If I asked the question, “Which tastes best, English trifle or American apple pie?,” most would respond, “What is English trifle?” or “I don’t know, I never tasted trifle.” Furthermore, depending on where you are, the matter may require research. In Texas, where I grew up, trifle meant to act disrespectfully, i.e., “you don’t wanna trifle with Mr. Gafford.” Trifle, in this instance, is an English dessert.

As a general rule, we tend to lack confidence in decisions made in the absence of the facts. One should have some actual knowledge of at least one of the issues under discussion. It can be detrimental to make decisions or reach conclusions without some basis on which to arrive at an informed opinion on the matter. For this reason, police conduct investigations and scientists do research, both of which are designed to provide an answer to “what” and “why.”

Absent knowledge of the facts, perception can become reality. People who have never been out of, or into, a particular country, for instance, can reach conclusions or form opinions about the people there based not on knowledge but upon their perceptions. In order to arrive at the truth, the perceptions must change.

Any gain or lack of perceived progress is based on the starting point. To win an Olympic gold medal in track and field, each contestant must begin at the exact same point and compete under the exact same conditions. If not, all things being equal, a European sprinter of great talent running 100 meters, for example, would always lose to an American sprinter of equal talent running 100 yards. Why? Because 100 yards is only 91.44 meters. Without actual or true standards, all conclusions are arbitrary.

Here is a classic case of perception, absent facts, becoming reality. Depending on your source of information, perhaps as many as 50 million Americans live in “poverty.” Before we go further, let us define the term: Poverty – the state of being extremely poor; Poor – lacking enough money to live comfortably in a society.

We could thus define those living in poverty in America as the group lacking enough money to live comfortably in the American society. According to existing government standards, any one person in America earning (or otherwise receiving) less than $11,000 per year, or a family of four earning less than $23,000 per year, would be “poverty stricken.” However, the same terms can mean different things to different people. For example, a dessert similar to English trifle is also known as Punschtorte in Germany and Austria; and Italians refer to a similar dessert as zuppa inglese – English soup.

Math was never one of my favorite (nor outstanding) subjects in school, but let me try something. There are approximately 2,080 working hours in 22 working days per month in 260 working days per year – in America. For the poverty stricken American at $11, 000 per annum, that works out to roughly $42 per day at $5.27 per hour.

So, let’s compare trifle to apple pie, or apples to apples.

The following are a minute sample of the official annual incomes in several countries:

Cuba, $229; Georgia, $279; Eritrea, $526; Ghana, $689; Bangladesh, $798; Ethiopia, $902; Dominican Republic, $1,491; Bolivia, $2,904; Brazil, $4,304; Egypt, $6,500; Greece, $8204; and, oh yes, Mexico, $1,753.

How about these for hourly minimum wages (if you can even find a job): Beginning with oil- rich Saudi Arabia, $5; South Korea, $4.08; Taiwan, $3.84; Poland, $3.07; Brazil, $2.15; Venezuela, $2.05; Honduras, $1.83; Iran, $1.78; Jamaica, $1.32; Algeria, $1.29; Belize, $1.26; Dominican Republic, $.81; Nigeria, $.73; Philippines, $.52; Pakistan, $0.51; India, $.26; Vietnam, $.24; Mexico, $.57.

How many people (including high school kids) in America could you hire for these amounts?

To address the perception of “poverty in America,” I have a solution (government-sponsored, of course). Since the government spends about $100 billion on education, let’s create a new program for students who are failing or considering dropping out. It would be mandatory; failing grades automatically qualify for admission. Since education can be defined as a body of knowledge acquired while being educated via systematic instruction, these students would be introduced to a system that would alter their perceptions and make them aware of another definition of poverty.

Their entire senior year (or failing grade at whatever level) would be spent abroad. They would live, unsubsidized, at the income level paid locally to whatever their father’s or mother’s occupation was in America; a carpenter would earn what is paid carpenters in that country. If father was paid minimum wage, they would live at that level. If mother was on welfare, they would be required to subsist on whatever the assigned country pays to welfare recipients.

It has been said that experience is the best teacher. Since almost half the world – more than three billion people – live on less than $2.50 per day, a year spent walking a mile in Mexican zapatos or Indian juttis would offer a totally different perspective on poverty in America.

What was that about “American poverty?” Border guards anyone?


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