TIME Economy

Low Wage Workers Are Storming the Barricades

Activists Hold Protest In Favor Of Raising Minimum Wage
Alex Wong—Getty Images Activists hold protest In favor of raising minimum wage on April 29, 2014 in Washington, DC.

A few weeks back, when Walmart announced plans to raise its starting pay to $9 per hour, I wrote a column saying this was just the beginning of what would be a growing movement around raising wages in America. Today marks a new high point in this struggle, with tens of thousands of workers set to join walkouts and protests in dozens of cities including New York, Chicago, LA, Oakland, Raleigh, Atlanta, Tampa and Boston, as part of the “Fight for $15” movement to raise the federal minimum wage.

This is big shakes in a country where people don’t take to the streets easily, even when they are toiling full-time for pay so low it forces them to take government subsidies to make ends meet, as is the case with many of the employees from fast food retail outlets like McDonalds and Walmart, as well as the home care aids, child caregivers, launderers, car washers and others who’ll be joining the protests.

It’s always been amazing to me that in a country where 42% of the population makes roughly $15 per hour, that more people weren’t already holding bullhorns, and I don’t mean just low-income workers. There’s something fundamentally off about the fact that corporate profits are at record highs in large part because labor’s share is so low, yet when low-income workers have to then apply for federal benefits, the true cost of those profits gets pushed back not to companies, but onto taxpayers, at a time when state debt levels are at record highs. Talk about an imbalanced economic model.

A higher federal minimum wage is inevitable, given that numerous states have already raised theirs and most economists and even many Right Wing politicos are increasingly in agreement that potential job destruction from a moderate increase in minimum wages is negligible. (See a good New York Times summary of that here.) Indeed, the pressure is now on presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton to come out in favor of a higher wage, given her pronouncement that she wants to be a “champion” for the average Joe.

But how will all this influence the inequality debate that will be front and center in the 2016 elections? And what will any of it really do for overall economic growth?

As much as wage hikes are needed to help people avoid working in poverty, the truth is that they won’t do much to move the needle on inequality, since most of the wealth divide has happened at the top end of the labor spectrum. There’s been a $9 trillion increase in household stock market wealth since 2008, most of which has accrued to the top quarter or so of the population that owns the majority of stocks. C-suite America in particular has benefitted, since executives take home the majority of their pay in stock (and thus have reason to do whatever it takes to manipulate stock price.)

Higher federal minimum wages are a good start, but it’s only one piece of the inequality puzzle. Boosting wages in a bigger way will also requiring changing the corporate model to reflect the fact that companies don’t exist only to enrich shareholders, but also workers and society at large, which is the way capitalism works in many other countries. German style worker councils would help balance things, as would a sliding capital gains tax for long versus short-term stock holdings, limits on corporate share buybacks and fiscal stimulus that boosted demand, and hopefully, wages. (For a fascinating back and forth on that topic between Larry Summers and Ben Bernanke, see Brookings’ website.)

Politicians are going to have to grapple with this in the election cycle, because as the latest round of wage protests makes clear, the issue isn’t going away anytime soon.

Read next: Target, Gap and Other Major Retailers Face Staffing Probe

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MONEY workplace etiquette

The Phrase You Should Never Use In Your Office Voicemail Message

office phone
Johnny Greig—Alamy

"Not available" conveys to the caller that you're not interested in their business. Here's what to say instead.

How many times a day when you make a phone call do you get someone’s voicemail and hear, “I’m not available?”

What exactly does that mean?

The person could be powdering their nose for two minutes, gone to a client meeting for two hours, on maternity leave for six months—or, have been transferred to the mailroom in Beijing! You have no idea.

You had phoned for a reason: to get information, to place an order, to extend an invitation to meet, to do business. But now you hang up in disgust, your mission thwarted.

Now you have to invest time figuring out your next, hopefully productive, step. Do you check the web for their corporate number, another branch number, or simply find another “source” altogether, giving your business to a competitor? Perhaps with your time constraint you are forced to simply table your project.

If this were your business, you’d have just lost a customer.

Now it’s time to check your own voicemail.

With all of the competition out there and access to information at one’s fingertips on the web, people have untold choices when they need a real estate attorney, a construction engineer, an investment advisor, a party planner, a temp agency… or whatever it is you do.

If you want to build your business, you need to build relationships, and this requires showing respect for your caller’s time and energy.

“Not available” is simply dismissive. It communicates to the person that their need is not that important to you.

And it either causes your potential customer to hang up, or to get stuck going through an obstacle course in which they get the main switchboard and are given the third degree: “What’s your name? What’s your affiliation? Why are you calling? Whom do you want to speak with?

The alternative is simple: Provide in your voice message a phone number and refer the caller to an assistant, a colleague, a cell number—any way of expediting their quest. Help your caller to reach someone who can, in your absence, be helpful and succeed in keeping the business.

And remember to update your voicemail message when appropriate. Recently I called an office and heard: “I’ll be back February 1st.” It happened to be March 17th!

Investing a mere 60 seconds can keep a client and their business while enhancing your reputation.

Arlene B. Isaacs is an executive coach in New York City.

MONEY Workplace

Why Checking Email After Work Is Bad for Your Career—and Your Health

Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: Should I check work email outside of normal business hours?

A: The availability of smartphones and tablets has made it easy and common to check email anytime, anywhere: 59% of American workers say they use their mobile devices to do work after normal business hours, according to a recent Workplace Options survey.

But that convenience comes at a price. Checking email constantly can lead to burnout and health problems, says Dean Debnam, chief executive officer of Workplace Options, which provides employees with work-life balance support services.

Whether you should check work email regularly depends on your personal preference as well as your company culture, Debnam says. For many, the ability to field email anytime, anywhere is a good thing. It can free you from long hours in the office and enable you to respond quickly to important or urgent issues. You may feel better not having a full inbox when you log on in the a.m. About 80% of workers say using a smart phone, tablet, or laptop to work outside of typical business hours is positive, according to a 2014 Gallup poll.

For some professions, it is just part of the job. Maybe you work with people across different time zones. Or you’re a consultant, lawyer, or salesperson who needs to be available to clients all the time. (A prestigious law firm had to apologize to employees recently when its announcement of a new policy eliminating email overnight and on weekends turned out to be an April Fool’s prank.)

On the downside, constantly being available online translates into more work hours. Though just 36% of workers say they frequently check in outside of regular office hours, those who do log an additional 10 hours of work a week—twice as many hours as those who rarely or only occasionally check email remotely, according to the Gallup survey.

Younger workers and men are more likely to be in constant contact. About 40% of Gen-X and Gen-Y workers check email frequently outside of work vs. one-third of Baby Boomers, and 40% of men vs. 31% of women, according to the Gallup poll.

The more money you make and more education you have, the more likely you are to be among those frequently connected. Employees with a college degree or higher and people who earn more than $120,000 a year are twice as likely to constantly check email than those with lower education levels and salaries below $48,000 a year. That’s a reflection of how prevalent email communication is for higher education and income groups in white collar jobs—or the pressure many workers feel to respond immediately.

There’s lots of evidence that that kind of connectivity is bad for your health, your psyche, and your productivity.

First, it can seriously intrude on your personal life. A survey of 1,000 workers by Good Technology, a mobile-software firm, found that 68% of people checked work email before 8 a.m., 50% checked it while in bed, 57% do it on family outings, and 38% regularly do at the dinner table.

And your communication might not be as sharp or thoughtful when you’re doing it off-hours. It is hard to be at your best when you’re responding to a work issue late at night or in a non-work setting. “If you check in during a family dinner or with your kids running around in the background, you’re going to be distracted,” says Debnam.

Working around the clock can cause serious health problems too. A piece in Medical Daily cited a recent study in the journal Chronobiology International that found that checking your work email at home, or taking a call from the boss on weekends, could lead to psychological, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular problems

If you don’t want to be constantly connected, set expectations up front by not getting into the habit of monitoring and responding to email after hours unless there’s an important reason to do so. And if it’s just part of your company culture? Well, then you have to decide whether that’s a company you want to work for, says Debnam.

 

TIME Parenting

Dads Feel Just as Guilty as Moms About Time They Spend With Their Kids

Robert Deutschman—;Getty Images

And moms are going back to work after birth more quickly than ever

Dads are feeling more guilty about the time they spend with their kids, and more pregnant women are staying in the workforce longer, according to two new studies on the roles of parents in the 21st century.

For all the hair-pulling about the stressful lives of working mothers, working fathers feel just as guilty about the amount of time they spend with their kids. According to studies from Pew Research Center, working dads are more likely to feel that they don’t have enough time with their kids than working moms.

Working dads are divided on whether they spend enough time with their kids: 48% say they spend too little, 48% say they spend just enough. But working moms are much more likely to report they have enough time with their kids—66% say they spend just the right amount of time with their kids, compared to 26% who say they have too little. (These numbers include parents who work both full-time and part-time.)

Despite the fact that almost half of working dads (46%) say they spend more time with their kids than their own parents did, they still have a lot of guilt about whether they’re doing enough. Among the dads who say they don’t get enough time with their families, only 49% think they’re doing an excellent job as a parent, while of the dads who say they get enough time, 81% think they’re doing a great job.

Just as the distribution of parenting guilt is evolving, so are norms about working through pregnancies. According to a different Pew study, it’s becoming much more common for an expectant mother to work while pregnant with her first child. While only 44% of pregnant women worked in the early 1960s, by 2006 about 66% of soon-to-be-moms were still on the job. Women are also working longer into their pregnancies—in the 1960s, only 35% of pregnant workers continued working through their eighth month of pregnancy, compared to 82% of pregnant workers in the late 2000s. And women are going back to work more quickly after birth than they used to. Fifty years ago, only 21% of women returned to work within six months of the baby’s birth—by the late 2000s, that number had skyrocketed to 73%.

 

MONEY Workplace

Law Firm’s April Fool’s Joke About Work-Life Balance Backfires

150402_CAR_AprilFools
Getty Images—(c) Image Source

There are some things bosses just shouldn't joke about.

Add this to the list of April Fool’s Day stunts from Wednesday that failed spectacularly: A big New York-based law firm told employees it was instituting a new policy eliminating work emails during night and weekend hours… and then revealed the whole thing was a joke.

Hilarious, right? All you suckers must keep tabs on work no matter if it’s midnight on a Tuesday or a Sunday morning and you’re on vacation. Ha!

The way the prank played out is that Weil, Gotshal & Manges sent out a company-wide email claiming the firm was banning all work-related emails between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., as well as on Saturdays, Sundays, and employee vacation days. According to messages obtained by legal industry blog Above the Law, associates were elated to learn of the new policy, supposedly inspired by similar practices currently catching on in Europe, until it was revealed to just be a goof.

Since employees generally don’t like it when their bosses see their work-life balance as—literally—a joke, Weil received enough backlash to send out a firm-wide mea culpa in the afternoon. The email, from executive partner Barry Wolf, reads: “We obviously got this wrong and we sincerely apologize. We know and appreciate the hard work that all of you do. We have and continue to take work-life balance seriously and are always evaluating ways to improve the quality of life here, given the intensity and demands of the profession.”

It makes sense that this joke didn’t go over well, considering how notoriously bad lawyers’ hours tend to be and how modern technology makes it hard for employees across all industries to ever fully unplug—even while on vacation.

Though American workplaces generally tend to be slow to embrace policies that make it easier for staff to have a life outside the office, it’s a good sign that Weil was quickly shamed for its tone-deaf prank. It seems even lawyers want to join the movement toward workplace flexibility and family-friendly policies.

TIME motherhood

Egyptian Woman Who Lived as a Man to Find Work Honored with Motherhood Award

Sisa Abu Daooh, a woman who passed for a man for decades while working as a shoeshine, in Luxor, Egypt, on March 25, 2015.
Bryan Denton–The New York Times/Redux Sisa Abu Daooh, a woman who passed for a man for decades while working as a shoeshine, in Luxor, Egypt, on March 25, 2015.

Sisa Abu Daooh dressed as a man for 42 years

An Egyptian woman who was forced to live as a man in order to support her daughter was recently awarded the country’s highest award for motherhood.

Sisa Abu Daooh has been dressing as a man for 42 years in order to find work after her husband died. “I worked in Aswan wearing pants and a galabeya,” she told the New York Times. “If I hadn’t, no one would have let me work.”

Daooh was forced to dress as a man not as an expression of gender identity, but because otherwise she would have been unable to find work. In the early 1970s, when her husband’s death left Daooh and her daughter destitute, it was extremely difficult for women to find paid work. For seven years, she worked as a manual laborer making less than a dollar a day before finding less physically demanding work. She now works as a shoe-shiner.

When Daooh’s husband died, it was almost unheard of for Egyptian women to work, but even today, very few Egyptian women participate in the labor force—only 26%, compared to 79% of men, according to the World Economic Forum. If women and men participated equally, Egypt’s GDP would increase by 34%, according to an analysis conducted by the Clinton Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Between the lack of economic opportunity, the prevalence of female genital mutilation, and the near-universal experience sexual harassment (over 99% of women say they’ve been harassed,) Thompson-Reuters voted Egypt the worst place in the Arab world to be a woman.

[h/t New York Times]

MONEY Taxes

Does My Teen Really Have to File Taxes?

150326_FF_TEENTAXES
Erik Dreyer—Getty Images

April 15 is rapidly approaching, and you know you have to file a tax return, but does your teen have to?

You know you have to file a tax return, but does your teen? The deadline is rapidly approaching, and he or she may — or may not — have received forms relating to income last year.

Chances are, your teen does not have to file. John Scherer, a certified financial planner with Trinity Financial Planning in Middleton, Wis., said they do not have to file if they have investment income of less than $1,000 or earnings of less than $6,200.

If your teen is under those thresholds and worked a job that withheld taxes, though, he or she would want to file to get those withholdings refunded. So encourage your teen to collect those W-2s, even if it seems like a lot of trouble for a refund that doesn’t sound terribly impressive (and yes, he or she might have multiple W-2s, if there were paychecks from a summer job, a part-time job and a holiday job). If your child is not required to file, the April 15 date does not apply, but it’s still a good idea to dig out those forms, if for no other reason than to emphasize they are important papers and should not be disregarded.

And even if W-2s weren’t issued (as for babysitting), it’s smart to keep — or to begin to keep — a record of earned income, Scherer said. This can be as simple as keeping a log and making corresponding deposits to a bank account. Those earnings won’t owe income tax so long as they add up to less than the standard deduction ($6,200 for 2014). (Update: Keep in mind, if your teen earns $400 or more and they are not employed by someone else, this income is considered self-employment income and they must file a tax return and pay self-employment taxes, warns Burton M. Koss, an enrolled agent with Cortes & Baker LLC.) Where the record of earnings can come in handy is with establishing a Roth IRA. While we don’t expect most teens to want to save all they earned for retirement, the limit is 100% of earnings or $5,500, whichever is smaller. So a parent or grandparent could put money into a Roth on the teen’s behalf, as long as the teen has earned income. And the young person’s retirement savings will not be counted against possible financial aid for college, but will have more years to increase in value.

So it’s smart to file, even if it’s optional and little or no refund is coming. Your teen might get a little tax money back, assuming it was withheld, and he or she should also get a glimpse of what taxes are and how they work — and some early practice at keeping records for tax purposes. Parents would be wise to “walk through it with the kids,” Scherer said. “For most folks, taxes are one of their biggest expenses they have.” And learning early that planning ahead can save real money can only help teens later.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY Getting Ahead

How to Learn to Love Your Job Again When You’re Feeling Burned Out

"There are things you can do to find joy around the edges," says career expert Kerry Hannon.

If you are counting the days to retirement because you hate your job, career expert Kerry Hannon has a message for you: “Stick with it.”

Burnout is one of the biggest problems in the workplace, especially for older workers. An annual survey on retirement by the Employee Benefit Research Institute consistently finds that about half of workers retire earlier than they expected—and that job burnout is a key factor.

But sticking it out is important to retirement security, Hannon says in her new book Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness. These are usually the highest-earning years of your career, she argues. And staying employed helps with everything from retirement account contributions to enabling a delayed filing for Social Security benefits.

Reuters asked Hannon for her tips on how older workers can stay engaged and on the job:

Q: Why is the idea of “falling in love with your job” important for older workers nearing retirement?

A: The people I interview have this palpable fear about outliving their money. They want to find work—full- or part-time. But even with the improved economy, if you’re over 50 and looking for work, it’s still hard—it takes almost 30 months longer to find a job than it does for younger people; ageism is still rampant. So, if you have a job, for gosh sakes, you should hang on to it.

Q: But what if your job is really awful?

A: There still are things you can do to find some joy around the edges—to make the job come alive for you. But it might not be specific to the job. Then, if you really need to make a change, by all means do so, but don’t leave your current job until you have a new one.

Q: What are some examples of finding “joy around the edges?”

A: Perhaps you don’t love what you do, but you do really like your co-workers or the mission of the organization. It might be the challenge of learning something new, or working from home—the things that circle around the job itself.

Extracurriculars tied to the job are one good way to get re-engaged. Many companies offer the opportunity to do volunteer work right within the organization. If you can find a volunteer gig through your employer, that can help build relationships with co-workers and bonds across departments that you might never have had otherwise. And it gets you out of your own head and gives you perspective on the needs of others.

A couple examples that I mention in the book: The National Institutes of Health has its own orchestra that plays gigs at assisted living centers and hospices. Marsh & McLennan Companies Inc has an employee choir.

You might find it by telecommuting. Research shows that telecommuting employees are happier, more loyal and have fewer absences. If you don’t have a boss hovering over you, that can give you a sense of flexibility about getting your work done.

Q: How about learning to love the job itself?

A: Learning a new work-related skill can be key. When you learn something new, your brain shifts. If your employer sponsors workshops or skill-based learning, they may not think of offering it to you if you’re older than 50 – but you can raise your hand and ask for it.

Q: How do life values change as we get older, and how does that affect the way we relate to our jobs?

A: When we are younger, our work is our life on so many levels. In your twenties and thirties, your social friends usually are your work friends. Your identity is tied up in who you are and your job. And, we are establishing ourselves in our fields.

But as we age we have families and more outside interests. In your fifties, you probably aren’t pushing your way up the ladder, perhaps even doing something that wasn’t your primary career. So, work loses its emphasis, but you want those hours to be fulfilling.

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