The 5 Ways the System Keeps Americans Poor
How It Will Keep You Poor
Life would be easier if there actually was a conspiracy between rich guys like George Soros, Bill Gates, and Michael Bloomberg to keep everyone else from becoming financially successful. If that was all there was to it, people would roll out the guillotines, French Revolution-style, take care of the problem, and then we’d all be rolling in dough. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is something worse. There’s an interlocking combination of human nature, self-interest, ignorance, bad government decisions, and the changing nature of the world that keeps a lot of Americans from ever getting ahead. If you want to know the scope of the problem, just look at this:
As of June, 61% of Americans — roughly 157 million adults — lived paycheck to paycheck, according to a new LendingClub report. That’s up from 58% who reported living paycheck to paycheck in May. A year ago, the number of adults who felt stretched too thin was 55%.
These numbers are also extraordinarily grim:
American savings statistics for 2020 show that nearly 70% of Americans have less than $1,000 stashed away in their bank accounts. That number rose from 58% in 2018. Meanwhile, the number of those with savings between $1,000 and $5,000 stands at roughly 12%. Only 5% of Americans have savings accounts that range between $10,000 and $20,000.
America is a prosperous country and every day we see ostentatious displays of wealth on social media and on the news. Our own government spends almost unfathomable amounts of money. How is it that more Americans aren’t getting ahead?
There are five reasons for that.
1) The shrinking of the world: The invention of shipping containers in 1956, the increased speed of global travel, and the widespread adoption of computers shrank the world and changed the game economically in almost every way. What happened to many of the best manufacturing jobs in the US? It made more financial sense to send them overseas, where labor costs were only a fraction of what they are here, and then ship everything to the United States. The richest Americans? They started becoming worth almost unfathomable amounts because they weren’t just selling their products in a state or even across the country, they were selling them worldwide. Owning your own business has always been one of the best ways to become financially well-off, but it’s orders of magnitude harder to be successful in an era when you compete with global mega-corporations from all over the world.
As the world becomes more educated, not only do we have American companies bringing in foreign workers to compete for some of the best STEM jobs, everything from secretarial work to customer service jobs, to graphic design is being done overseas. Why pay an American $20 an hour, when you can hire someone in India with a degree, who speaks English to do the same thing remotely for $3 an hour? Meanwhile, illegal aliens are being allowed to flood into the country and because they don’t have to pay the same costs that Americans do (from income taxes to health insurance), they can work cheaper. That means they drive down wages across the board, including in some jobs, like construction, that can pay a pretty good amount for Americans without college degrees. All these factors combined mean there’s less opportunity for people who follow what used to be the tried and true formula of getting a job, staying with the same company for life, and then retiring with a pension.
2) Lack of knowledge: We don’t teach financial literacy in high school or, for the most part, college. You have to learn that on your own. However, if you want to know how to be ahead of the average American financially or even the basics of how to get rich, everything you need to know is out there and it’s available for a small fee or even for free in many cases. Heck, I even have the basics of financial literacy in my book, 101 Things All Young Adults Should Know. There are lots of other good books that specifically focus on those things like Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!, I Will Teach You to Be Rich, and The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Rich. There’s no shortage of good information out there, but is it amazingly exciting? Will it make you a millionaire overnight? Does it tell you how you can do all this without a lot of sacrifice or hard work? The answer is “no” on all counts. So, unfortunately, a lot of people have never even seen the basics of successful finance and they just go by what they hear from their friends and family. Except, as you can see from the statistics we opened with, most people aren’t succeeding financially so they can’t give good advice about how to do it.
3) Human nature: For the vast majority of people, a pleasurable reward right now looks a lot better than an uncertain, but potentially better reward in the future. Yet, 95% of getting ahead financially once you start making any money is just choosing to delay your gratification. You live in a house that’s not as nice as you can afford. You drive a car that’s not as nice as you can afford. You pick the used furniture instead of the new furniture. You put how you’re living in the future above impressing other people, having a great time this weekend, or having really great stuff. Then eventually, you have money in savings, money to invest, and more options. Theoretically, it all sounds so simple, but in the real world, it’s hard to do (more on that in #4). When you’ve had a hard day, it’s difficult to forego some little treat to make yourself feel better. It’s hard to tell your kids “no” when they want something. It’s a little painful to look at say, a jacket you really want and decide to get the Wal-Mart version because you’d rather set the money back because that mentality will benefit you more in five or ten years. Delayed gratification in America? There’s not a lot of people selling that and there are even fewer buying it.
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