Want to see the world and experience other cultures? The Peace Corps may be right for you. Each year, approximately 15,000 to 18,000 Americans apply to serve. While locales vary from year to year, present opportunities range from the islands of Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, to the mountains of Nepal and Peru. Volunteers serve in China, Madagascar, South Africa, and 50 other countries around the world.
According to the 2015 edition of AAA’s Your Driving Costs, the average annual cost to own and operate a vehicle in the U.S. is $8,698. This includes fuel, maintenance, tires, auto insurance, license and registration fees, taxes, depreciation and finance charges – but not the cost of vehicle storage or parking your car at a meter.
Even a small sedan like a Honda Civic or Ford Focus can set you back $7,606 annually, while a large vehicle like a Ford Explorer or a Jeep Grand Cherokee has a yearly expense of $11,931. The cost of owning and operating a single car can exceed the monthly food costs for a family of four, while operating two cars in a family can generate costs greater than the average mortgage payment in the United States.
“Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late.” Those words of American economist Thomas Sowell from his book “A Conflict of Visions” sometimes offend new parents who, looking at their precious bundle of joy, can’t imagine the stubbornness and temper tantrums that await them. Infants are born demanding their parents’ full attention. They are easily frustrated and often defiant. Fortunately, as they grow, they are capable of learning empathy, cooperation, and sharing – skills that are essential as they mature and interact with others.
In 1931, historian James Truslow Adams defined the American Dream as the “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” The growth of America’s middle class, especially after World War II, seemed to validate the premise that wealth and security were within the grasp of anyone who worked hard. Between 1945 and 1979, gross domestic product growth averaged 10.69% a year, and the number of families in the middle class exploded. According to figures from the Economic Policy Institute, productivity and worker compensation grew together until 1979 when the link between productivity and wages and salaries was severed. For decades, the formula worked.
Americans who pay Social Security taxes for at least 40 quarters of employment are entitled to retirement benefits. The amount you receive depends on the taxes you paid and your number of years of enrollment. In addition, spouses are entitled to Social Security payments, which are equal to one-half the benefit earned by a working spouse.
Many people are entitled to a benefit based upon their own earnings, as well as a spousal benefit based upon their partner’s earnings. However, only one benefit at a time can be claimed.
A Pew poll from March 2015 reports that more than 80% of Americans are concerned about their savings, and seven out of ten worry whether they have enough money to cover their expenses. Yet since 1960, the personal saving rate in the United States has been inconsistent and generally trending downward, ranging from a high of 17.0% in May 1975 to a low of 1.9% in July 2005, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis as reported by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. In April 2015, the rate clawed its way up to 5.6%.
In 1916, John D. Rockefeller, the father of the petroleum industry, became the world’s first billionaire. Nearly a century later in 2015, there were 536 American billionaires of a total 1,826 billionaires worldwide, according to Forbes. That number may in fact be low – the Wealth-X and UBS Billionaire Census estimates there were 2,325 billionaires globally in 2014, including 609 Americans.
Country wisdom is the collection of practical experiences gained by generations of pioneers, farmers, and ranchers as America transformed from a vast frontier to the world’s greatest economy. That experience – the result of constant trial and error – was passed from parent to child in plain language that left no room for misinterpretation. Living on a farm or ranch miles from the nearest neighbor meant solving problems on your own, making do with the materials around you, and accepting whatever happened and moving on.
The tension between science and religion has existed for centuries, the former dealing with the natural world and the latter with the supernatural or spiritual world. Many people may be familiar with the story of Galileo and his trial by the Inquisition in 1633. He was forced to recant his belief that the Sun, not Earth, was the center of the universe – that Earth moved around the Sun, and not vice versa, as the Church taught. More people may be familiar with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which has been attacked by religious fundamentalists for more than 150 years.
Owning a piece of the past has universal appeal. According to philosopher and antique dealer Leon Rosenstein, it’s the value, uniqueness, and beauty of older items that attracts us, along with their historical and cultural associations. For some, buying and selling tangible pieces of history is a business – for others, it is a calling. Mike Wolfe, one of the stars of the television show “American Pickers,” says that discovering and restoring old relics from the past to their former glory is akin to saving America’s history, one piece at a time.