Being too poor to reliably feed a family, weather some bad luck, or save for retirement shouldn’t concern Americans, according to high-end fashion company CEO Bud Konheim, because America’s poor would be rich in most other countries.
“We’ve got a country that the poverty level is wealth in 99 percent of the rest of the world,” Konheim said on CNBC Wednesday. “Money’s all over the place, and the guy that’s making, oh my God, he’s making $35,000 a year, why don’t we try that out in India or some countries we can’t even name. China, anyplace, the guy is wealthy.”
Indeed, if a full-time McDonald’s worker making the median $8.69 per hour in Atlanta could somehow buy shelter, clothing, food, and health care in Bangalore, she would be able to live quite well. But absent that kind of transcontinental commuting, Konheim’s point is meaningless to the real-world working poor who need government assistance programs to have any chance of avoiding poverty. Comparisons to China don’t change the fact that America’s poor lose an eighth of their mental capacity to the constant stress of being on the brink of economic calamity while watching their children suffer similar ill effects to their mental and physical health from growing up in poverty.
Konheim’s Nicole Miller fashion brand has made him very wealthy by selling $800 dresses and $300 handbags to anyone “with a credit card that clears,” as he put it elsewhere in the interview. Meanwhile, two out of three working Americans is racking up debt faster than they accumulate retirement savings.
Almost half of all Americans are economically insecure, unable to afford the most basic needs on what they earn. About 50 million people, many of them children, are food insecure, meaning that they don’t consistently have enough to eat. About four in 10 working Americans earned less than $20,000 in 2012.
Given that the bottom 99 percent of American earners only got 5 percent of all income gains since the recession officially ended and that inequality that severe hurts the whole economy and hampers economic mobility, Konheim and his many sympathizers among the wealthy might want to take the matter more seriously.