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Trust is not relative but money is

Submitted by on Sunday, 6 December 2009 No Comment

Is community trust a luxury in America, the Gallup Poll asks as its lead-in to a survey showing that 82 percent of those who make $90,000 or more a year believe a neighbor would return their purse or wallet but only half of those making $24,000 or less have similar faith.

The catch is that the purse or wallet contains $200 – apparently for the folks at Gallup trust carries a price tag. And the problem with attaching a sticker value to trust is that different amounts of money mean different things at different income levels.

Since the pollsters want to deal in dollars, let’s look at the relative value of that $200 to each income level.

For someone making $24,000 a year, $200 represents 43 percent of a weekly paycheck or 18 hours’ work. It easily could feed a family of four for two weeks or pay a heating bill for someone forced to set the thermostat at an Ebeneezer Scrooge-like temperature.

For someone making $90,000 a year, $200 represents 12 percent a weekly check of 4.6 hours’ work. It’s less than a day at Disney for three people or about the same cost of a men’s blazer and dress shirt from Land’s End.

Vacation or jacket and shirt: Expendable. If you don’t buy it this month, you can get it next month.

Food and heat: That really can’t wait.

It’s entirely possible that the pollsters were hearing, not lack of trust, but fear when lower-income people said “no, their neighbors wouldn’t return their wallet” and higher-income folk said “yes, they would get the cash back.”

For someone who makes $11 an hour – someone who isn’t likely to be able to relate to the idea of carrying around $200 cash anyway – the idea of losing almost half a paycheck is terrifying. For someone who makes $43 an hour, a couple of missing Benjamins is bad news, but nothing tragic.

If the pollsters wanted to put the question on an equal basis for all income levels, they could have weighted the $200 so it meant the same thing to all income levels.

If you look at it based on number of hours required to earn the money, $200 for someone who makes $24,000 translates to $744 for those at $90,000 and up. Now you’re starting to talk serious money. Do people who make $90,000 a year really carry that much in their purses? I wouldn’t have any idea.

Flip it around, and losing $200 for someone who makes $90,000 is the same as losing $50 at the $24,000 income level. A painful loss, but survivable.

Or pollsters could just as easily have left out the dollar figure and merely asked about a lost wallet or purse. There is more involved in trust than just money, isn’t there?

Besides, I’d be more worried about identify theft than the cash anyway.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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