Back home in New York… Hoping these pictures of a morning at Saline Plage, St. Barths, last week make me feel a little warmer!
A few weeks ago, I hopped on the plane to visit my friend Emma, who lives with her fiance and their two year old son in Malmö, Sweden. We met a very long time ago, in college, and always stayed in touch. However, since she came to my wedding in July 2007, we’ve both been too busy expanding our families. So it was about time for a reunion.
Malmö is a beautiful city in the south of Sweden, by the sea. The day I arrived, she showed me her parents’ place, the third oldest house in the city, built in 1706, beautiful! We did some shopping, and sightseeing by bike. The next day, we drove up to their version of The Hamptons, called Näset, to spend the day at the family’s summer house. While catching up, we realized what different lives we lead.
After giving birth, a Swedish mother gets one year paid maternity leave at 80% of her salary. Emma could not believe most mothers in the US, as well as in The Netherlands, have to leave their baby after three months or less to go back to work. Children in Sweden go to daycare after their first birthday, when their moms return to work full time. A nanny is not very common, and I don’t think Emma’s son even knows the word babysitter, because grandparents take on that role (this would actually save me $100 per night out).
A well known saying in Swedish is “Lagom är bäst”, which means “Better to be in the middle”. That is exactly where many residents are, and yet they are living extremely well. There is not a large disparity between the rich and poor. With a top individual income tax rate of 60%, Sweden has one of the highest taxes in the world. However, the tax money is distributed very equally among its citizens. They have a great health care and education system. I couldn’t believe daycare for their son is practically free. Actually, you could say children in Sweden are basically free, while in New York City, the third child is a status symbol…
So here I am, back in the country where everyone strives to live “The American Dream”; where bigger is better; where millions in capital gains only get taxed at 15%, and where the gap between rich and poor is getting bigger and bigger. This is so visible in our neighborhood, where the projects are around the corner from $20,000/month apartments.
Check out these statistics below:
• 83 percent of all U.S. stocks are in the hands of 1 percent of the people.
• 61 percent of Americans “always or usually” live paycheck to paycheck, which was up from 49 percent in 2008 and 43 percent in 2007.
• 66 percent of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans.
• 36 percent of Americans say that they don’t contribute anything to retirement savings.
• A staggering 43 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved up for retirement.
• 24 percent of American workers say that they have postponed their planned retirement age in the past year.
• Over 1.4 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009, which represented a 32 percent increase over 2008.
• Only the top 5 percent of U.S. households have earned enough additional income to match the rise in housing costs since 1975.
• For the first time in U.S. history, banks own a greater share of residential housing net worth in the United States than all individual Americans put together.
• In 1950, the ratio of the average executive’s paycheck to the average worker’s paycheck was about 30 to 1. Since the year 2000, that ratio has exploded to between 300 to 500 to one.
• As of 2007, the bottom 80 percent of American households held about 7% of the liquid financial assets.
• The bottom 50 percent of income earners in the United States now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth.
• Average Wall Street bonuses for 2009 were up 17 percent when compared with 2008.
• In the United States, the average federal worker now earns 60% MORE than the average worker in the private sector.
• The top 1 percent of U.S. households own nearly twice as much of America’s corporate wealth as they did just 15 years ago.
• In America today, the average time needed to find a job has risen to a record 35.2 weeks.
• More than 40 percent of Americans who actually are employed are now working in service jobs, which are often very low paying.
• For the first time in U.S. history, more than 40 million Americans are on food stamps, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that number will go up to 43 million Americans in 2011.
• This is what American workers now must compete against: in China a garment worker makes approximately 86 cents an hour and in Cambodia a garment worker makes approximately 22 cents an hour.
• Approximately 21 percent of all children in the United States are living below the poverty line in 2010 – the highest rate in 20 years.
• Despite the financial crisis, the number of millionaires in the United States rose a whopping 16 percent to 7.8 million in 2009.
• The top 10 percent of Americans now earn around 50 percent of our national income.
So yes, the US is a great country with lots of opportunity to live the American Dream. Unfortunately, everyone doesn’t have equal access to the same opportunities. The disparity in education sets a tone for the statistics above. Instead of building a strong nation, it seems that today the US policies are focused on providing a path for a small group of individuals to get bigger and bigger. For those who aren’t able to make it in this country, it would be nice if taxes on capital gains could go up a bit. Undoubtedly, the rich will still live a happy life, while the poor will be able to send their children to a good school, and receive better health care.
To Emma: I’m sorry this turned out to be such a depressing post. So here’s a fun fact for you that will make you come visit soon: Sockerbit, a typical Swedish candy store, recently opened their doors in the West Village. I went in last week, and had a flash back to your neighborhood candy store… Mycket trevligt!
After a week in St. Tropez I could cross another item off my “How to become an American Woman”-list:
While on vacation with your husband, take the same posed picture, every night. And so we did:
Le Port de Saint-Tropez
Ready for dinner at The Strand
Celebrating Quatorze Juillet with an extraordinary meal at The Villa Belrose
A crazy night at Brasserie des Arts, I even drank wine…
No better excuse for a visit to the vineyards of Sonoma than the wedding of two special people who have known each other for 42 years, and finally decided they were meant to be together.
On the morning of the wedding we visited Benziger Winery, a certified sustainable winery. Instead of growing as many grapes as they can by using fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides, they emphasize environmentally sound growing methods, like biodiversity, soil revitalization and Integrated Pest Management (IPM). A simple example: they use part of their land to grow plants that attract the good bugs, who will then eat the bad bugs.
Sadly, there are only a handful of vineyards like Benziger’s in North America. All others exploit their land by growing more and more grapes, to make as much money as they can.
Below some pictures of our visit.
And let’s not forget the (other) happy couple, and the most romantic and beautiful wedding location, an old ranch in Glen Ellen.