My freshman English teacher used to call on random people to present current events.  I remember this one time, a student went up and presented this article on how the top 1% was taking nearly 20% of the nation’s income and how, in terms of income equality, we lag even behind countries of old Europe, whom we so often think of as ossified in time and vastly different from our progressive ways. He spoke with a sense of urgency—fast-paced and revolution-like (it helped that he was naturally quite the dramatist) and I could feel him carry the room with him.

He asserted that he wanted to become a full-time activist; everyone in the room, including the teacher, praised his newfound aspiration.

But the whole time, I could only think of children working in sweat shops in India, and iPod factories in China that have nets outside of their windows to keep their workers from committing suicide during their shifts.

The irony of the situation was so obvious—we are the 1%, albeit on a global scale rather than merely within our own little nation that, while only occupying less than 5% of the world’s population, owns 92% of all the stuff, produces 97% of all the garbage and supplies 100% of the Gossip Girls in the world.

I raised my hand. He called on me. I asked him, “We live in a city where the median income is over $80,000 and we are right across the street from Microsoft, a multi-billionaire software company. Don’t you think us complaining about the top 1% is as ridiculous as those First World Problem memes on Reddit?” A couple students laughed. “And if you know what I’m talking about, it means you are part of the privileged few that know how to read, have access to the internet, and are lucky enough to relate to those ‘problems.’”

He was initially surprised but answered that even though the US is a prosperous country, we still have problems with poverty and hunger and the problem of our 1% impacts many people.

It was a valid answer.

But what I’m learning more and more, is that wealth, like most other things, is all about perspective. For every high schooler with a trust fund and an allowance greater than most blue collar workers’ salaries, there is a fifth grader whose elementary school graduation will mark the last of his formal education.

I do believe that with privilege, comes great responsibility. Not everyone is afforded the same opportunities and too many are so burdened with the baggage they were brought into this world with, that they are unable to realize their potential. Rather than sit and rail bitterly against those born into greater riches and excess than you are, you should aim to develop a greater world awareness, and stay humbled by your position, which you have not done anything to earn. Rather, it is like a winning lottery ticket that just happened to land by your feet. Do not squander it.

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