Too complex to succeed

A new article reiterates what I’ve seen for awhile: Many Americans aren’t making enough money to make ends meet, much less save for retirement.

 

“Our research has shown that 78 percent of people are living paycheck to paycheck,” financial expert Chris Hogan said on Yahoo Finance’s On the Move. “That means if one check doesn’t show up, they don’t have enough to really make basic needs met month in and month out. So we need a wake-up call all the way around, and people need to engage in this and get more serious.”

Hogan added that he doesn’t think “people understand that it’s really important for us to make sure that we’re putting money away and saving because if we don’t save some money, we won’t have any to spend later.”

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/personal-finance-us-debt-wakeup-call-180504062.html

Survival mode

While that second paragraph is true, I’m not sure Hogan understands how deep this crisis really is. I’ve worked two jobs in the past 10 years where I’ve earned between $9 and $10 an hour. The first job was in a call center, with mostly college-age kids earning spending money. The second was at a company serving adults with developmental disabilities. Many of the people I worked with there had second jobs or took overtime whenever they could because they had a family to provide for.

No one can live on $10 an hour, which is above Ohio’s minimum wage of $8.55 an hour (but not by much). Saving money for a rainy day isn’t an option. It’s already raining.

The unemployment rate is 3.6 percent, the lowest rate in five decades. Yet hourly income rose only 3.2 percent over the last year, less than earlier projections.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/03/upshot/unemployment-inflation-changing-economic-fundamentals.html

Debt inevitable?

The Yahoo article further states that according to a recent survey conducted by Freedom Debt Relief, 41 percent of Americans have not set aside any money at all for retirement. The main reason indicated was due to the cost of everyday expenses.

Debt was another impediment to saving adequately. About 79 percent of those surveyed said they have debt: Credit card debt accounted for 46 percent, mortgage debt 41 percent, and auto loan debt 28 percent.

“Having fallen into that trap myself and taken a few years to get out of it, I really want to encourage college students to avoid this trap,” Hogan said. “Credit card debt is something that once they get their hooks into you, this can take you 12 to 15 years if you’re not aware of it to attack it and get it out of your life. So, I want people to understand credit.”

 

Hogan works for daveramsey.com, which abhors debt of any kind – including mortgage and credit card debt.

Hogan and Ramsey have a point, but I won’t go that far. I will say this: Don’t spend more than you can pay off every month. We have a major credit card; debt is not an issue for us, because we write a check for the balance before each month’s due date. We have a mortgage, but again we make the monthly payments on time.

We can afford the payments. That kind of debt is acceptable, in my opinion.

When I worked for the call center, we dipped into our savings to pay the bills. When I had the second $10 an hour job, my wife also was (and still is) working, so between us we covered our expenses.

While unemployment is low and the economy appears to be booming, wages have not kept up. If you work in the tech industry or in a few other sectors, you’re making good money. But many folks aren’t sharing in the wealth. If the best you can do is $10 an hour – or if that’s all the company or industry is willing to pay – then you will struggle to make ends meet.

A complex economy

But the economy is not that simple. According to inequality.org:

 

The higher the U.S. income group, the larger the share of that income is derived from investment profits. By contrast, Americans who are not among the ultra-rich get the vast majority of their income from wages and salaries. This disparity has contributed significantly to increasing inequality because of the preferential tax treatment of long-term capital gains. Currently, the top marginal tax rate for the richest Americans is 37 percent, while the top rate for long-term capital gains is just 20 percent.

 

I had one job for 24 years that offered a generous 401(k) plan. I don’t consider myself “ultra-rich,” but that investment plan will soon pay dividends as I near the time when I can begin withdrawing from it. The money I put into the 401(k) during my working years was pre-tax money that we never saw. We learned to live without it.

Oh, for simpler times when we could spend less than we brought home, and when we could afford to invest part of our paychecks into a retirement fund.

This is why we need education beyond high school, whether college or a trade school, to learn skills so that we can make a living wage.

Simplicity outdated?

In the June/July 2019 issue of AARP The Magazine which came in the mail this week, Jeff Daniels describes his role as Atticus Finch in the Broadway version of To Kill a Mockingbird. AARP compares Daniels’ version with the 1962 movie, which has never been remade, in which Gregory Peck portrayed Atticus.

AARP compares the two men’s versions of Atticus with these words:

 

While Peck’s Atticus represents virtues that are timeless, he is perhaps too simplistic to be a modern figure, just as “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is too simple to be a modern love song. His Atticus is modest, fierce, brilliant, austere and self-contained. Though people need him, he doesn’t need other people. Daniels’ version has a broader range of feeling and a decided warmth …

Peck’s portrayal is, in addition, from the era when American movie heroes … met danger courageously and hoped to persuade by their example … Daniels’ Atticus, by contrast, seems to be shadowed by the awareness that doing all he can might not be enough. Along with the rest of us, he seems to share the modern awareness that life is possibly too complex, and too many interests are at stake, for a single moral stance to answer all situations. (emphasis mine)

 

Is our modern life so complex that we can’t determine what financial and social values would benefit society as a whole? Do we not even care about that anymore?

Are we so caught up in our own individual pursuits that we have lost the big picture of life?

I’ve met many wonderful people making less than a living wage. Many hop from job to job, trying to get ahead. We too often are leaving these folks behind, in the pursuit of our own goals.

Can we work together to improve all of our lives? Is that even possible today?

I wonder.

See the big picture

The devil is in the details.

According to Wikipedia (not my usual first source for details, but useful on occasion), that phrase refers to something that might seem simple at a first look but will take more time and effort to complete than expected.

This applies to numerous issues in today’s America. We get caught up in one or two details that we think make our point, and ignore other details – or, more important, the big picture – which might prove that we really don’t know what we’re talking about.

I’m becoming more of a big picture person these days. Details are important, of course, but only as they fit into the grand scheme of things.

Let’s start with a couple of Facebook pass-along one-liners that I often ignore, but these two got my attention this time.

Adultery

homosexuality

This post, by an ordained minister, defends homosexuality by saying that it’s not in the Ten Commandments, while adultery is.

My response:

Homosexuality is one form of adultery. Sex outside traditional marriage. You’re right, though; we’ve too often ignored the “traditional” adultery.

That generated a couple of responses:

Yes, traditional marriage such as marrying two of your cousins who happen to be sisters (Genesis 29), or a rape victim being required to marry their aggressor (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

 

I have always thought it a very curious obsession, especially when read within the context of the chapters that surround it (e.g. no shellfish, no mixed garment clothing … I routinely break lots of those, but I don’t see anyone demonizing me for my impure behavior.

Given the objectively far more serious things humans can do to one another (e.g. murder, assault), it just seems like small potatoes for flawed humans to judge other humans so harshly based on what they deem are “bigger” flaws.

Here’s another one:

ignore

Don’t wear clothing of mixed cotton and wool! Leviticus 19:19

As long as we’re looking at “the context of the chapters that surround it,” let’s show that both of these posts do not do that. The Genesis 29 passage refers to Jacob marrying Leah and then Rachel. That wasn’t his first choice, but he followed the rules set by the girls’ father. The man married off his own daughters that way. And in the Genesis time period, when there weren’t very many people around, marrying cousins was not unusual.

The man buying the bride he raped is not “traditional” marriage, nor does the Bible call it that.

The Leviticus passage is even sillier. The quote is just one part of one verse that starts, “You shall not let your animals breed with a different kind …” My version of the Bible ends that verse this way: “… nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials.” (The wool and linen, not cotton, passage is actually Deuteronomy 22:9-11, which proves the person who generated that post didn’t do his research.)

From gotquestions.org is this response:

https://www.gotquestions.org/different-types-of-fabric.html

The rule against wearing different types of fabric was not a moral law. There is nothing inherently wrong with weaving linen and wool together. In fact, the ephod of the high priest was made of linen and dyed thread (Exodus 28:6-8; 39:4-5). The dyed thread would have been made of wool. This fact is probably the key to understanding the prohibition. The ephod of the high priest was the only garment that could be woven of linen and wool. No one else was allowed to have such a garment. Apparently, this rule was to place some distance between the high priest and the people, with the ultimate purpose of reminding Israel of how holy God truly is.

Read the entire Bible before posting such comments. God supports “traditional” marriage, in many places in the Bible, for a reason. We can pick and choose a verse to say just about anything we want it to. But put it in the context of the entire Scriptures, and you’ll understand what it really says.

And God’s holiness is a major theme throughout both Testaments.

There are other big-picture topics that we miss as well.

The Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James

The Cavaliers had a 7-10 won-loss record in March, then lost their last four games of the season in April and gave up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference to the Boston Celtics. Those of us worried about details were afraid that the Cavs weren’t ready for the playoffs as they limped into the post-season.

Not to worry. The players themselves all along were thinking big picture: repeating as NBA champions. They didn’t care, really, about their March record.

So far, they haven’t lost a playoff game yet this year. They swept Indiana and then Toronto, winning eight consecutive games, most of them easily,

Will they win the NBA championship again this year? Time will tell. Their big-picture focus has them prepared to do just that.

Retirement savings

saving

Nearly half of families in the United States have no retirement savings at all, the Economic Policy Institute says.

The median for all families in the U.S., which means half have more and half have less, is $5,000 in retirement savings.

However, according to the EPI, the mean retirement savings of all families is $95,776. That means the rich are getting richer and the poor are staying poor, because many of those who have retirement savings have a nice nest egg.

http://www.cnbc.com/2016/09/12/heres-how-much-the-average-american-family-has-saved-for-retirement.html

We are caught up in an instant-gratification society: I want it, and I want it now. Many of us aren’t willing to delay gratification. Some of us can’t, certainly, but some of us can and just don’t.

We let money control us, rather than taking control of our bank accounts.

More of us need to think long-term. We need to see the big picture.

Driving habits

I encounter this every day. If we would set our alarms five minutes earlier every morning, we might not be in such a hurry to get to work in the morning. Or to hurry back from lunch. Or to hurry … wherever we’re going.

Notice the rest of us, and get where you’re going. Just get there. And let me get to my destination too. I shouldn’t have to slam on my brakes because you can’t control your vehicle.

Here’s another one: I wish we understood that when we’re turning left at a major intersection and we block traffic when the light turns red, we’re causing gridlock. If we truly paid attention to traffic patterns, we’d understand that we’re not getting where we need to go any faster by blocking traffic. Indeed, we’re slowing others – and ourselves – down. Really.

Look up. Pay attention. Observe red as well as green. Things will go smoother. I promise.

Again: Just get there.

Obama’s legacy

obama.jpg

I see posts that say former President Obama was the best president this country has ever had. I’ve seen others that say he was the worst.

Please. Legacies aren’t determined five months after the president leaves office. It takes time, possibly decades, for history to show how a president affected the country.

Obama was the first black president; that’s obvious and historic. What he did, however, will take time to evaluate. That’s true with every president.

The long view

It takes time to read the entire Bible, to win a pro sports championship, to save enough for retirement, to determine a legacy. The devil really is in the details.

Winning long-term is so worth it. Even if I can’t see the results today. Look up. Think big. Think long.

That’s the winning formula.