TIME Aging

Why Complex Jobs Protect Aging Brains Better

The more engaging your job, the sharper your thinking skills

Studies show that there are a lot of things you can do to preserve your intellect—stay social and interact with as many friends and family as you can, learn new things (especially languages), go to new places and stay physically active. If there’s any time left over, consider getting a more engaging career. There’s now evidence that what you do to make a living can also help to preserve your brain power.

Reporting in the journal Neurology, scientists at the University of Edinburgh found that the more complex a person’s job is, the more likely they are to score higher on memory tests and general cognitive skills when they reach age 70.

MORE: Cocoa May Help With Memory Loss, a New Study Finds

The team recruited about 1,000 69-year-olds who were part of the Lothian Birth Cohort, a database that included people born in the Scottish town in 1936. At age 11, the participants had taken IQ tests so the researchers could compare those scores to cognitive tests given to them at age 70.

In the study, researchers assessed their occupations by their complexity, based on how much interaction with people, data or things the job required. Complex “people” jobs, for example, include lawyer, social worker, surgeon or probation officer, compared to less socially complex jobs like factory worker, or painter. Complex “data” occupations include architect, graphic designer and musician, while less complex data jobs include construction worker, cafeteria worker or telephone operator. Finally, people working in more intricate ways with “things” would include machine workers and those who make instruments, while bank managers and surveyors might rank as having simpler interactions with things.

When the scientists compared occupations with cognitive tests at age 70, they found that people with more complex people and data jobs scored higher on memory, speed and general thinking skills than those with less involved jobs in these areas. People with more complex data-related jobs also scored much better on processing and speed skills.

MORE: 5 Secrets to Improve Learning and Memory

But when the researchers factored in the effect of the participants’ IQ at age 11—in other words, their starting intellect—they found that the influence of the jobs remained, though it shrunk a bit. “People who have higher cognitive ability to begin with are those more likely to have more complex jobs,” says Alan Gow, assistant professor of psychology at University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University and one of the study’s co-authors. “Once we account for that, the association between more complex jobs and better cognitive outcomes is reduced, but there remains a small additional benefit for our cognitive abilities from being in more complex jobs.”

In fact, he says, the strongest predictor of cognitive abilities at age 70 is intellect earlier in life. So the IQ of the participants at age 11 accounted for about 50% of the variance in test scores when they reached 70. Jobs can add to that effect. The stronger the cognitive starting point, the more brain reserve people might have as the normal processes of aging start erode some nerve connections involved in higher order thinking. Having a complex job that requires constant activation of these neural networks, and formation of new connections, can also contribute to building this reserve capacity.

Gow admits, however, that the study did not take into account how long people stuck with the jobs, so there may yet be a stronger effect of occupation on later life intellect the longer people stay with a complex job. Given the results, he and his team are eagerly following the 70-year olds to see if occupation and other factors can influence their cognitive functions. Now, they’re studying brain images of the volunteers to find changes in volume in certain thinking areas of the brain, as well as connections in the nerve network that’s responsible for higher order skills like processing, memory and reasoning.

TIME ebola

Nearly Half of Liberia’s Workforce Is Out of a Job Since Ebola Crisis Began

Liberia is the hardest hit nation in the Ebola outbreak

Nearly half of Liberia’s working population at the beginning of the Ebola crisis is no longer doing so, according to a new report released Wednesday.

The West African nation has been the hardest hit in the regional outbreak, accounting for more than 7,000 cases and nearly 3,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. To measure the economic impact of that devastation, the World Bank, Liberian Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services and the Gallup Organization conducted phone surveys and found that not only is a massive part of the country’s work force out of job, but food insecurity is worsening.

Wage workers and the self-employed have taken the biggest hit, the report finds. Prior to the epidemic, more than 30% of working household breadwinners were self-employed, but now that rate is just above 10%. Many people lost jobs because their business or government offices closed.

Agricultural workers were significantly burdened at the start of the outbreak, too, since transportation routes were interrupted and people avoided large gathering spaces like markets, but the report shows Liberians are beginning to return to work as the harvest approaches.

Read the full report here.

MONEY Jobs

Why The Lowest Paid Workers Are Getting a Raise—And The Middle Class Isn’t

"Save the Middle Class" on a sign
Jen Grantham—iStock

Low-wage workers are making more money, but wages continue to stagnate for the middle-class. Here's why.

If you’re a working adult, you probably haven’t received much of a raise in recent years. Earnings growth has declined dramatically since 2007, and wages bounced back only 2% this year, barely keeping pace with inflation. In October, wage growth was essentially static.

But we may be seeing light at the end of the tunnel, at least for some employees. Over the weekend, payroll processing firm ADP released data showing that the average hourly pay for low-wage workers — that is, those making less than $20,000 a year — increased by 5.4% in the last year, and that workers earning between $20,000 and $50,000 saw pay jump 4.9% on average.

As USA Today noted on Sunday, ADP’s methodology tends to overestimate earnings growth because it tracks only employees of businesses that can afford to contract with the company. The firm also reported that earnings for all Americans were up 4.5% in the third-quarter year-to-date; more than double the increase was reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in October for 2014.

But while ADP may have overestimated earnings growth among low-wage Americans, that doesn’t mean that group isn’t getting better raises than the rest of the population. The paper also observed that data from the BLS showed the bottom 10% of earners received a 3% hike in wages for the year ending on September 30, compared to a 0.5% raise for the 90th percentile.

Why do low-wage workers seem to be getting raises when the middle-class is not? According to Eugenio Alemánm, a senior economist at Wells Fargo, the answer is employment polarization. As the St. Louis Federal Reserve explains, this phenomenon describes how the automation of many routine tasks has decreased demand for middle-skill, middle-income labor, while increasing demand for both low-skill, low-wage workers and high-skill, high-wage workers. This trend was exacerbated by the great recession, and resulted in a hollowing out of the American labor force.

Higher wages for low-skill workers simply reflects higher demand for that particular class of laborer. High-wage employees have also seen a disproportionate increase in earnings during the recession compared to the middle-class.

“One of the characteristics of the current economic recovery is that we are seeing a lot of jobs in the very, very low levels of income, very low paying jobs, and very strong movement in the high paying jobs,” said Alemánm. “Those are the two sectors that seeing some upwards pressure on wages and this data is a confirmation of that.”

“Middle income jobs are not being offered in this economic recovery, so there is no pressure on those salaries,” added Alemánm. “The type of jobs that are being offered today”—which he says mainly exist in the leisure, hospitality, and retail industries—”are not conducive to having middle-income earners.”

Will the middle-class ever see some relief? Alemánm says yes, recent job growth is likely to exert upward pressure on wages across the board — but it’s hard to tell when that will happen for the majority for workers. “At some point, it has to change,” he predicts. “You’ll see some spillovoer into middle-income wage earners. That is the third leg we are waiting for.”

MONEY Jobs

The U.S. Added 214,000 Jobs In October, Unemployment Down Slightly to 5.8%

commuters at rush hour
iStock

The results beat expectations, but didn't quite match September's employment growth.

The economy added 214,000 jobs in October, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, meeting expectations of continued healthy job growth.

Today’s nonfarm payroll report also showed the unemployment rate declining slightly to 5.8%, down almost a full percentage point since the beginning of the year. That’s the lowest level since 2008, but is still well above its pre-crisis low of 4.4%.

The labor force participation rate — the percentage of the workforce that is either employed or actively looking for work — remained around 62.8%, reflecting older Americans dropping out of the workforce roughly as fast as new workers enter.

Once again, increased employment did not significantly raise average hourly earnings, which increased by three cents since last month’s report and by just 2% since the beginning of the year. Despite relatively stagnant wage growth, economists are optimistic the economic recovery will soon be felt in workers’ wallets. “If unemployment continues to fall, wage growth should pick up,” says Mark Hamrick, Washington bureau chief for Bankrate. “It’s like waiting for a bus that hasn’t arrived yet.”

While today’s news is good, it doesn’t quite match up with September’s employment growt, when the economy added almost 250,000 jobs.

This week’s midterm elections, in which Republicans took over both houses of Congress, could have an effect on future employment growth, but any impact won’t be immediate. The G.O.P. has been critical of the Federal Reserve’s low interest rates, and may now be more vocal its opposition to loose monetary policy. Fed chair Janet Yellen, however, a vocal supporter of using low interest rates to help promote job growth, acknowledged the improving labor market after the latest Fed meeting but indicated that she and her fellow Fed economists remained concerned about sluggish wage growth, low inflation, and the tenuous housing market recovery.

 

TIME

Economy Adds 214,000 Jobs in October, Unemployment Rate Drops to 5.8%

Jobseekers wait to talk to a recruiter at the Colorado Hospital Association's health care career event in Denver, Oct. 13, 2014.
Jobseekers wait to talk to a recruiter at the Colorado Hospital Association's health care career event in Denver, Oct. 13, 2014. Rick Wilking—Reuters

Unemployment rate drops to lowest level since July 2008

The Labor Department released last month’s employment figures Friday morning, and the report shows that the U.S. labor market has continued to post steady gains while some stubborn weak points still exist. Here are some key points from the October jobs report.

What you need to know: October was the 56th straight month of private-sector job gains in the U.S., and monthly gains have averaged about 227,000 so far this year. The job market has been steadily improving, which is good news. However, on the downside, hourly wages have struggled to make gains and the number of long-term unemployed is still almost 50% higher than it was before the recession hit.

The Federal Reserve, which had continually worried that the labor market is not as healthy as it hoped nearly seven years after the start of the Great Recession, eased up on its view following its meeting last week. The Fed issued this cautiously worded update on its outlook:

“On balance, a range of labor market indicators suggests that underutilization of labor resources is gradually diminishing.”

The big numbers: The U.S. labor market added 214,000 jobs in October, falling shy of economists’ estimates of 235,000 jobs, according to Bloomberg data. The unemployment rate dropped unexpectedly to 5.8% —its lowest level since July 2008 — compared to an anticipated 5.9%. Private employers added 209,000 jobs.

Hourly wages ticked up by 2 cents last month, while the number of long-term unemployed was little changed at 2.9 million.

What you may have missed: October’s gains keep the U.S. labor market on track for its best annual performance since 1999. That year an average 265,000 Americans found jobs every month. The October job additions are a pick-up from the recent three-month average of 224,000 jobs.

The continued growth comes amid global worries of slowing economic growth, although there’s little indication that it has spilled over into the U.S. labor market.

“It all speaks to the story that the U.S. can sustain pretty strong growth even when there are concerns about growth slowing in places like China and the euro zone,” said Jeff Greenberg, a senior economist at JP Morgan Private Bank in New York.

Some of the biggest job gains last month went to the professional and business, and healthcare sectors, which added 37,000 and 25,000 jobs, respectively. Retail hiring has also accelerated as stores geared up for the holiday season ahead, and service-sector employment, which increased by 12,000, is at a nine-year high, according to a note from Goldman Sachs economist Kris Dawsey.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

Read next: Let’s Fix It: Blame Unemployment on the Color Blue

MONEY Jobs

Don’t Count on Raises Despite Friday’s Jobs Report

Person popping balloon
Getty Images—Getty Images

Despite more Americans finding employment, workers shouldn't expect any big changes in their paychecks just yet.

Workers can be forgiven if they don’t rejoice in Friday’s jobs report.

Employers added 214,000 jobs in October, pushing the unemployment rate down to 5.8%. This is another sign the U.S. economy is starting to get on a roll.

Businesses have added an average of around 230,000 jobs a month since January, when the unemployment started off at 6.6%. Stocks have been hitting all-time highs. And the Federal Reserve just announced that it was ending the third round of its stimulative bond-buying program thanks in part to the fact that the labor market has been improving.

Despite these positive trends, though, there still remains significant slack in the labor market. Millions of discouraged workers who want a job have given up looking — or are working part-time when they prefer full-time employment.

Moreover, the long-term unemployed are still much less likely to find a job now compared to before the 2007-2009 recession, and employees still don’t feel confident enough about their situation to quit their job in search of a high paying one. Meanwhile the unemployment rate lags the pre-recession low by more than a percentage point.

This might help to explain why Americans are still so pessimistic about their personal finances.

Almost three in four Americans think the economy was permanently damaged by the Great Recession, according to research by Rutgers University, which is actually more pessimistic than right after the recession. Moreover, only 37% say their finances are good or excellent shape, per recent Pew Research Center data.

Workers also understand that whatever raises they do get probably won’t outpace inflation. Take the Employment Cost Index, which measures workers salaries and benefits. Before the recession, the ECI rose at a year-over-year rate of more than 3% for about two years. Since 2009, though, the ECI hasn’t jumped above 2.2% (which, to be fair, was last quarter.)

fredgraph

And while the Fed did decide to end its bond-buying — otherwise known as quantitative easing — short-term interest rates remain essentially at zero, with expectations of a small hike potentially put off until well into 2015. By keeping rates so low for so long, the Fed is essentially signaling that consumer demand just isn’t there. Yet consumer demand is an essential ingredient in the recipe for gaining raises.

“We didn’t hear anything that causes us to reconsider our outlook that the Fed will follow a ‘lower for longer’ course when it comes to interest rates,” wrote USAA’s John Toohey in a recent note. “The U.S. recovery from the 2008–09 financial crisis has been slow and at times fragile, so our thinking is that the Fed will not want to risk a setback by raising rates too quickly. What is ending now is the third round of QE since late 2008; after the first two wrapped up, economic gains soon stalled. The Fed has not forgotten this.”

This jobs report seems to be another brick in the slow rebuild of the U.S. economy following the disaster of six years ago. It is encouraging that the Fed feels the economy is strong enough to chug along without it pumping billions of dollars into the financial system each month.

But workers should remember how big a hole we’ve needed to climb out of. Millions are still struggling to get by, or even get a job. And without strong bargaining power, or full employment, workers shouldn’t expect a raise anytime soon.

MONEY College

One Type of College Education That Almost Never Pays Off

Hand holding out mortarboard begging for money
Paul Hudson—Getty Images

Short-term college certificate programs seem like a good way to boost your earning power -- but new research suggests they don't produce results.

Short-term college certificate programs sound like a no-brainer. These community college programs, which are intended to take less than a year to complete, promise a meaningful credential with a fraction of the workload and price tag of a more conventional college degree.

But according to new research, published in the journal of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, these short-term certificates don’t actually make graduates more employable, or lead to a significant increase in earnings.

“While we find that earning associate degrees or long-term certificates is associated with increased wages, an increased likelihood of being employed, and increased hours worked, we find minimal or no positive effects for short-term certifications,” wrote Mina Dadgar and Madeline Trimble, who jointly authored the study. Long-term certificates are designed to be completed in at least one year.

Using a dataset containing information on students attending 34 Washington State technical and community colleges during the 2001-2002 academic year, the researchers found short-term certificates, on average, gave students lower returns than longer-term degrees, and even when returns are positive, the gains are minimal. Short-term degrees that did produce positive results generated an average earnings bump of just $300 per quarter, or $1,200 a year.

While short-term certificates didn’t yield worthwhile results, the authors say associate degrees and long-term certificates generally do give graduates a significant leg up in the labor market. A long-term certificate increased the chance of a woman being employed by 9%, and of men being employed by 11%. Associates degrees increased employment likelihood by 11% and 9% among women and men respectively. Women especially were found to receive significantly higher wages after completing a full-year program.

However, the authors caution, the value of a long-term or associates degree is heavily dependent on industry. An associate degree in nursing was found to boost the average woman’s wages by 37.7%, but an associate degree in humanities, social sciences, information science, communication, or design did not correlate with significantly higher wages.

The study’s findings are especially important because of the growing popularity of short-term certificate programs. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of students receiving these degrees increased by 151% nationwide. The study’s authors suggested state lawmakers should examine short-term certificates further, and called their skyrocketing popularity a matter of concern.

TIME movies

Why Michael Fassbender Is the Perfect Choice to Play Steve Jobs

Michael Fassbender
Michael Fassbender arrives for the UK Premiere of X-Men Days Of Future Past at a central London cinema, Monday, May 12, 2014. (Photo by Jonathan Short/Invision/AP) Jonathan Short—Jonathan Short/Invision/AP

The X-Men: Days of Future Past star would do the role justice

Danny Boyle’s planned Steve Jobs biopic (based on the book Steve Jobs, by former TIME managing editor Walter Isaacson) has been subject to some turbulence when it comes to the leading role. Which leading man has the right qualities to play one of the most influential business minds of the past century, and more importantly, which one would be willing? Leonardo DiCaprio had been connected with the role and turned it down, and Christian Bale has left the project. But the star Boyle’s looking at now is the perfect fit: If anyone should play Steve Jobs, it should be Michael Fassbender.

The Irish actor is reportedly in “early talks” for the part, and it’s a perfect choice. He effortlessly passes, for instance, what we might call the Kutcher Test: Is the actor serious enough to ensure that the project won’t become an object of derision before anyone sees it? (Ashton Kutcher’s movie Jobs was a laughingstock for much of last year, due in large part to that actor’s Dude, Where’s My Car? pedigree.) Fassbender, who went to the Oscars as a nominee for 12 Years a Slave this year, is certainly in the conversation when it comes to the most accomplished young actors.

But it’s the sort of parts Fassbender is good at playing that particularly qualify him for Jobs. His two franchise roles have proven him uniquely able to convey intellectual power that’s literally superhuman and a certain disregard for the concerns of mortals — as the all-powerful Magneto in the two most recent X-Men flicks, and as David the android in Prometheus. The Jobs of Steve Jobs is both a visionary thinker, naturally, but is more concerned with technological advancement than with human ties. Fassbender’s ability to be supercilious onscreen without becoming loathsome would serve him well, here.

Magneto and David have been two roles that prove Fassbender’s readiness to play Steve Jobs, but neither saddle him with an unwieldy persona. He’s still free to play characters without making it all about him. Leonardo DiCaprio, for instance, is almost too famous to play the role; he’s such a major star, and pulls consistently from such a familiar bag of tricks, that he only works in roles that are wildly outsized, like his vampy Wolf of Wall Street character. Fassbender’s been in hits, but his X-Men and Prometheus characters are different from one another, and more different still from his character in, say, 12 Years a Slave. He’s proven he can handle the fundamentals, even changing his appearance for a role (he took his good looks out of the equation, wearing a mask throughout Frank). But perhaps more importantly, Fassbender still bears the exciting potential of an actor we haven’t seen do everything he can.

And that’s part of why he should take the part, too: He deserves it. Fassbender has for years been a fantastic supporting actor in widely watched movies (add Inglourious Basterds to the list that includes X-Men, Prometheus, and 12 Years a Slave) or a leading man in little-seen movies like Shame and Jane Eyre. His ability to build an utterly convincing inner life for a morally complicated character has never been tested by a lead role in a movie as potentially big as Steve Jobs, a movie whose very bigness demands an actor willing to take artistic risks. It’s early yet, but more famous and more widely loved actors leaving the project could be the best thing that happened to the Steve Jobs movie. And if it doesn’t work out, Fassbender’s star-making project is, no doubt, just around the corner.

TIME Careers & Workplace

Not Taking a Vacation Is Costing You an Insane Amount

201407_SPE_VACATIONBOX
R. Kikuo Johnson

It won’t even help you get a raise.

Last year, American workers walked away from $52.4 billion in unused vacation time, forfeiting a total of 169 million paid days off, according to the U.S. Travel Association. While it’s well-known that American companies are less freewheeling with paid time off than their counterparts in other industrialized countries, it seems that a lot of workers here don’t even take the allotment they do get.

The amount of vacation we take as a nation is at a 40-year low, USTA says. As recently as 2000, the average worker took roughly 20 vacation days a year. By last year, that had fallen to 16 days. For most workers, wages and income have stagnated since the recession. But for all the complaining we do about our paltry paychecks, a lot of us are willing to literally work for free.

By giving up vacation, “U.S. employees are serving as volunteers for their companies,” Adam Sacks, founder and president of the tourism economics division of Oxford Economics, the group that prepared the report, said in a statement. In total, American workers essentially donate just over 1% of their salary back to their companies in the form of vacation days they give up. (Of course the USTA is hoping you’ll take more vacation.)

Another survey, this one conducted by Harris Interactive for the job and salary site Glassdoor, says we only take about half the time off we’re entitled to, and 15% of workers who get vacation don’t take any of it.

People forfeit their vacation for a variety of reasons, Glassdoor found. On a related survey question about people who take vacations only to work through them (which about six in 10 workers do), a third of respondents said they do so because nobody else can do their job, and about 20% said they do so in the hopes of getting a promotion.

The new USTA survey finds, though, that people who don’t take vacations are actually less likely to get ahead in the workplace. People who forfeit between 11 and 15 days are actually 6.5% less likely to get a raise or bonus than colleagues who take all their vacation.

That might be because they’re too stressed to do their jobs well. Survey respondents who leave behind more than two weeks of paid vacation are more likely to say they’re “very” or “extremely” stressed at work. “America’s work martyrs aren’t more successful,” says USTA president and CEO Roger Dow. “All work and no play is not going to get you ahead — it’s only going to get you more stress.”

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