The Reality of Our “Thankful” American Life: We’re All in the 1%

by Kevin on November 30, 2013

Turkeys across America met their maker so we could gather around the table after a fierce day of cooking to sit down and proclaim our thankfulness. Families traveled hundreds of miles on planes, trains, and automobiles to come together during this thankful season.

And then there’s this:

Black Friday someecard

My lovely hometown of Johnson City even made it to an article on the Huffington Post that talked about the bad stories surrounding Wal-Mart’s Black Friday. (You know where across the land people are stabbed, shot, and trampled to get to a $200 off-brand big screen TV.) There’s a video of of the Johnson City Wal-Mart and the chaos within… and the post has been shared about 50,000 times as I write this morning.

Are we truly thankful? Or is thankfulness just a term marketers use to entice us to walk away from the dinner table, the piles of dishes left to be washed, and our families that traveled hundreds of miles to see each other in order to go shopping not only on Black Friday but now on Thanksgiving Day?

Maybe you don’t participate in the shopping bonanza because you simply can’t afford to. You’ve got medical bills or credit card debt hanging over your head. Maybe you don’t have family to spend the holidays with or maybe you just can’t afford to travel to be with them.

I feel for you. That situation is no fun. But does that mean you have nothing to be thankful for?

99% of Americans Have Much To Be Thankful For

Here are two examples of how thankful we really should be.

Be thankful: clean water

Nearly 1 billion people go without clean drinking water every single day.




I had heard of charity:water in the past. I had seen Twitter backgrounds and Facebook timeline cover photos that talked about the organization.

But I was a lazy American and I never really researched it.

Shame on me. I finally looked into it recently and suddenly found myself both more thankful for my situation and burdened for those of the desperately poor across the world.

As you can see with the banner on the right that the average American uses 150 gallons of water every day. Meanwhile those desperate for clean water will struggle to find five gallons of clean water. And finding it often means walking for hours and miles with a jerry can to fill up, hoisted on a back, and carried back.

Unclean water leads to thousands of deaths every single day. You see unclean water is full of germs, bacteria, and disease. This water is given to all members of the family and inevitably makes them sick. This impacts children the most. Their immune systems are not strong and a simple illness like diarrhea — something we would pop a few Pepto Bismol tablets for — can and does kill them.

The search for clean water typically is the responsibility of women and children. They are the ones making the long treks to find it, and they are the ones kept from getting an education or earning an income for their families.

In the last two weeks every time I wash the dishes, flush the toilet, take a shower, or just wash my hands I am hit with this incredible thankfulness.

Be thankful: you’re in the 1%

Big media and grassroot organizations alike talk about the 1% versus the 99%. While I won’t disagree that it is a bit disgusting that some CEOs make more in bonuses than everyone in my neighborhood will earn in their entire lifetimes, we should all still be thankful.

If you think you are in the 99%, think again. A vast majority of Americans are actually in the 1%.

How so?

Check out Global Rich List. The site asks you to input your income and then shows your global rank based on some estimates of global income.

Try inputting $32,400 per year in the United States.

That number puts you in the 1% of the world’s richest people. If you make $15.58 per hour or more you are not in the 99%. You are firmly in the 1%.

Perspective, Not Shame

I felt compelled to share this not to shame anyone but to simply provide perspective. If you have access to clean water, eat food on a daily basis, and have some sort of shelter (no matter how drafty) you have much to be thankful for.

You might have debt, struggle to pay all of your bills, and improve your situation. But the simple fact that you can read this post on the internet means you are miles ahead of almost every other person on the planet.


Laurie @thefrugalfarmer December 1, 2013 at 6:33 am

Kevin, thank you for writing this. Even those of us in “dire” financial situations in America are most always in that 1%, yet we can’t see outside of our own box b/c we’re comparing ourselves with Warren Buffett instead of with the billions in Africa trekking miles on end for clean water. Another sobering fact about those long treks women and children make for water? They are often kidnapped, raped, beaten and/or killed on their way to and from their clean water trek. World Vision is a great organization that works hard to get fresh water wells put into these villages through the financial donations of those of us in the 1%. It generally only costs $2500 or so to get a well to many of these villages too. Our group of homeschooling families raised enough one year to get a well put in a village (I think it was $2300 or so needed) and wow, what a great feeling that was, for us, but mostly for the villagers who no longer need to trek for their water. Thanks for writing about this, Kevin.

Elissa @ 20s Finances December 16, 2013 at 2:10 pm

A truly good point! We all have our debt and finance struggles but at least we have enough money to get by! Nice to be reminded every now and then – I feel grateful.

Simon @ Modest Money January 24, 2014 at 8:47 am

Daily gratitude equals daily happiness…and not just on thanksgiving, practice this daily and you will have a whole lot happiness in life!

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