You Might Be Richer Than You Think

By Laura Rowley
Posted on Wednesday, November 25, 2009, 12:00AM

As this column appears on Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., I thought it would be a good opportunity to look at wealth in a holistic way — and from a global perspective.

The media typically frames wealth in terms of the list of richest moguls, or features on the world’s most expensive homes — a kind of status fixation that’s guaranteed to inspire envy and skew one’s perspective.

Researchers have long suggested that the green stuff alone doesn’t buy happiness, and most Americans enjoy prosperity in ways we take for granted. Here’s a quiz for the holiday to remind yourself of the abundance you enjoy. If you answer “yes” to more than half of these questions, you’re among the global well-to-do, and you have plenty to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.

1. Are you planning a sumptuous dinner today? More than 1 billion people — nearly a sixth of the world’s population — are faced with chronic hunger.

2. Did you spend more than $2.50 on the ingredients for your Thanksgiving menu?  More than three billion people — almost half the world’s population — live on less than $2.50 a day, according to the World Bank.

3. Can you turn on the faucet to fill the water glasses for dinner, and be confident that clean water comes out of the tap? According to the World Bank, 1.2 billion people lack access to a reliable water source that is reasonably protected from contamination.

4. Are the kids relishing a little time off from school? More than 70 million children of primary school age in the developing world were not enrolled in school in 2005, according to a United Nations Report.

5. Will someone in the family read a holiday poem or blessing before you dive into the feast? Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names, according to a UNICEF report.

6. Do you fully expect to be celebrating this holiday until you’re 65 years old, or are you older than that right now? Life expectancy is about 65 years on average worldwide — but just 46 years in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Bank.

7. If your kids get injured playing in the annual family football game this holiday, would they have access to basic medical care? More than 10 million children die each year in the developing world, the vast majority from causes that could be prevented by good care, nutrition, and medical treatment, according to the World Health Organization.

8. Are you able to enjoy the holiday in your home country, free from persecution? In 2009, roughly 400,000 people will apply for asylum in 44 developed countries to escape war or persecution related to race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group, according to the United Nations. There are more than 10.5 million refugees who have been displaced or sought haven in another country, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

9. If you’re feeling a little full after your Thanksgiving meal, can you safely take a casual stroll around your neighborhood? The most recent government survey found 29 percent of Americans say there is an area near their home where they would be afraid to walk at night.

10. If you own the home where you’ll honor the holiday, are you able to pay the mortgage next month? One in eight households with a mortgage was either in foreclosure or default during the second quarter of 2009, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

11. Can you pay off your credit cards in full at the end of the month (or you don’t use them at all)? According to a Federal Reserve survey, 58 percent of Americans carry a balance from month to month, leading to financial anxiety.

12. Is your household income at least $50,000? This was the median income in the United States in 2008, according to the Census Bureau. A 2004 survey by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found Americans with incomes of more than $50,000 reported fewer days of feeling “sad, blue or depressed” than those who earned less. Nearly 40 million people — about 13.2 percent of the U.S. population — lived in poverty in 2008, which is defined as annual income of $22,025 for a family of four, $17,163 for a family of three, $14,051 for a family of two and $10,991 for individuals.
 
13. Do you have a bachelor’s degree? Just one in four Americans ages 25 and older has attained a bachelor’s degree, according to the Census Bureau. Average annual earnings for someone with a four-year degree were $46,805. Over an adult’s working life, people with bachelor’s degrees earn an average of $2.1 million, compared with $1.2 million for high school graduates.
 
14. Will you do some exercise this weekend as part of your regular routine? Just 40 percent of Americans do the regular physical activity recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General (30 minutes of brisk walking a day). One-quarter of all U.S. adults are not active at all.

15. Were you able to donate money to a charity last year? Charitable contributions fell by the largest percentage in five decades in 2008, according to The Giving USA Foundation. But look at the big picture: Pledges of more than $307 billion were made — and 75 percent came from ordinary individuals, people like you, doing their part to make the world a better place. Now that’s something to be grateful for — and a sure-fire way to boost happiness.

Original Link: http://finance.yahoo.com/print/expert/article/moneyhappy/204898

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2 Thought-Provoking Scriptures

“So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true (eternal) riches? “(Luke 16:11 NIV)

In this verse, Christ illustrates that financial stewardship is truly a test of our hearts.

“For the love of money is the root of all evil…” (1 Timothy 6:10a)

I have to admit that I have read this verse multiple times but never noticed the word “all.” Is it not odd that God would consider the root of “ALL” evil to be the love of something as temporal as money. This verse indicates that God wants us to understand that money is the chief competitor for mankind’s heart.

Religious life won’t be the same after downturn (AP)

Religious life won’t be the same after downturn

Congregations, religious schools fall victim to recession; leaders say more losses ahead

By Rachel Zoll, AP Religion Writer

On Monday September 28, 2009, 7:11 pm EDT

NEW YORK (AP) — Organized religion was already in trouble before the fall of 2008. Denominations were stagnating or shrinking, and congregations across faith groups were fretting about their finances.

The Great Recession made things worse.

It’s further drained the financial resources of many congregations, seminaries and religious day schools. Some congregations have disappeared and schools have been closed. In areas hit hardest by the recession, worshippers have moved away to find jobs, leaving those who remain to minister to communities struggling with rising home foreclosures, unemployment and uncertainty.

Religion has a long history of drawing hope out of suffering, but there’s little good news emerging from the recession. Long after the economy improves, the changes made today will have a profound effect on how people practice their faith, where they turn for help in times of stress and how they pass their beliefs to their children.

“In 2010, I think we’re going to see 10 or 15 percent of congregations saying they’re in serious financial trouble,” says David Roozen, a lead researcher for the Faith Communities Today multi-faith survey, which measures congregational health annually. “With around 320,000 or 350,000 congregations, that’s a hell of a lot of them.”

The sense of community that holds together religious groups is broken when large numbers of people move to find work or if a ministry is forced to close.

“I’m really still in the mourning process,” says Eve Fein, former head of the now-shuttered Morasha Jewish Day School in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.

The school, a center of religious life for students and their parents, had been relying on a sale of some of its property to stay afloat but land values dropped, forcing Morasha to shut down in June.

“I don’t think any of us who were in it have really recovered,” Fein says. “The school was 23 years old. I raised my kids there.”

The news isn’t uniformly bad. Communities in some areas are still moving ahead with plans for new congregations, schools and ministries, religious leaders say.

And many congregations say they found a renewed sense of purpose helping their suffering neighbors. Houses of worship became centers of support for the unemployed. Some congregants increased donations. At RockHarbor church in Costa Mesa, Calif., members responded so generously to word of a budget deficit that the church ended the fiscal year with a surplus.

“We’re all a little dumbfounded,” says Bryan Wilkins, the church business director. “We were hearing lots of stories about people being laid off, struggling financially and losing homes. It’s truly amazing.”

In the Great Depression, one of the bigger impacts was the loss of Jewish religious schools, which are key to continuing the faith from one generation to the next. Jonathan Sarna, a Brandeis University historian and author of “American Judaism,” says enrollment in Jewish schools plummeted in some cities and many young Jews of that period didn’t have a chance to study their religion.

Today, some parents, regardless of faith, can no longer afford the thousands of dollars in tuition it costs to send a child to a religious day school. Church officials fear these parents won’t re-endroll their kids if family finances improve because it might be disruptive once they’ve settled into a new school.

Enrollment in one group of 120 Jewish community day schools is down by about 7 percent this academic year, according to Marc Kramer, executive director of RAVSAK, a network of the schools. A few schools lost as many as 30 percent of their students. Many of the hundreds of other Jewish day schools, which are affiliated with Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements, are also in a financial crunch.

Kramer says 2009-10 will be a “make or break” year for Jewish education, partly because of the additional damage to endowments and donors from Bernard Madoff’s colossal fraud.

Overall, U.S. Jewish groups are estimated to have lost about one-quarter of their wealth.

“It’s going to be painful,” Kramer says. “There will be some losses.”

The Association for Christian Schools International, which represents about 3,800 private schools, says enrollment is down nationally by nearly 5 percent. About 200 Christian schools closed or merged in the last academic year, 50 more than the year before.

At least 80 members of the Association of Theological Schools, which represents graduate schools in North America, have seen their endowments drop by 20 percent or more.

The National Catholic Education Association is still measuring the toll on its schools, but expects grim news from the hardest hit states, after years of declining enrollment.

“Some schools that were on the brink — this whole recession has just intensified that,” says Karen Ristau, president of the association.

Clergy in different communities say worship attendance has increased with people seeking comfort through difficult times, although no one is predicting a nationwide religious revival.

Americans for years have been moving away from belonging to a denomination and toward a general spirituality that may or may not involve regular churchgoing.

The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey found more people who call themselves “nondenominational Christians” and rising numbers who say they have no religion at all.

Before the stock market tanked last fall, only 19 percent of U.S. congregations described their finances as excellent, down from 31 percent in 2000, according to the 2008 Faith Communities Today poll.

Because of these trends, mainline Protestants were among the most vulnerable to the downturn. Their denominations had been losing members for decades and had been dividing over how they should interpret what the Bible says on gay relationships and other issues. National churches had been relying on endowments to help with operating costs, along with the generosity of an aging membership that had been giving in amounts large enough to mostly make up for departed brethren.

The meltdown destroyed that financial buffer.

The Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and other mainline denominations were forced to cut jobs and their national budgets.

The damage was felt across Methodist life. As of the summer, more than half of the church’s 62 U.S. regional districts, or annual conferences, reported they had budget deficits. Some sold property and buildings to continue their ministries. Two national Methodist boards cut more than 90 jobs. Fifty bishops took a voluntary pay cut. Annual conferences in hard-hit regions, such as Florida and Ohio, lost thousands of members as people moved to find work elsewhere.

“Many of these groups have such large endowments that they’re not going away,” Roozen says. “But I think there’s no question that they’re going to be smaller both as organizations and in membership.”

Roman Catholic dioceses for years had been struggling with maintaining their aging churches, paying salaries and health insurance and funding settlements over clergy sex abuse. With the hit to investment income and a drop in donations, they are now freezing salaries, cutting ministries and staff. The Archdiocese of Detroit, at the heart of the meltdown, had a $14 million shortfall in a $42 million budget in the fiscal year that ended in June 2008.

Conservative Protestant groups, known for their entrepreneurial spirit and evangelizing, were not immune. The 16.2 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant group in the country, has had budget cuts in its North American Mission Board, at least three of its six seminaries and in its publishing and research arm.

Religious leaders say the next year or so will be key in determining which organizations survive the downturn intact. Even if the recession ends soon, religious fundraisers say the angst donors feel will not lift immediately, prolonging the difficulties for congregations, schools and ministries.

Link: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Religious-life-wont-be-the-apf-1997683154.html?x=0&sec=topStories&pos=1&asset=&ccode=

Some Good Weekend Reading

Here’s a short list of a few good articles that will help you understand global economic conditions a little better.

The End of an Era by Jim Puplava – http://financialsense.com/stormwatch/update.html

Peak Water by James Quinn – http://financialsense.com/editorials/quinn/2009/0831.html

Silver and China by David Morgan – http://financialsense.com/editorials/morgan/2009/0821.html

Have a great weekend everyone!

Jerry Robinson

The Coming Breakdown of the Petrodollar System (Jerry Robinson)

Article written by Jerry Robinson

In 1971 a deal was struck between OPEC and the United States in which every barrel of oil purchased in the global marketplace would be bought with U.S. dollars. Any country, therefore, wanting to buy oil must have first exchanged its currency for U.S. currency. This “petrodollar” system has created an artificial demand for the dollar as global oil demand has increased.

Today several countries are moving their oil purchases into other currencies, in spite of this agreement. When OPEC officially decides to denominate oil sales in other currencies, the value of the U.S. dollar will decrease rapidly, leading to massive inflationary pressures on the U.S. economy.

Currently, the world consumes more than 80 billion barrels of oil per day. And with each barrel sold, more demand for U.S. dollars is created. This continual demand for dollars means the Federal Reserve must keep dollars in plentiful supply, meaning printed regularly. More money in circulation leads to expansion of the monetary base, and a larger monetary base typically means higher standards of living.

All this is assuming the demand for U.S. currency and for U.S. debt securities remain strong. But if the petrodollar system ever crumbled, America would be stuck with lots of extra dollars that would no longer be in demand. Those dollars would quickly return to the U.S., which would lead to massive inflation.

Today America is living proof that having the world’s most important currency translates into a higher standard of living than most nations. At one point in our history, our nation’s largest export was a variety of consumer goods. Now our largest export is the U.S. dollar…a dollar that costs us practically nothing to create. How long will it be before the nations of the world figure out the dollar fiasco is a fraud?

The petrodollar system has served Americal well. It has enriched our nation at the expense of other nations’ potential prosperity. On September 11, 2001, however, America’s relations with the Middle East would be altered forever. Six days after the attacks, President George W. Bush named Osama bin Laden as the “prime suspect” and Washington began building a case for the full-scale invasion of Iraq.

As the petrodollar system begins to break down, there will be a shift toward other stable currencies. Based on recent events, that new currency of choice for many oil-producing nations is the euro. Iran now pays most of its oil purchases in euros, with the remaining balance in yen. North Korea also uses the euro to buy its oil supplies.

On the sales side, OPEC producer Venezuela is preparing to move all its oil sales to the euro. Other OPEC countries appear to be seriously considering similar moves. This would, of course, be devastating to U.S. attempts to maintain its grip on global hegemony.

Two questions remain: (1) how realistic is it the dollar could lose its crown to the euro; and, (2) if that were to happen, how close are we to such an event?

Jerry Robinson is the President/Founder of Jerry Robinson Ministries International. You can visit his website at http://www.jrmi.org