Tag Archives: career

Free Time Is an American Dream Deferred – NYTimes.com



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McDonald’s Can’t Figure Out How Its Workers Survive on Minimum Wage

 JUL 16 2013, 11:39 AM ET

“Well this is both embarrassing and deeply telling.

In what appears to have been a gesture of goodwill gone haywire, McDonald’s recently teamed up with Visa to create a financial planning site for its low-pay workforce. Unfortunately, whoever wrote the thing seems to have been literally incapable of imagining of how a fast food employee could survive on a minimum wage income. As ThinkProgress and other outlets have reported, the site includes a sample budget that, among other laughable assumptions, presumes that workers will have a second job. 


As Jim Cook at Irregular Times notes, the $1,105 figure up top is roughly what the average McDonald’s cashier earning $7.72 an hour would take home each month after payroll taxes, if they worked 40 hours a week. So this budget applies to someone just about working two full-time jobs at normal fast-food pay. (The federal minimum wage is just $7.25 an hour, by the way, but 19 states and DC set theirs higher). 

A few of the other ridiculous conceits here: This hypothetical worker doesn’t pay a heating bill. I guess some utilities are included in their $600 a month rent? (At the end of 2012, average rent in the U.S. was $1,048). Gas and groceries are bundled into $27 a day spending money. And this individual apparently has access to $20 a month healthcare. McDonald’s, for its part, charges employees $12.58 a week for the company’s most basic health plan. Well, that’s if they’ve been with the company for a year. Otherwise, it’s $14

Now, it’s possible that McDonald’s and Visa meant this sample budget to reflect a two-person household. That would be a tad more realistic, after all. Unfortunately, the brochure doesn’t give any indication that’s the case. Nor does it change the fact that most of these expenses would apply to a single person. 

Of course, minimum wage workers aren’t really entirely on their own, especially if they have children. There are programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and the earned income tax credit to help them along. But that’s sort of the point. When large companies make profits by paying their workers unlivable wages, we end up subsidizing their bottom lines. “

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by | July 17, 2013 · 8:54 pm

Fired for Being Beautiful


Published: July 16, 2013

“MOST everyone knows by now about “lookism” — the preferential treatment given to those who conform to social standards of beauty. Research suggests that people who are judged physically attractive are seen as more competent and more socially graceful than those who aren’t; they have more friends and more sex; and they make more money. One economic study found a 5 percent bonus for being in the top third in the looks department (as assessed by a set of observers), and a 7 to 9 percent penalty for being in the bottom 9 percent.

All of which might come as a surprise to Melissa Nelson, a 33-year-old dental assistant in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Ms. Nelson, you see, was fired in 2010 by her dentist boss, James Knight, because she wastoo attractive. Mr. Knight, who is married, said he felt that Ms. Nelson’s beauty was simply too tempting to pass unnoticed and that he was worried he would have an affair with her. And so as a pre-emptive move (and at his wife’s insistence), he fired her.

Ms. Nelson sued on grounds of sex discrimination. Stunningly, an Iowa district court dismissed the case, contending that she was fired “not because of her gender but because she was a threat to the marriage of Dr. Knight.” Naturally, she appealed, but last week the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision (for the second time), maintaining its view that an employee “may be lawfully terminated simply because the boss views the employee as an irresistible attraction.”

Now, you might think that this case of reverse-lookism gives the gorgeous a taste of their own medicine. Better than being fired because you’re ugly, right?

But I propose that we think not about how such a case differs from its converse, but about how they are actually similar.

Discrimination based on beauty is rooted in the same sexist principle as discrimination against the ugly. Both rest on the power of the male gaze — the fact that men’s estimation of beauty is the defining feature of the category.

I know you might think: “Not so fast. What about good-looking or ugly men?” And yes, handsome men reap the benefits of lookism and the short, fat and bald suffer its penalties. Lookism is gender-neutral.

The workplace, however, isn’t. Think of all those mannequin-thin sales representatives for pharmaceutical companies, whose job is to persuade physicians, a great many of them men, to prescribe their products. Think of companies like American Apparel, whose top executive, Dov Charney, has been accused of firing employees that he judges unattractive. The writer Naomi Wolf has called this the “professional beauty quotient” — a standard of beauty that tacitly operates as an occupational qualification (as flight attendants have complained). The glass ceiling is reinforced by a looking glass.

But the professional beauty quotient has now morphed into what we might call the Goldilocks dilemma. Like the porridge in that famous fable, you can’t be too cold. But as Ms. Nelson found out, you can’t be too hot, either. You have to be “just right.” But just right in whose eyes? Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but the beholder in the workplace usually has a Y chromosome.

After all, the case of Melissa Nelson rests not on her beauty but on Mr. Knight’s perception of her beauty. In his eyes, her beauty was simply too tempting, too potentially injurious. (Ever notice, the writer Timothy Beneke once asked, how the words we use to describe women’s beauty — bombshell, knockout, stunning, femme fatale — are words that connote violence and injury to men?)

What a pathetic commentary on Mr. Knight: his willpower so limp, his commitment to his wife so weak, that he must be shielded from the hot and the beautiful.

Now, I ask you: Where have we heard that before — that men’s vulnerability to women’s sexuality and attractiveness is so great that women must be prevented from showing any part of their bodies to them?

Yes, like some Midwestern Taliban tribunal, the Iowa Supreme Court permitted a male boss to fire anyone who might conceivably tempt him. Mullah Omar would approve.

Maybe we ought to reconsider the case of Samantha Elauf, a Muslim teenager from Oklahoma, on whose behalf the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Abercrombie & Fitch in 2009 after she was not hired because her hijab did not meet the retailer’s appearance policy. Maybe instead, the Iowa Supreme Court should require all beautiful women to wear burqas. With Ms. Nelson completely covered, Mr. Knight could pay full attention to his patients’ dental concerns — while ignoring the ethical cavity that mars discrimination law in Iowa.


Michael Kimmel, a professor of sociology and gender studies at Stony Brook University, is the author of the forthcoming book “Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era.””

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by | July 17, 2013 · 8:32 pm

Yes, summer job paid tuition back in ’81, but then we got cheap

By Danny Westneat

Seattle Times staff columnist

Originally published June 22, 2013 at 7:28 PM | Page modified June 24, 2013 at 11:15 AM

“People tell me you used to be able to work one job, the entire summer, and cover your entire education. I’m not sure how long ago that was — I have a hard time believing it. — Stephan Yhann, 21, current UW student

Put down your smartphones, kids, and gather around Uncle Danny. I’m here to tell you a little something about these yarns from the days of yore, these tales so tall and preposterous.

What’s most amazing about them is: They’re true! You really could work a summer job and pay for your education.

I saw it myself. And I’m only 48 years old!

OK, I say “only,” as if 48 isn’t all that old. Which, let’s be blunt, it is. But it’s not like I’m reaching back to the 1930s here. Just the ’80s. Depressing, maybe, but hardly the Depression.

Yet in the early 1980s, when I was about to head off to college, I worked jobs at Kentucky Fried Chicken and later at a rubber-parts factory, where I got paid $3 and $6 an hour. With no skills whatever, I made $120 to $240 a week.

Sounds like beer money only. But here’s the part that will really freak out you kids today: a year of tuition and fees at the University of Washington in, say, 1981, was $687. It was similar for other public colleges around the nation.

That’s not a misprint. There’s no missing digit. Even a crappy job like slinging chicken at KFC could pay for that year’s UW tuition, and most of next year’s, too.

Today? At $10 an hour you’d have to work 1,250 hours to cover the UW’s $12,500 tuition (more, once you take out taxes). In a 12-week summer, that’s more than 100 hours a week.

What really made me feel ancient is that the 1981 UW student guide shows the Med school charged only $1,029 a year back then. Today: $28,040!

Now, I didn’t go to the UW. But I’m going down Husky memory lane because last week The Seattle Times featured a crop of harried UW students looking rueful and broke. The story said skeptical state legislators often say how “they worked their way through college. And then they ask: Why don’t students do that today?”

Of all our delusions, we old farts cling to this bootstrap one the most. We worked our way up on sweat and chicken grease, we say. Can’t this generation? What’s wrong with them?

What’s wrong is that after we got ours, we cut it off for them.

The reason a summer at KFC could pay for a year of UW med school in 1981 isn’t that we were so hardworking and industrious. It’s that taxpayers back then picked up 90 percent of the tab. We weren’t Horatio Algers. We were socialists.

Today, the public picks up only 30 percent of UW tuition, and dropping.

How we milked the public university system in this state and then starved it will go down as the great badge of shame of my generation and the one before mine, the baby boomers. Affordable college made us. Once made, we wouldn’t pay even a two-cent per can soda-pop tax to give that same gift to anybody else.

So, kids, the unbelievable tales of yore are true. Except the part about rugged individualism — that is baloney. Due to the allure of this myth, however, you’ll get no help from us. You’re on your own.

You can have a lecture on the virtues of hard work, though. No charge.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com”

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by | July 11, 2013 · 3:30 pm

How to Answer the Top 35 Interview Questions [INFOGRAPHIC]

“This infographic (from Sample Questionaire) lists the top 35 most asked interview questions, and how to answer them! How many of these have you been asked? Let us know in the comments below!


  • Are you a team player? This needs a firm YES!
  • What irritates you about co-workers? Say you deal with things softly, and you can get along with anyone once problems are solved.
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Speak as if you have vision, and follow what you placed in your resume.

Most Asked Job InterviewSource: samplequestionnaire.com

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by | July 11, 2013 · 3:22 pm


“For millions of gay and lesbian employees, much has changed since 1999, when no states recognized gay marriage, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” effectively barred people who were openly gay from serving in the military, Matthew Shepard’s murderer was convicted — and Exxon Mobil shareholders were first asked to protect gay and lesbian employees from discrimination.

One thing hasn’t: Exxon Mobil’s implacable opposition to adding sexual orientation to its official equal employment opportunity statement.

The issue will be on the agenda at Exxon Mobil’s annual shareholder meeting next week for the 14th consecutive year. Last year the company went so far as to ask the Securities and Exchange Commission for a ruling that it needn’t keep including the proposal on its ballot, but was rejected.

The proposal, backed this year, as it has been since 2010, by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli on behalf of the New York State Employees Retirement System, has never gained majority support. That’s not unusual for so-called social, political and environmental shareholder initiatives, since most institutional money managers usually decline as a matter of policy to vote against management recommendations on such issues. Still, the measure has gained as much as 38 percent of the vote, considered resounding support by the feeble standards of shareholder democracy.

That hasn’t fazed Exxon Mobil. On the contrary, as social attitudes and other corporations’ policies on the subject of gay rights have changed drastically, Exxon Mobil has moved steadily further from the mainstream, even within the energy sector. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies have adopted written nondiscrimination policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, as have all the major integrated oil companies that compete with Exxon Mobil.

Twenty-one states, the District of Columbia and more than 160 cities and counties have laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. But Exxon Mobil maintains it isn’t bound by these because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which pre-empts state law. A constitutional challenge to DOMA is awaiting decision by the Supreme Court, and two federal appeals courts have ruled DOMA unconstitutional.

“Exxon Mobil is an outlier among Fortune 500 companies on this issue,” Mr. DiNapoli said when I asked him about the issue this week. He said it was not only a social or civil rights issue. “The company runs the risk of restricting its ability to attract and maintain top talent. Exxon Mobil is sending a message that applicants and employees can be discriminated against on the basis of non-job related criteria. It just doesn’t make sense from a bottom-line standpoint.”

In countries where it’s mandated by law, Exxon Mobil does have policies barring discrimination against gay and lesbian employees — and extends spousal benefits to same-sex married couples. But the company has gone to unusual lengths to avoid doing so in the United States. Mobil Oil had polices protecting gay and lesbian employees from discrimination and extended benefits to same-sex couples. But Exxon rescinded them when it acquired Mobil in 1999. It eliminated the same protections and benefits when it acquired XTO Energy in 2009.

A former Exxon Mobil employee told me that he was involved with the company’s effort to transfer a highly valued executive from Belgium, where the executive lived with his husband, to Texas. He said the executive told the company, “I’m not coming alone,” and asked for the same medical benefits and recognition for his spouse that he received in Belgium. The company refused.

An Exxon Mobil spokesman said he couldn’t comment on a specific case, but noted that the United States immigration service doesn’t grant visas to same-sex spouses since those marriages aren’t recognized under federal law. He confirmed that it was company policy to provide such benefits only in countries where they are mandated by law, and not in the United States. According to Mr. DiNapoli, Exxon Mobil told him that the company refused to recognize the validity of same-sex marriages in New York or any other state where they are now legal. “Exxon Mobil must recognize that its stance against equal rights will hurt the company and its investors,” Mr. DiNapoli said.

It seems to be hurting the company with gay and lesbian customers and employees. Last June, Cece Cox, chief executive of Resource Center Dallas, and a group that included representatives from several Fortune 500 companies, met with Exxon Mobil’s relatively new head of human resources, Malcolm Farrant. “He flat-out asked us, ‘What’s your opinion of Exxon Mobil?’ ” Ms. Cox said. “Every single person said the equivalent of, ‘I’d walk 20 miles in a blizzard to find another gas station if I’d run out of gas. We’d never spend a dime at Exxon Mobil.’ ” It may also hurt the company’s recruiting efforts, especially among young engineering graduates who support same-sex marriage.

Exxon Mobil ranks last in the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality index of the Fortune 1000 corporations, with a score of negative 25 out of a possible 100. The company received the first and thus far only negative score for “engaging in activities that undermine L.G.B.T. equality,” an H.R.C. spokesman said. “Exxon Mobil is in a class by itself, and I don’t mean that in a positive sense,” said Deena Fidas, H.R.C.’s deputy director for the workplace project.

When I asked the Exxon Mobil spokesman, Alan T. Jeffers, for the company’s rationale, he referred me to its proxy statement, which states that “the board believes the proposal is unnecessary” because Exxon Mobil already “prohibits all forms of discrimination” and specifically mentions sexual orientation in a statement on its Web site and in its training programming for new employees.

That position irks gay rights advocates. “They have a bevy of attorneys who understand the difference between a legally binding equal employment opportunity statement and some reference on their Web site,” Ms. Cox said.

It seems ironic, then, that employees and former employees I spoke to praised the company for its tolerant work environment. “As an employee there every day, I never experienced anything close to discrimination based on sexual orientation or anything else, for that matter. And I never heard anything from anyone else. The only complaints I heard were about medical benefits,” said Tom Allen, who recently retired after 10 years with the company. Exxon Mobil has a gay employees organization, and a few members attended the “Out and Equal” workplace meeting when it held its annual convention in Dallas two years ago.

Mr. Allen was working at Mobil at the time of the merger with Exxon, and was involved in persuading Mobil’s former chairman, Lucio Noto, to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and to extend domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples. “We met with him, and explained the advantages straight people had, and he turned to me and said, ‘You’ve got to help me out here. What do you mean by straight people?’ But he understood the issue. Exxon just doesn’t seem to get it. They were very proud of their record on apartheid but they just don’t seem to see the common thread.”

Mr. Allen added, “Inside the company we anxiously watched that shareholder vote year after year. We kept hoping to see it turn to a yes vote, and we felt it was trending in the right direction. We never understood the company’s position. All their major competitors have taken this step. That’s what I don’t get. They are so driven by what happens at the competition, and wanting to stay competitive, except for this. It’s got to be somebody somewhere is blocking it. I can’t imagine who that is.”

For years, some people assumed it was Lee Raymond, Exxon’s blunt former chairman and chief executive best known for his vocal skepticism about global warming, who was also dismissive of the sexual orientation issue at shareholder meetings. But he retired at the end of 2005, replaced by a more genial Texan, Rex W. Tillerson.

Mr. Tillerson, a former Eagle Scout, was national president of the Boy Scouts of America from 2010 to 2011, while the Boy Scouts maintained its ban on gay scouts and scout leaders. He is a member of the Boy Scouts’ national executive board, which voted this week to lift the ban on gay scouts (but not gay scout leaders). Eight years into his tenure as Exxon Mobil’s chief executive, the company’s position hasn’t budged. No one doubts that if Mr. Tillerson threw his support behind the issue, the company’s policy would change.

Mr. Jeffers said Mr. Tillerson had no comment. He added that the company’s position on the issue was a board decision, and that board deliberations were confidential.

This week, Freedom to Work, a gay advocacy group, filed suit against Exxon Mobil in Illinois, claiming discrimination based on sexual orientation. The group sent the company two fictitious résumés for a job opening in Patoka, Ill. One résumé had stronger qualifications, but identified the applicant as gay. Exxon Mobil responded to the lesser-qualified applicant’s résumé and made several follow-up phone calls. The résumé from the gay applicant received no reply.

Tico Almeida, a Yale Law School graduate and president of Freedom to Work, told me this week he was inspired by similar lawsuits that were part of the civil rights movement. “Exxon Mobil says it doesn’t discriminate. If so, all they have to do is adopt the same nondiscrimination policy that other companies have and we’ll settle the case,’ Mr. Almeida said. “I hope they don’t decide to waste shareholder money by fighting it.”

But no one is holding out much hope, either for the lawsuit or the coming shareholder vote. “I don’t think they’ll ever back down,” Mr. Allen said. “Not until they’re forced to. I think it’s just a cultural thing.””



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by | June 1, 2013 · 4:36 pm

From the Mouths of Babes

I’ve been on food stamps since August of last year to help me feed myself while I interned  at a theatre in Louisville, KY. My internship paid me $1000 for 8 months, that’s roughly $30 a week, and it kept me working for over full time (sometimes hitting 60 hours a week). Food stamps helped me make ends meet on top of a $600/mo. apartment plus utilities of $30-80/mo. and phone bills of $80/mo., etc. I got $200/mo. from food stamps which helped out enormously. I view it as the government investing in my future because I’ve paid taxes since I was 15 and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I was lucky to have parents that paid out of pocket for my college education so that I wasn’t saddled with any debt. But, that also means that they don’t have much more left to help me survive now. So, what do you think? Am I part of the entitled poor that are sucking up tax-payers money? – Claire E Jones






Published: May 30, 2013

“Like many observers, I usually read reports about political goings-on with a sort of weary cynicism. Every once in a while, however, politicians do something so wrong, substantively and morally, that cynicism just won’t cut it; it’s time to get really angry instead. So it is with the ugly, destructive war against food stamps.

The food stamp program — which these days actually uses debit cards, and is officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — tries to provide modest but crucial aid to families in need. And the evidence is crystal clear both that the overwhelming majority of food stamp recipients really need the help, and that the program is highly successful at reducing “food insecurity,” in which families go hungry at least some of the time.

Food stamps have played an especially useful — indeed, almost heroic — role in recent years. In fact, they have done triple duty.

First, as millions of workers lost their jobs through no fault of their own, many families turned to food stamps to help them get by — and while food aid is no substitute for a good job, it did significantly mitigate their misery. Food stamps were especially helpful to children who would otherwise be living in extreme poverty, defined as an income less than half the official poverty line.

But there’s more. Why is our economy depressed? Because many players in the economy slashed spending at the same time, while relatively few players were willing to spend more. And because the economy is not like an individual household — your spending is my income, my spending is your income — the result was a general fall in incomes and plunge in employment. We desperately needed (and still need) public policies to promote higher spending on a temporary basis — and the expansion of food stamps, which helps families living on the edge and let them spend more on other necessities, is just such a policy.

Indeed, estimates from the consulting firm Moody’s Analytics suggest that each dollar spent on food stamps in a depressed economy raises G.D.P. by about $1.70 — which means, by the way, that much of the money laid out to help families in need actually comes right back to the government in the form of higher revenue.

Wait, we’re not done yet. Food stamps greatly reduce food insecurity among low-income children, which, in turn, greatly enhances their chances of doing well in school and growing up to be successful, productive adults. So food stamps are in a very real sense an investment in the nation’s future — an investment that in the long run almost surely reduces the budget deficit, because tomorrow’s adults will also be tomorrow’s taxpayers.

So what do Republicans want to do with this paragon of programs? First, shrink it; then, effectively kill it.

The shrinking part comes from the latest farm bill released by the House Agriculture Committee (for historical reasons, the food stamp program is administered by the Agriculture Department). That bill would push about two million people off the program. You should bear in mind, by the way, that one effect of the sequester has been to pose a serious threat to a different but related program that provides nutritional aid to millions of pregnant mothers, infants, and children. Ensuring that the next generation grows up nutritionally deprived — now that’s what I call forward thinking.

And why must food stamps be cut? We can’t afford it, say politicians like Representative Stephen Fincher, a Republican of Tennessee, who backed his position with biblical quotations — and who also, it turns out, has personally received millions in farm subsidies over the years.

These cuts are, however, just the beginning of the assault on food stamps. Remember, Representative Paul Ryan’s budget is still the official G.O.P. position on fiscal policy, and that budget calls for converting food stamps into a block grant program with sharply reduced spending. If this proposal had been in effect when the Great Recession struck, the food stamp program could not have expanded the way it did, which would have meant vastly more hardship, including a lot of outright hunger, for millions of Americans, and for children in particular.

Look, I understand the supposed rationale: We’re becoming a nation of takers, and doing stuff like feeding poor children and giving them adequate health care are just creating a culture of dependency — and that culture of dependency, not runaway bankers, somehow caused our economic crisis.

But I wonder whether even Republicans really believe that story — or at least are confident enough in their diagnosis to justify policies that more or less literally take food from the mouths of hungry children. As I said, there are times when cynicism just doesn’t cut it; this is a time to get really, really angry.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on May 31, 2013, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: From The Mouths Of Babes.”

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by | May 31, 2013 · 7:44 pm