Report shows just how blessed we are in the United States

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The decorations are up and the presents are starting to pile up under the tree.

December has arrived in earnest, and snuggling in with a good book and cup of hot chocolate is just the way to spend the evening -- provided it's not a night for a holiday gathering, sporting event or other community activity that demands our attention.

Truly we, most of us in America, that is, are truly blessed. Yes, there is poverty, homelessness, and people going hungry in the United States. But a quick read of information from a recent United Nations study reveals just how rich we are.

Did you spend the average $800 for Christmas presents that Americans are spending this year?

You've just spent the net worth of four people living in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia, where the average person has $200 in property and financial assets.

According to the study, 2 percent of adults own more than half of the world's wealth, while the bottom 50 percent possess just 1 percent of the wealth.

Most of that wealth is in North America, Europe and Asian-Pacific countries like Japan and Australia. People in those countries held almost 90 percent of the total world wealth in 2000, the year for which the figures were available.

Put in simple terms, if the world's wealth was $100 and population was 10 people, one person would have $99 and the other person $1.

If you had assets worth $1 million in 2000, it was enough to place you among 37 million richest people in the world, the top 1 percent of the population.

Even $2,200 in assets would make you richer than half the adults on Earth.

Americans aren't the richest; we have average per capita net assets of $144,000 in the United States, compared to $181,000 in Japan.

Ironically, some Americans are among the world's poorest -- but only because of the thousands of dollars they owe on their expansive homes. You won't find many of them willing to trade places with the Ethiopian whose net worth is $200 to the good.

No one is asking us to send all of our hard-earned dollars to the world's poor -- many of them are in that condition more because of political repression than a simple lack of resources and unfair distribution.

But the United Nations report should be a powerful dose of the reality of just how wealthy we are. It should make it a little easier to find room in our budgets to throw a few bills in the Salvation Army bucket as we walk into the store, make a pledge to the United Way or contribute to the Pantry or other worthy charity this Christmas season.

At the very least, we should open those presents with a sense of humility and true gratitude.

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