'Strong Thoughts': Low-income diamonds: What’s a person’s worth?
by By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG Banner Staff Writer
Sep 22, 2013 | 2422 views | 0 0 comments | 50 50 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The result of a fairly recent study by economists at the University of California at Berkeley and Oxford University confirmed something I had guessed to be true.

The study, which analyzed statistics from the IRS, said the divide between the poorest and the richest in the U.S. was the widest it had been since the 1920s — since just before the Great Depression.

The gist of the study was that, between 2009 and 2012, the incomes of the bottom 99 percent of all earners grew 0.4 percent, while the incomes of those earning the highest paychecks — the top 1 percent of all earners — saw an increase of 31.4 percent.

The distance between the rich and poor has gotten wider, and you can see evidence of it on the streets of Cleveland if you glance at the sides of the roads.

Most days when I am on my way to work, I see a man dressed in the uniform of a 24-hour restaurant walking on the side of road and — I assume — heading toward home.

I sometimes manage a smile and a wave, but there are times I just drive carefully by, inching into the other lane to give him room where there is no sidewalk but only a ditch by the road.

Though I don’t know his name, he reminds me almost daily that some have harder lives than I do.

As a young professional and a journalist, I can assure you that I am not in the top 1 percent income-wise. In fact, the IRS figures defined the top 1 percent of earners as being those who made $394,000 a year or more.

Still, I am higher on the percentage than some. I count myself blessed that I can afford things like food and clothing, because I know some cannot.

I have what I need, but I do not have so much that I find myself distracted from the lives of everyday people — a trap in which some of the wealthier among us have sometimes gotten ensnared.

We all have to remember that having more things does not make us better than those around us.

People are infinitely more valuable than any diamonds. It doesn’t matter what kind of income they earn.

There is a song that has been played on Top 40 radio stations lately called “Royals” by a teenage artist from New Zealand called Lorde.

In that song, the singer talks about how she had “never seen a diamond in the flesh” and how nobody would ever have “post code envy” over the “torn-up town” she called home.

She goes on to list the trappings of debauchery and wealth found in many music videos these days, things like Grey Goose [vodka], jet planes and islands. Then, she promptly dismisses them.

“We don’t care,” the singer croons. “We aren’t caught up in your love affair.”

I can’t understand that love affair either.

What I do understand is the importance of loving people.

If you have more than the basic survival needs like food, shelter and clothing in your possession, it is easy to focus on accumulating more and more things to inch one’s way toward a richer lifestyle.

However, those things should never come at the expense of taking advantage of or ignoring other people as you climb the ladder of success.

The people who lived lavish lifestyles in “the Roaring ’20s” and found themselves much less well off after the big stock market crash likely had to re-evaluate what they considered to be most important in their lives.

From what I have heard from the generation who lived through that time, many people had to learn to rely on family and friends to survive.

If you suddenly lost all of your material possessions, what would you have left?

Even when times are good, family and friends should be sources of love and support, and you should be prepared to love and support them as well.

It does not matter if Cousin Bubba does not have a college degree or a well-paying job like you do. What matters is whether or not you can still treat each other with respect.

While some people do things that should never be condoned, at the most basic level, everyone deserves dignity and respect.

That guy walking on the side of the road wearing a grease-stained restaurant apron? He is worth just as much in God’s eyes as a top-grossing company’s CEO. If that worth were to be written out as a number, it would be too long for the best economists to count.

My challenge to you for the coming week is this: Remember that you are blessed, no matter what your income may be.

Though income levels make headlines, they are not accurate measures of what a fulfilled life looks like.

What will fulfill you in years to come will not be the money piling up in your bank accounts; it will be the relationships you build with those around you.

Ask yourself the following question. In whose life are you making a difference — in your own or in that of someone else?

Also, be sure to recognize that a person’s income level and appearance are not accurate measures of a person’s worth.

While a person can often better his or her life through hard work and perseverance, there are some circumstances that are simply beyond a person’s control.

Live each day with an acute awareness of those around you, because they are the ones who make up your community, in both good times and bad.

While some of us may look more like diamonds in the rough than the sparkly, polished kind, we all have the same sort of worth.