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Posts Tagged ‘Social Security’

Why are women so scared to say “I’m awesome!”?

In behavior, business, journalism, life, Money, women, work on August 28, 2012 at 12:04 am
International Money Pile in Cash and Coins

International Money Pile in Cash and Coins (Photo credit: epSos.de)

Let’s say you’ve got the degrees and education and skills and smarts to land a job interview at Google.

Then you blow the interview because…you’re too modest to toot your own horn.

Seriously?

So reports The New York Times:

Meanwhile, there is the very Google-y approach of gathering data on precisely when the company loses women, then digging deeper to figure out what is happening and to try to fix it…

Google’s spreadsheets, for example, showed that some women who applied for jobs did not make it past the phone interview. The reason was that the women did not flaunt their achievements, so interviewers judged them unaccomplished.

Google now asks interviewers to report candidates’ answers in more detail. Google also found that women who turned down job offers had interviewed only with men. Now, a woman interviewing at Google will meet other women during the hiring process.

A result: More women are being hired.

Once hired, technical women were not being promoted at the same rate as men. At Google, employees nominate themselves for promotions, but the data revealed that women were less likely to do so. So senior women at Google now host workshops to encourage women to nominate themselves, and they are promoted proportionally to men, Mr. Bock said.

I find this fascinating, infuriating and sad.

But not surprising.

A book I recommend to every woman is “Women Don’t Ask”, which, even though it focused on an elite group, (MBA students), intelligently explores women’s ambivalence about asking for more at work, whether perks, money, power or responsibility.

From the authors’ website:

Women are much less likely than men to ask for what they want and to use negotiation as a tool to promote their own ambitions or desires. Sara interviewed nearly 100 people all over the country—both men and women—and found the same thing. Men use negotiation to get ahead and get what they want between two and nine times as often as women do.

(I’ve added the bold and italics.)

Why must women negotiate?

– We live longer than men and need more income in  retirement to support us. The less we earn in our work-lives, the less we’ll have in old age.

– Women often take some time out to bear and raise children, lowering their lifetime earnings and reducing the amount they’ll receive from Social Security.

– Women who fail to ask for more — get less. No one’s going to offer you anything if you leave it on the table by not even asking for it.

Modesty is a charming quality. I prize it. But not at the literal expense of earning less or facing a shortened career with limited prospects.

Why do women fail to ask for more?

Fear of being disliked. Fear of others’ disapproval for being pushy. Fear we can’t actually do the job.

All of which, on some level, are bullshit.

I’ve been negotiating for more money and responsibility since I was a teenager writing for national publications and paying my own way through university on my earnings. This wasn’t money I was blowing on clothes and shoes and cool shit I didn’t need, but groceries, rent and utilities.

Oh, and tuition and books.

One day I was in the newsroom of the paper I wrote a weekly column for, earning $125 a week. I overheard my editor trying to dissuade a male columnist from dropping his column: “But you’ll lose $200 a week!”

That additional $300 a month, $3,600 a year, was serious coin in 1978, and just as valuable today.

Negotiating isn’t fun or easy, which is no excuse to avoid it.

If you feel you’ve got more to lose, or less to fall back on, you’re probably likely to take whatever they offer. When an editor recently called me to offer a magazine assignment, she initially offered me $1,500. I know the market and my skills and asked for more. She gave it. She could have refused.

So our ability to negotiate also relies on our level of self-confidence, our skills, our networks — and our comfort level knowing our market value and feeling at ease asking for the pay that reflects, and respects, it.

It’s easier, always, to grab the first (lowest) offer and run.

I grew up in a family of freelancers. No one had a paycheck or pension. Negotiation was normal, tough discussions typical, and we all knew that those hiring us would probably try to offer the least possible.

You can also out-source some of this. I’ve used agents and lawyers many times to negotiate on my behalf. Yes, it costs money. But well worth it.

You can’t get what you don’t ask for.

Do you negotiate?

How’s it working out?

When Do You Plan (Hope?) To Stop Working?

In aging, behavior, business, life, Money, work on November 28, 2011 at 2:02 am
Obadiah Sedgwick (1600?-1658), puritan clergyman

A Puritan clergyman. Do you really need to follow his lead? Image via Wikipedia

Now here’s a seriously depressing idea, working into your 80s.

A recent New York Times op-ed argues this is not only likely necessary for millions of Americans but — seriously? -- a terrific new development:

Retirement seems out of the question for increasing numbers of Americans who are saddled with debt and whose savings evaporated during the recent bust. Today’s workers should expect to labor longer, and companies should expect to employ more older workers.

The numbers supply a vivid picture of America’s graying work force. Between 2007 and 2010, the number of working Americans over 65 years old jumped 16 percent; the number of under-65’s in the labor force shrank. The trend started before the current downturn: the number of Americans over 65 in the labor force increased from 10.8 percent in 1985 to 12.1 percent in 1995 to 15.1 percent in 2005 to 17.4 percent in 2010. Until 2001, most workers age 65 and older had part-time jobs; since 2001, full-time work has been far more common….

Nearly 40 percent of 55- to 64-year-old Americans don’t have retirement accounts. Less than a quarter of this group owns a single stock or savings bond. The median net worth of 55- to 64-year-old Americans has declined during the last years and is now $254,000 (including housing), down from $273,000 just three years ago. American households saved less than 4 percent of their incomes for every year between 1999 and 2008; during this time, thrifty Germans were saving about one-tenth of their earnings. A nation that prefers spending to saving is going to find it difficult to enjoy a comfortable retirement.

Call me lazy, unmotivated, un-American. The thought of working into my 80s — instead of (I hope) being able to wind this thing down in the next decade or so, in my mid 60s — is appalling. I’ve been working for pay since I was 14 and started life-guarding.

Enough already!

Here’s a wild notion: Live low(er). Save more. Focus your goals not on the next set of paychecks, but when and how to extricate yourself from the hamster wheel of working for pay.

Read this powerful book on the “value” of income versus time.


Unlike some other nations, for whom the endless drama of “work-life balance” is less difficult to achieve (paid maternity leave for months, for example), Americans are heavily socialized and rewarded (no paid sick leave, short vacations) for working all the time.

Those who seriously value other non-work -related activities — quiet time alone, traveling, volunteer work, spending time with our loved ones or pets, learning or perfecting new skills for the pure pleasure of it — are derided as bohemians or, worse, hippies. Time spent un-tethered to commercial production is considered deeply suspicious.

Don’t you want to workworkworkworkworkwork?!

Don’t you want to keep buying more/bigger/faster/newer stuff?

Jose and I are fortunate, still working steadily in fields we enjoy, to be earning enough for our needs. We save and invest  and keep a careful eye on those funds. We have retirement savings, (40 percent of people in our age group have none),  and are also lucky enough to likely (just) to be able to collect Social Security payments and a company pension.

Nor do we have children, grandchildren or parents whose financial needs compete with ours, as so many people do.

But I disagree that:

1) paid work is the best use of our very limited time on this earth;

2) saving money is too hard.

I’ve had years, plural and sequential, in which all I was able to do was pay my bills and do almost nothing else, hanging onto my home (which I own) with a white-knuckled death grip. I know it’s terrifying to not have a lot of (or any) spare cash. I’ve dipped into my IRAs more than once.

But I have IRAs because I deliberately save money every year, usually 10-25% of my income. Anything less makes me feel ill. Nothing is worth not having savings accumulating. Nothing I could own, see, do, listen to, eat, hear, wear or otherwise consume, is worth that to me.

In lean years, I buy little, and it’s from consignment shops or only on sale. I use and wear items that are 10, 15 even 20 years old, well-cared for, that don’t look it. Our one car is 11 years old. We have every form of insurance possible to protect what we’ve worked hard to accumulate.

It’s a choice.

Do you want to keep working that long?

Will you have to?

What compromises are you willing, or able, to make to avoid this?

Be Thrifty – Or Else

In behavior, Money on April 18, 2010 at 8:46 pm
An assortment of United States coins, includin...

We'll need a lot more than that...Image via Wikipedia

Being cheap is the new black, writes Daniel Akst in the Wilson Quarterly (you have to pay for on-line access), quoted in The New York Times:

To be thrifty, after all, is to save, and to save is not only to keep but to rescue. Thrift is thus a way to redeem yourself not just from the unsexy bondage of indebtedness but also from subjugation to people and efforts that are meaningless to you, or worse. Debt means staying in a pointless job, failing to support needy people or worthwhile causes, accepting the strings that come with dependence, and gritting your teeth when your boss asks you to do something unethical (instead of saying “drop dead”). Ultimately, thrift delivers not just freedom but salvation — which makes it a bargain even Jack Benny could love.

Margaret Wente, writing in The Globe and Mail, wonders how anyone — save the fortunate few with defined-benefit pensions — will actually survive retirement without a pile ‘o cash:

Because of imprudence, misfortune, a vast shift in cultural habits, or the sheer financial drain of supporting their kids until age 28, they are facing their old age with no savings, no pension and few assets. I have no idea what they’re going to do. All I know is that there are plenty of them. For the first time since we introduced old age pensions, millions of people who’ve led comfortable, middle-class lives are facing a big drop in their standard of living when they stop working. No more salmon teriyaki for them.

“A large chunk of the baby-boom generation is on the verge of retirement with only the state to depend on for a retirement period that will be, on average, the longest in Canadian history,” writes consultant Robin Sears in the magazine Policy Options. “We were pension pioneers. But we’ve lost our way.”

Whose fault is it that we don’t save like Grandma did? Is it ours, for crashing our savings rate below zero, and not being disciplined enough to resist the siren call of easy debt that’s been relentlessly marketed to us for a generation? Whose fault is it that we’re living longer than anybody has before, and screwing up the actuarial tables? Whose fault is it that the vast majority of us fail to save at least 10 per cent of our earnings starting at the age of 30, the way we’re supposed to? What about the single mom who’s put her kid through university, or the highly creative guy who is stupidly hopeless with his money, or the manager who got laid off at 57 and has to dip into his savings, or the millions of conscientious people who pay shocking fees to the investment industry to mismanage their RRSPs? Should we blame them, too?

You can see the problem here. Saving up for your old age is an individual responsibility. But helping you do it is a social one.

It would be nice if we could be more like the Chinese, who save 40 per cent of their money. That’s because they know they might starve or die from lack of health care if they don’t. The danger is that we’ll wind up like the Japanese, who suffered a huge economic hit in the ’70s and ’80s. Millions of retired folks were forced back into employment to support themselves. Former doctors took jobs as parking-lot attendants.

As someone self-employed, it’s not an issue I take lightly.

It’s a big pile of ifs: If my partner and I stay together, married or not, I’ll be OK, if his pension is still there; if Social Security pays out to us both what our statements tells us it will; if we keep saving 15% -plus percent of our incomes every single year; if our carefully chosen and diversified investments don’t tank; if , when we finally tap our accumulated capital, interest rates aren’t where they are now — a smack-in-the-face 1-2 percent on safe, secure holdings like CDs.

Now there’s a fair recompense for all that thrift!

If we bust up, it’s Friskies and a cardboard box for me! If I still own my home, and the mortgage is paid off, and if I can afford the monthly co-op maintenance fee, my only possible salvation from penury will be a reverse mortgage. Because my writing income isn’t nearly where I want it to be, and I can’t see suddenly doubling or tripling it for the next decade consistently, (believe me, I’m trying), my projected SS income wouldn’t get me through a month right now. There’s a comfy thought.

The old three-legged stool: SS, pension and savings is missing a leg — the pension — for most of us now. The second leg, savings, is a perpetual challenge when gas is $3/gallon and wages are stagnant or, in my industry falling to 1970s rates. Hey, change careers! Assume $10,000 to $75,000+ in student loan debt and cross your fingers that shiny new job market is all perky and welcoming when you graduate, competing with people willing and able to work at half the wages because they’ve still got five decades to save.

If they do save.

I recently interviewed, for my book, a single 51-year-old with a Master’s degree and $40,000 of student debt. Canned from her non-profit job a few years ago, she makes — wait for it — $7.25 an hour working retail. She couldn’t possibly save a dime and lives thanks to hand-outs from her 82-year-old mother. Her life is not quite what she planned.

One friend, 16 years my junior, is scrambling harder and harder and harder, like a hamster on a speeding wheel, to earn what she needs. Like us, she and her partner don’t even have kids. They are stylish and fun, but live very frugally.

Our “old age” is now.

Taxes, More Taxes and Even More Taxes — Are You Angry, Too?

In business on February 19, 2010 at 9:27 am
Paper money, extreme macro

Image by kevindooley via Flickr

I recently got some official mail from New York State, demanding I fill out the paperwork for a new commuter tax. Time for another tax!

Excuse me?

I commute, as one of the nation’s self-employed — now about one-third of American workers — from my bedroom to my living room desk. It takes about 15 seconds, tops. I will be heading into Manhattan, 25 miles south of me, visible from my street, Monday to interview someone for my book, because face to face interviews are always the best.

I do not commute into the city, but go in about once a week for business or pleasure or both. I should be taxed for this?

Why do I need to pay another (*^%#@!! tax?

I get why people are furious, and why a man torched his house and flew his plane into an IRS building in Austin. His actions were insane, but his rage was not. His sense of impotence is deeply and widely felt.

There are six people lined up for any job open right now. Thousands of Americans are losing their homes to foreclosure, living in their vehicles, terrified of the next hammer blow of an economy — and a government — rewarding Wall Street with billions while the rest of us stand there feeling like morons for doing the right thing, paying our taxes over and over and over to governments that give us very little back. Two wars. Bank bailouts. Job creation that doesn’t touch us or anyone, anywhere, we know.

When you work for yourself, paying taxes feels deeply, viscerally personal. That money doesn’t neatly and invisibly evaporate from your paychecks, with maybe a fat refund awaiting you. As if!

We’re expected to pay our taxes quarterly, in anticipation of the rest of the year’s income — as if we know, in this recession, what that will be — in docile agreement. We get zero help when our clients disappear, (I lost one third of my income last year when The New York Times shut down a regional section I wrote for every month), when banks refuse to extend us credit to run the businesses we have spent years building, when credit card companies game the system by jacking up their rates before new laws restrict them from further rapacity.

I know I am not alone right now in this crap economy, scrapping harder than ever for my income, in feeling like a punch-drunk fighter on the ropes, looking through puffy, bloodied eyes for my cut-man. In vain.

I interviewed a 44-year-old local businessman yesterday who runs a store his great-great grandfather founded in 1904. “I’ve never ever ever seen it this bad,” he said. He is surviving, and gracious about it. But, increasingly, I bet others will not be.

The self-employed also pay 15% for the pleasure of not having a boss, or insured earnings (no unemployment checks for us — no matter how badly the economy tanks) or benefits, no paid sick days or holidays or vacations. That’s our money going into FICA, paying full freight for our Social Security.

Every time I write a check to the Federal Treasury, I want to enclose a note: Don’t waste it! Stop two absurd wars! Pass a health care bill!

I grew up in Canada, where taxes are high but the finest and most competitive college in the nation, my alma mater the University of Toronto, charges about $5,000 a year tuition right now. No, that is not missing a zero. Where every single resident of ever single province has access to excellent, free health care, cradle to grave.

Canadians are taxed up the wazoo, even paying tax on stamps. But you see, every single day, where that money goes and its benefits.

I understand the fury and the frustration. I feel it. Millions of us do.

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