AARP Says Age Discrimination Robs $850 Billion from Nation’s Economy

Published in the Woonsocket Call on February 9, 2020

In 1985, my 71-year old father was ready to leave his job, looking for greener pastures. After working for Dallas, Texas-based Colbert-Volks for over 33 years as Vice President, General Merchandise Manager, he knew it was time for a job change.

After telling me of his desire to find a new employment, I told my father that he would bring over three decades of experience in the retail sector to a new company along with a vast network he had accumulated. I remember saying “You would be a great catch.” His curt response: “Nobody will hire me at my age.”

Thirty-five years after this conversation, AARP releases a report charging that age discrimination is still running rampant in America’s workplaces and it even negatively impacts the nation’s economy, too.

Last month, AARP and the Economist Intelligence Unit released a report, The Economic Impact of Age Discrimination, reporting that the age 50 and over population contributed 40 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2018, creating 88.6 million jobs and generating $5.7 trillion in wages and salaries through jobs held directly or indirectly.

But older workers would have contributed a massive $850 billion more in 2018 to the GDP if they could have remained in or re-entered the labor force, switched jobs or been promoted internally, notes the AARP study.

AARP’s new study shows that the elimination of that bias in 2018 would have increased the contribution of the 50-plus cohort to the GDP from $8.3 trillion to $9.2 trillion. It also projects that the potential contribution of the older population could increase by $3.9 trillion in a no-age bias economy, which would mean a total contribution of $32.1 trillion to GDP in 2050.

“This important report shows the cost to the entire economy of discriminating against older workers,” said Debra Whitman, AARP’s Executive vice president and Chief Public Policy Officer in a Jan. 30, 2020 statement announcing the release of the 22-page report. “The economy in 2018 could have been 4 percent larger if workers did not face barriers to working longer,” says Whitman.

“Studies have shown that older workers are highly engaged, with low turnover, and often serve an important role as mentors,” Whitman added. “Their expertise helps businesses and pays big dividends for the economy as a whole. Employers who embrace age diversity will be at an advantage,” she says.

House Moves to Combat Age Discrimination

The groundbreaking AARP report comes on the heels of the House of Representative’s recent passage of HR 2030, “Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act,” to combat age discrimination.

The House chamber’s action comes as older workers play an increasingly important role in the workforce. Estimates are that by 2024, 41 million people ages 55 and older will be in the labor force, nearly an 8 percent increase from the current number. In addition, next year the oldest millennials will start turning 40 and then will be covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

The legislation, passing with bipartisan vote of 261-155, restores anti-discrimination protections under the ADEA that were weakened by the Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc. The decision changed the burden of proof for workers to be the sole motivating factor for the employer’s adverse action, making it much harder for workers to prove age discrimination.

In the Senate, the bipartisan companion legislation (S.485) is sponsored by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Bob Casey (D-PA).

“The House vote sends a strong bipartisan message that age bias has to be treated as seriously as other forms of workplace discrimination,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer. “Age discrimination is widespread, but it frequently goes unreported and unaddressed,” charges LeMond.

Thoughts on Age Discrimination

AARP’s new report includes survey findings gleaned from a study conducted last July and August, interviewing 5,000 people age 50-plus to identify how they have experienced age discrimination at work or while looking for work.

The researchers analyzed: involuntary retirement due to age bias; 50-plus workers involuntarily in part-time jobs; missed opportunities for wage growth; lost earnings following involuntary job separation; longer periods of unemployment compared to younger workers; and people age 50 and older who dropped out of the labor force, but want to continue working.

The study’s findings indicate that the age 50 and over labor force has grown by 80 percent since 1998, about 40 percent of workers age 65 over intend to continue working into their 70s. While 80 percent of employer’s support employees working into their later years, nearly two-thirds of older workers say they have experienced or seen age discrimination in the workplace.

As to gender, the study’s findings note that men who retire between ages 50 and 64 are most likely to feel that they are being forced into retirement because of their age. Older women bear the double burden of age and gender discriminate, say the researchers. Those age 50-64, especially women, experience longer unemployment than other groups

The study also found that lower-income workers are more likely to feel trapped in their present role as a result of age discrimination.

AARP’s report warns that “in order to benefit from age ‘inclusion,’ employers need not only to recognize age bias, but actually “actively” stop it; they need to “bust myths” about older workers, be it that they cost too much or are not tech-savvy; they need to recognize the value that experienced workers bring to the workplace, like their dependability and ability to problem-solve and remain calm under pressure, and they must build and support a multigenerational workforce.”

Final Thoughts

We have worked for years to raise awareness of valuing people in the workforce, regardless of age,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “This isn’t AARP rhetoric. Data repeatedly proves that age discrimination is not only is unfair to older workers, but something that also has a negative impact on the economy.

“Employers should take advantage of the best talent available without dismissing equally capable employees at a certain age or by choosing not to hire new workers simply because of their age,” Connell added. “Companies with a diverse cultural often laud that as a business asset. That philosophy should not exclude older workers. They can bring experience and wisdom into the mix and should be judged only on their performance.”

For information on AARP workforce-related resources, go to http://www.aarp.employers.

For a copy of AARP’s report, go to http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/econ/2020/impact-of-age-discrimination.doi.10.26419-2Fint.00042.003.pdf.

Women Capable of Changing Corporate Culture with Effective Communication

Published in Woonsocket Call on March 11, 2018

Effective communication is a major factor for women executives to be successful on the job and for having healthy personal relationships, says Author Donna Mac, a well-known corporate communications trainer and keynote speaker. Ms. Mac is based in south eastern Massachusetts, with 30 years of experience in the communications industry.

The corporate communications expert notes that a recent article in Psychology Today says that whether a partner’s communication “lifts you up or brings you down” is the single largest predictor of divorce. “That one trait can also translate into work too, observes Mac. “Often, a company’s greatest talent leaves a job because of miscommunication or a lack of communication and limited trust,” she says.

“Our society is changing at an incredible pace, so we often fail to have those vital conversations or to take time to ensure that understanding has taken place. Details fall through the cracks and we spend more time picking up the pieces than if we had taken a few moments to communicate effectively in the first place,” says Mac.

Western Women Will Save The World

In 2012, Mac said, the Dali Lama was quoted as saying, “western women will save the world”. “I agree and disagree”, says Mac. “I believe His Holiness saw the importance of bringing softer, more nurturing communication skills into the workplace. It’s clear he was talking about the skills that prove to people that you’ve taken the time to think and care about them,” she says.

Mac says, “Empathetic communication skills are more important now than ever. But the workplace also needs employees who have thick skin; professionals who are able to articulate the rules, regulations and take a firm stand on issues. Those skills,” Mac says, “are the kind that will get you noticed by upper management. They come from someone not afraid to do and say the right thing at the right time, even if discomforting,” she says.

“I see it all the time. Like when a boss doesn’t provide her employees constructive feedback for fear of how that worker will feel,” says Mac, noting that when this happens it can be a great disservice to the employee and the organization because you’ve lost an opportunity for everyone to maximize the potential of the company and its people.

Speaking & Communicating Mindfully

Even with three decades of communication experience under her belt, Mac doesn’t lose sight of the fact that she’s still has more to learn. “I learn new modalities all the time. These days, I’m helping people become more mindful of how they communicate and what they can and cannot control. I’ve sharpened these skills through some recent mindfulness training. That means shutting down our noisy, overstimulated brains by sitting in silence, noticing our biases and doing breathing exercises”.

“It’s amazing”, Mac says, how communicating mindfully helps with the fear of speaking. We fear speaking at the podium and we also fear having challenging conversations. Being more mindful helps you feel more confident as you acquire the tools necessary to communicate.”

“We’ve been taught not to focus on our weaknesses,” Mac says, “but if you want to communicate more effectively, it’s vital that you know what they are. This way, if you are more reserved, you are not overpowered by colleagues or partners who are more outgoing. If your communication skills are more boisterous, you can learn the virtues of slowing down, judging less and listening better.”

“I help people understand people, so they’re able to tune in and relate better. Email and texting is not going away but I think everyone knows that our society can be healthier with more human-to-human interaction and less time on our cell phones! We will also have a more balanced society when communicators are able to be kind and to speak with certainty.”

Mac suggests that if you want to become a more effective communicator, don’t focus on changing others. “When you begin to find your voice after being more introverted, you can actually become more influential pretty quickly. If you’ve been a very communicative person and begin to ask more questions and listen, those around you will notice.”

“It takes time, energy and effort to become a more effective communicator but the benefits at work and at home are well worth it. Plus, the time for all people to acquire the confidence and ability to speak is long overdue. So, ask yourself,” Mac suggests, “are you ready and able to take on the challenge?”

With the #MeToo movement and growing number of incidents of sexual harassment being reported daily, says she spends more time looking forward than in the past. “Just about every woman has a story of being or feeling intimidated. And it’s a different world now. Thanks to the many women who have come forward, it’s a perfect time to learn how to shut down someone who is seeking to take advantage.”

Mac says, “I can’t help with the current laws of the land or regulations in various businesses. But everyone in the workplace, women and men, need to the courage and ability to tell an abuser to stop…to say statements like, “I find that comment way out of line and I am asking you to stop now” or “Help me understand what you mean by that. I’m sure you realize that I don’t stand for any type of intimidation”.

“Give them eye contact and stand in your powerful silence. It’s quite effective.”

This month we celebrate Women’s History Month, to showcase the contribution women have made throughout society. Yes, history can be made in corporate American when women stop apologizing for speaking directly. You can do this while still being kind and respectful. It’s like blending traditionally male and female communication traits when you are able to speak using both your brain and your intuition.

Donna Mac is author of Guide to a RICHER LIFE–Know Your Worth, Find Your Voice & Speak Your Mind, and The Six Pillars of Effective Communication. She is also a keynote speaker and private coach. For more details, go to http://www.dmacvoice.com.

Assistance to Employee Caregivers Good for Everyone’s Bottom Line

Published in Woonsocket Call on June 11, 2017

Days ago, AARP and the Respect a Caregiver’s Time Coalition (ReACT) released a report detailing innovative practices and policies of 14 organizations to support their employees with caregiver responsibilities. With the graying of America, supporting caregiver employees should be considered “a potentially new weapon” to attract or retain talented employees, say the researchers, by flexible work arrangements and paid leave policies. And there will be a need for this support.

It is estimated that of the 40 million unpaid family caregivers in the U.S., 60 percent are employed. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP Public Policy Institute, nearly 25 percent of all family caregivers are millennials, and 50 percent are under the age of 50. This means that the growing number of family caregivers in the workforce is an issue that all employers will face. The NAC/AARP research also revealed that 61 percent of working caregivers must make workplace accommodations including modifying hours, taking a leave of absence, choosing early retirement or turning down a promotion.

Report Cites Best Practices to Support Employee Caregivers

The 14 case studies in the new report, “Supporting Working Caregivers: Case Studies of Promising Practices,” include well-known organizations from both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, and both large and small employers. They represent a broad set of industries, including financial services, health care, higher education, home care, management consulting, media, and technology.

There is “no one size fit all” solution to meeting the needs of employee caregivers, say the researchers. But, even with the diversity of the 14 participating organizations “there is clear evidence of promising practices” identified through these interviews, they note.

Researchers gleaned best practices from 14 nonprofits and for profits (from very large employers with over 200,000 workers to ones with less than 200 workers), detailing in the report released on June 8, 2017, how these organizations assist their caregiver employees. These companies provide a broad array of information resources and referrals, flexible work arrangements, paid time off for caregiving, emergency backup care, and, in some cases, high-touch counseling and care management advice.

“Family caregivers juggle their loved one’s needs with their own personal and professional goals every day. AARP hopes this report will encourage more employers understand caregiving and support their employees’ success,” said Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer in a statement. AARP sponsored the 49-page report.

According to researchers, interviews with business and human resources executives from the profiled organizations indicated that time and flexibility are what matter most to employees when it comes to balancing work and caregiving. Close to half of the employers interviewed provide paid time off for caregiving as well as emergency backup care and flexible work arrangements.

All offer employee caregivers a combination of information resources, referral services and advice by phone. Most provide resources online, typically through an employee assistance program (EAP) or an intranet portal. More than half offer phone consultations or 24/7 expert hotlines. Several interviewees stressed the value of providing on-site, independent eldercare consultants, noting that employees appreciate both the convenience and the respect for their privacy.

“ReACT represents a cross-sector employer effort to raise awareness of and spur action to meet the challenges millions face every day while taking care of an older loved one,” said Drew Holzapfel, convener of ReACT, in a statement. “It’s exciting to see how leading organizations are showcasing the value of employee caregivers’ dual roles at home and in the office.”

Organizations Give Thumbs Up to Assisting Employee Caregivers

Interviewees at the participating organizations were not shy in explaining the importance of offering caregiver assistance to employees.

Michelle Stone, Fannie Mae’s Work-Life Benefits Senior Program Manager, says, “We have been asked, ‘How can you afford to do this?’ Our response is, ‘How can we afford not to?’ The program helps our company and our employees save time and money, and the return on investment is substantial.”

Michelle Martin, Vice President, Human Resources Specialty Services, CBS Corporation, states, “Our hope is to fill the gaps in support along the continuum of care so that employees not only have what they need to care, but also the peace of mind to do so without worrying about their job.”

“At Allianz Life, we like to say, ‘we’ve been keeping promises to our employees and customers since our founding.’ Nothing matters more than our employees and we work every day to provide them with benefits that allow for work-life balance and peace of mind,” says Suzanne Dowd Zeller, Chief Human Resources Officer.

Adds Audrey Adelson, manager of work-life, Emory University, “Our program is based on a continuum of care model, designed to support not only entrenched caregivers, but also those who anticipate becoming a caregiver and those whose caregiving responsibilities have ended and are beginning to move beyond caregiving.”

AARP Rhode Island Champions Caregiving Temporary Disability Insurance

Most employers recognize that some of their best workers are not at their best when they are caregivers in crisis for feeling the onset of burnout,” AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen noted. “One of the reasons is that most employers and their human resources managers respond to the needs of caregivers is because they are not far removed from caregiving if not caregivers themselves. They know that caregiving responsibilities sometimes must take precedence over work. And they understand that what is good for the caregiver is also good for their business.

“In Rhode Island, caregiving temporary disability insurance – legislation championed by AARP – gives caregivers paid leave to attend to caregiving tasks or as respite when a break from work benefits all concerned. Employers should assess their policies and give thought to the importance of supporting their caregiving employees’ success. This is true of businesses large and small and non-profits as well. These bosses can start by simply asking themselves what their expectations would be if they were an employee.”

Rhode Island CEOs might consider obtaining a copy of this report, passing the document to Human Resources for review and ultimate implement of eldercare policies. Stressed employee caregivers will appreciate any assistance they can get to help them in their caregiving responsibilities. But, this makes good business sense, too. Assisting employee caregivers will increase employee productivity, improving the company’s bottom line.

To read the full report, go to:

http://respectcaregivers.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/AARP-ReAct-MASTER-web.pdf

Freelance Economy Can Be Powerful Economic Engine

Published in Pawtucket Times on June 22, 2015

Last week, it took three days for Sign Painter Jayson M. Salvi to put the final touches on the façade of the Camera Werks on Hope St.   As he sat on the pavement printing the signage, passerbuyers would stop and chat, admiring his craft.

For the 41-year-old Salvi, his passion for sign painting began in high school, ultimately continuing in his eight year stint in the U.S. Navy.  Salvi says that he usually ended up painting logos and signs on doors wherever he was assigned.

With an honorable discharge from the Navy in 2000 and a degree in business administration he earned at Norfolk University while serving in the military, Salvi came to Providence to be near family.  He began his sign painting business at the former Providence-based Tazza Restaurant after an unsuccessful venture in the candle making business, followed by several retail jobs.  Word of mouth advertising about his artistic talent led to more freelance painting opportunities at the Trinity Brew House, RISD’s Second Life, a nonprofit student run recycling material center, and the Camera Werks, to name a few.

Working a full-time retail job pays for his health insurance, for him and his wife, Kate, a self employed photographer and card designer.     Salvi estimates that he pulls in around $30,000 a year from his freelancing.  “Try buying a Cadillac with that,” he says.  But in a blink of an eye he would leave retail forever to make a living from full-time sign painting, he says. “Self employed people do whatever they need to do to pay the bills to do the things they love to do,” he says.

Spotlight on Rhode Island Freelances

According to federal census data released last month, Salvi and his wife join over 73,700 sole proprietors in Rhode Island who earned a total of over $3.3 billion in annual income. These Ocean State residents are self-employed, sole proprietors, freelancers, independent contractors and non-employee small businesses, says Olon Reeder, of Olon Reeder Associates, a public relations consulting firm that represents self employed clients.  .

The federal census data, culled from 2013 sole proprietor income tax filings from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, indicate that the top work performed by Rhode Island’s self employed workers included Professional/Technical/Scientific services; Other Non-Governmental services; Real Estate; Construction; and Health and Social services, says Reeder.

Reeder, 56, states that despite an improving jobs market in Southern New England [the latest state unemployment numbers drop to 5.9 percent, the lowest since 2007], it’s still very difficult for many unemployed Rhode Islanders to get back to full-time work.  But, the Ocean State has been able to maintain stable job growth, in particular, the state’s freelance workforce, says the North Providence resident and businessman.

Reeder, who has been a public relations consultant for almost 28 years, notes that many sole proprietors active in Rhode Island are “baby boomers” aged 50 and over that are turning to freelance work full time because they were laid off from regular work or early retirees; are encoring into lifelong ambitions they feel are essential in the marketplace; or are working for themselves out of necessity due to long term unemployment.

Nationally, the latest Census Data figures report that for 2013 there were 23 million Americans working solo earning $1 trillion in receipts, that’s up from 2011 figures, which showed at that time there were only 22.5 million people who worked for themselves and collectively earned at that time $989.6 billion, says Reeder..

”The latest figures, from 2013, also show that Rhode Island’s sole proprietors had receipts of $3.3 billion.,” Reeder adds, noting that when compared to similar numbers from 2011, self employment increased by 700 jobs over the last three years (over 200 annually) and income went up by $2 million over the last three years (over $300 thousand annually).

Interestingly, next door in Massachusetts, self employment went dramatically down in the “Bay State,” as Federal figures indicated that only 263,500 freelance workers in 2013, compared to the 471,800 solo workers employed in 2011. Earnings for Massachusetts independents also fell in 2013, with only $15.2 million in receipts, compared to $24.4 million in 2011, he said.

“Finally, Rhode Island has something we do best when it comes to our self-employed workers,” he says, noting that the state now rates better than its next door neighbor. “It’s something we can boast about,” he says.

Self-Employed, an Economic Engine

State and local politicians tend to focus their energy on attracting large companies to the state [like 38 Studios], but tend to ignore the self-employed, charges Reeder, a long time tireless and passionate advocate for self-employed workers.  “The self employed are a powerhouse that can no longer be ignored and must be reckoned with,” he says.

“Rhode Island’s self employed are a best kept secret that need to be taken advantaged of to improve our state’s long tern economic development and quality of life,”  says Reeder.  “Very few businesses create over 200 jobs a year and pay per capita per sole proprietor an average of over $44,000 a year. This is how the freelance economy is changing our lives,” he says.

With the ending of this years’ legislative session, Reeder calls on lawmakers to look down the road to investing in state’s self-employed work force.  Usually the General Assembly tackles the tax code to make it more business-friendly for large corporations or targeted industries without considering providing incentives or tax incentives to the state’s self employed.

Like previous years, Reeder opposes any revisiting of placing fees or expansion of sales taxes on services provided by the self-employed.   “There must be a level playing field for all business,” he says, ‘everyone should be treated equally.”.

Reeder believes Rhode Island has become a leader in growing its free lance work force and this could just become a powerful economic engine to revitalize the state’s  sputtering economy.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

 

 

GAO Study Reports New Trends Push Older Women into Poverty

Published in Pawtucket Times, March 7, 2014

Following on the heels of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released last week on March 5, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing to put a Congressional spotlight on the alarming increase of older Americans becoming impoverished.  The GAO policy analysts concluded that a growing number of the nation’s elderly, especially women and minorities, could fall into poverty due to lower incomes associated with declining marriage rates and the higher living expenses that individuals bear.

As many as 48 percent of older Americans live in or on the edge of poverty. “While many gains have been made over the years to reduce poverty, too many seniors still can’t afford basic necessities such as food, shelter and medicines,” said Aging Committee Chairman Bill Nelson (D-FL).

Senate Aging Committee Looks at Income Security for Elders

Policy experts told Senate lawmakers on Wednesday that millions of seniors have been spared from abject poverty thanks to federal programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, SSI, and food stamps.  The testimony contrasted with the picture painted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) earlier this week, who produced a report that labeled the federal government’s five-decade long war on poverty a failure.

Appearing before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, Patricia Neuman, a senior vice president at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, stressed the importance of federal anti-poverty programs.

“Between 1966 and 2011, the share of seniors living in poverty fell from more than 28 percent to about 9 percent, with the steepest drop occurring in the decade immediately following the start of the Medicare program,” said Neuman.  “The introduction of Medicare, coupled with Social Security, played a key role in lifting seniors out of poverty.”

Neuman’s remarks were echoed by Joan Entmacher of the National Women’s Law              Center, who credited food stamps, unemployment insurance and Meals on Wheels, along with Social Security, for dramatically reducing poverty among seniors.  The report was highly critical of many programs designed to help the poor and elderly saying they contribute to the “poverty trap.”  Ryan and other House lawmakers have long proposed capping federal spending and turning Medicaid, food stamps and a host of other programs for the poor into state block grants.

Older Women and Pension Benefits

GAO’s Barbara Bovbjerg also brought her views to the Senate Select Committee on Aging hearing. Bovbjerg, Managing Director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues, testified that the trends in marriage, work, and pension benefits have impacted the retirement incomes of older Americans.

Over the last five decades the composition of the American household has changed dramatically, stated Bovbjerg, noting that the proportion of unmarried individuals has increased steadily as couples have chosen to marry at ever-later ages and as divorce rates have risen.  “This is important because Social Security is not only available to workers but also to spouses and survivors.  The decline in marriage and the concomitant rise in single parenthood have been more pronounced among low-income, less educated individuals and some minorities,” she says.

As marriage and workforce patterns changed, so has the nation’s retirement system, adds Bovbjerg.  Since 1990, employers have increasingly turned away from traditional defined benefit pensions to defined contribution plans, such as 401(k)s, she says, this ultimately shifting risk to individual employees and making it more likely they will receive lump sum benefits rather than annuities.

These trends have affected retirement incomes, especially for women and minorities, says Bovbjerg, that is fewer women today receive Social Security spousal and survivor benefits than in the past; most qualify for benefits on their own work history. While this shift may be positive, especially for those women with higher incomes, unmarried elderly women with low levels of lifetime earnings are expected to get less from Social Security than any other demographic group.

According to Bovbjerg, these trends have also affected household savings Married households are more likely to have retirement savings, but the majority of single-headed households have none. Obviously, single parents in particular tend to have fewer resources available to save for retirement during their working years.  With Defined Contribution pension plans becoming the norm for most, and with significant numbers not having these benefits, older Americans may well have to rely increasingly on Social Security as their primary or perhaps only source of retirement income.

Inside the Ocean State

Although the GAO report findings acknowledge a gender-based wage gap that pushes older woman into poverty, Maureen Maigret, policy consultant for the Senior Agenda Coalition of Rhode Island and Coordinator of the Rhode Island Older Woman’s Policy Group, observes that this inequity has been around since the 1970s when she chaired a legislative commission studying pay equity. “Progress in closing the gender wage gap has stagnated since 2000 with the wage ratio hovering around 76.5 percent”, she says.

GAO’s recent findings on gender based differences in poverty rates are consistent with what Maigret found researching the issue for the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island in 2010.  She found that some of the differences in the Ocean State can be attributed to the fact that older women are far less likely to be married than older men.  Almost three times as many older women are widowed when compared to men.

Maigret says that her research revealed that older women in Rhode Island are also less likely to live in family households and almost twice as likely as older men to live alone. Of those older women living alone or with non family members an estimated one out of five was living in poverty. For Rhode Island older women in non-family households living alone, estimated median income in 2009 was 85% that of male non-family householders living alone ($18,375 vs. $21,540).

Finally, Maigret’s report findings indicate that around 11.3 percent of older Rhode Island women were living below the federal poverty level as compared to 7.3 percent of older men in the state. Older women’s average Social Security benefit was almost 30 percent less than that of older men and their earnings were only 58 percent that of older men’s earnings.

             There is no getting around peoples’ fears about outliving their savings becoming a reality if they live long enough,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “One thing that the latest statistics reveals [including the GAO report] is the critical role Social Security plays when it comes to the ability of many seniors to meet monthly expenses. Social Security keeps about 38 percent of  Rhode Islanders age 65 and older out of poverty, according to a new study from the AARP Public Policy Institute.”

“Nationally, figures jump off the page,” Connell added. “Without Social Security benefits, 44.4 percent of elderly Americans would have incomes below the official poverty line; all else being equal; with Social Security benefits, only 9.1 percent do, she says, noting that these benefits lift 15.3 million elderly Americans — including 9.0 million women — above the poverty line.”

“Just over 50 percent of Rhode Islanders age 65 and older rely on Social Security for at least half of their family income—and nearly 24 percent rely on Social Security for 90 percent of their family income” states Connell.

             “Seniors trying to meet the increasing cost of utilities, prescription drugs and groceries would be desperate without monthly Social Security benefits they worked hard for and planned on. As buying power decreases, protecting Social Security becomes more important than ever. Older people know this; younger people should be aware of it and become more active in saving for retirement. Members of Congress need to remain aware of this as well,” adds Connell.

Kate Brewster, Executive Director of Rhode Island’s The Economic Progress Institute, agrees with Maigret that older women in Rhode Island are already at greater risk of poverty and economic security than older men.   “This [GAO] report highlights several trends that make it increasingly important to improve women’s earnings today so that they are economically secure in retirement.  Among the “policy to-do list” is shrinking the wage gap, eliminating occupational segregation, and raising the minimum wage. State and federal proposals to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 would benefit more women than men, demonstrating the importance of this debate to women’s economic security today and tomorrow.”

House Speaker Gordon Fox is proud that the General Assembly in the last two legislation sessions voted to raise minimum wage to its current level of $8 per hour.  That puts Rhode Island at the same level as neighboring Massachusetts, and we far surpass the federal minimum wage of $7.25, he said.  He says he will carefully consider legislation that has been introduced to once again boost the minimum wage.

“Bridging this gap is not only the right thing to do to ensure that women are on the same financial footing as men, but it also makes economic sense”, says Rep. David N. Cicilline.  At the federal level, the  Democratic Congressman has supported the ‘When Women Succeed, America Succeeds’ economic agenda that would address issues like the minimum wage, paycheck fairness, and access to quality and affordable child care. “Tackling these issues is a step toward helping women save and earn a secure retirement, but we also have to ensure individuals have a safety net so they can live with dignity in their retirement years,” says Cicilline.

With Republican Congressman Ryan in a GOP-controlled House, captured by the Tea Party, leading the charge to dismantle the federal government’s 50 year war on poverty, the casualties of this ideological skirmish if he succeeds will be America’s seniors.  Cutting the safety net that these programs created will make economic insecurity in your older years a very common occurrence.

.             Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be contacted at hweissri@aol.com.

Oxfam Report: Elites Get Richer; Poor Poorer

Published in Pawtucket Times, January 24, 2014

Just a week before the 44th annual gathering of the global elite at World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Oxford, England-based Oxfam International released a scathing report claiming that global wealth rests in the hands of just a few very rich people.

According to the report released on Jan. 20, co-authored by Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva, Head of Research, Oxfam Great Britain and Nicholas Galasso, Research and Policy Advisor, Oxfam America, 85 of the wealthiest people own the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population.

Widening Income Gap Between Wealthy and Poor

Oxfam’s 31 page report, “Working for the Few,” warns that almost half of the world’s wealth concentrated in just one percent of the population, is a real threat to inclusive political and economic systems, and compounds other economic inequalities – such as those between women and men. The authors say, left unchecked, political institutions are undermined and governments overwhelmingly serve the interests of economic elites – to the detriment of the poor and middle class.

Today the gap between the rich and poor has become wider, with the wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounting to $110 trillion, adds the report, around 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population. In the United States, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.

“Without a concerted effort to tackle inequality, the cascade of privilege and of disadvantage will continue down the generations,” warns Oxfam’s Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima, in her statement announcing the release of her group’s report. She leads the world-wide development organization comprised of 17 organizations working in 90 countries to find solutions to poverty and related injustice around the world.

Byanyima, a grass-roots activist, human rights advocate and a world recognized expert on women’s rights, who plans to attend the Davos meeting, observes, “It is staggering that in the 21st Century, half of the world’s population owns no more than tiny elite whose numbers could all sit comfortably in a single train carriage.”

“We cannot hope to win the fight against poverty without tackling inequality. Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table,” says Bryanyima.

Bryanyima adds, “In developed and developing countries alike, we are increasingly living in a world where the lowest tax rates, the best health and education and the opportunity to influence are being given not just to the rich but also to their children.”

“Without a concerted effort to tackle inequality, the cascade of privilege and of disadvantage will continue down the generations,” states Bryanyima, noting that “We will soon live in a world where equality of opportunity is just a dream.”

Specific policies have widened the income gap between the rich and poor over the last decades, including financial deregulation, tax havens and secrecy, anti-competitive business practice, lower tax rates on high incomes and investments and cuts or underinvestment in public services for the majority. For instance, since the late 1970s, tax rates for the richest have fallen in 29 of the 30 countries for which data are available. In these places the rich not only get more money but also pay less tax on it.

Oxfam’s report calls on those gathered at this week’s World Economic Forum to take tackle inequity by cracking down on financial secrecy and tax dodging, including investing in universal education and healthcare; demand a living wage in all companies, and agreeing a global goal to end extreme inequality in every country.

Inequity in Our Back Yard, Too

Commenting on Oxfam’s report release, Robert B. Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton who now serves as Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, notes that inequality in the United State is not “that far off” from other countries. “Here, the 400 richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans put together. We’re getting close to a tipping point where inequality undermines our economy (because the vast middle class doesn’t have the purchasing power to keep the economy going), hurts our democracy (because a handful of extremely rich individuals can control politics), and causes most people to feel the dice are loaded against them, he says.

Reich’s award-winning documentary “Inequality for All” — now out on iTunes, DVD, and On Demand — explains the roots of inequality, in the U.S. and around the world. For details, go to http://www.inequalityforall.com.

Kate Brewster, Executive Director of Rhode Island’s The Economic Progress Institute, notes that Oxfam’s report puts the growing problem of inequality on the world stage. “As the experts point out, inequality is not inevitable, but a manmade problem that can be tackled with policies that reward everyone for hard work, not just a few,” she says.

“Rhode Island has not escaped this disturbing trend,” states Brewster. According to a report issued by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Ocean State experienced the 9th largest increase in income inequality in the country between the late 1970s and mid-2000s. During this time the income of the top fifth rose by 99 percent while the bottom fifth grew by only 12 percent, she says.

Legislative Fixes to Reduce Income Gap

Brewster says there are two “two concrete policies” that the Rhode Island General Assembly could enact this legislative session that would immediately boost the income of low-income Rhode Islanders and begin to reverse this trend, specifically increasing the state’s minimum wage and increasing the refund available through the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. “The latter would not only boost the income of low-wage workers but also bring more equity to a tax structure that has provided significant tax breaks to wealthy individuals and businesses for years,” she says.

Advocate Susan Sweet, a former state official and lobbyist for nonprofit groups, notes that while Rhode Island and the nation don’t have an overwhelming majority of citizens suffering the worst extremes of poverty such as starvation, homelessness and societal abandonment that exists in some other countries, we have our share. We also have a large and expanding underclass of counter culture and underground economy that serves to hurt the cohesiveness of society,” says the Rumford resident.

Sweet worries about the income gap between the poor and wealthy that will happen in years to come because of state policies. “The state took millions away from retired people who are receiving an average of $25,000 a year in their state pension and are in their seventies on average. The state gambled on the Studio 38 boondoggle, sold these risky bonds to unknown parties, and want to pay these gambling debts back to the investors because they have a ‘moral obligation’ to do so. Where is the moral obligation to those who performed their responsibilities by working for the state for many years with the promise of a secure retirement?” she says.

And what does she expect to see coming out of the General Assembly? “This year we will hear rhetoric to raise the absurdly low minimum wage in the nation and in the state, but not enough to give workers a decent living wage; we will hear promises to improve education, while students that have tried to achieve under great odds will be denied high school diplomas while the educational infrastructure remains in place and unchanging; we will be assured that the key to R.I.’s unyielding high unemployment rate has been found – again; and we will continue on the path of inequality.”

Oak Hill resident, Lisa Roseman Beade, an academic tutor who is been active in Progressive causes, says the U.S. has the widest income gap of any developing nation. “’Trickle down economics’ has turned into “vacuum upwards economics”. We need fair wages and fair and equitable taxation rates to circulate the money. That’s what puts people to work and will reduce the widening income gap between the nation’s wealthy and poor. Instead, workers, who have been breaking the bar in productivity year after year, now receive only 1 percent of the record breaking profits.”

Beade calls for keeping corporate dollars out of politics and supports the creation of a single payer healthcare system that would make healthcare a civil right.

She believes that change will only come when “we all stop the scape-goating teachers and workers and public employees and demand that we all have good wages, good benefits and good pensions and by restoring state levels to those pre-1998. If lower taxes create jobs, and taxes have never been lower…where are the jobs?”

“A vibrant, safe and livable community with good community services can only come if everyone earns enough and everyone pays their fair share of taxes. Let’s make paying taxes patriotic again,” says Beade.

A Final Note…

It’s time to hammer out a comprehensive legislative fix to reducing the wide income gap between the Ocean State’s wealthy and poor. Let those declared candidates for Governor come out with detailed briefing papers, unveiling their comprehensive approach to enable Rhode Islanders to finally make a living wage. That is tell the voters how you will close the income gap between the state’s have and have nots. Let the debate begin.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a writer who covers aging, health care, medical issues and Rhode Island’s political scene.

Collette’s Employees Key to Soaring Profits

Published in Pawtucket Times, July 17, 2014

During one of the most devastating economic downturns since the Great Depression, companies throughout the nation put hiring decisions on hold, even slashing employee benefits and compensation. But, savvy CEOs create employee benefits and compensation, to retain their good workers and grow their businesses. Yes, they know that employees play a key role in positively impacting their bottom-line, even ensuring their organizations financial survival in really bad times.

Just listening to talk radio and you will continually hear how the high cost of doing business in the Ocean State, fueled by taxes and regulation, drives businesses out-of-state in droves. But, business is booming at Pawtucket-based Collette and its CEO and President Dan Sullivan, Jr., can easily tell you why – his 544 employees.

With Rhode Island and Nevada tied for having the highest unemployment rate in the nation, Collette, one of the oldest tour operators in the nation, is looking to fill jobs. “We are doing everything we can to improve the employment statistics in Rhode Island,” said Sullivan. “Right now, Collette is focused on growth and acquiring great talent right in our own backyard and increasing job opportunities.”

Back in 1918, when founder Jack Collette established the travel company, World War I had just ended. The Boston Red Sox had won the World Series and porterhouse steak was 54 cents pre-pound. The company’s first tour left Boston for Florida, taking their customers on a three-week adventure for just $61.50. Today, Collette offers more than 150 tours to destinations across seven continents.

Company Values Employee Longevity

According to Sullivan, Collette, now a third generation family owned company, has been honored seven times as the Best Places to Work in Rhode Island. “It’s not just a job; the people love what they do,” observes Sullivan. Whenever Collette hires someone, the company wants the employee to be there for a long time. “We value longevity. We take care of our employees like family,” touts Sullivan.

Although Collette annually offers a performance-based incentive based on the company’s overall performance to its workforce, just two weeks ago every full-time employee who was hired before a designated date received an additional whopping $1,000 bonus at a company celebration held at the Rhode Island Convention Center.
Not bad when Rhode Island companies are slashing benefits and employee compensation.

At this celebration, most of Collette’s 544 employees including others joining them from the company’s offices near Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and London, England, came to get a big thank you from Dan Sullivan Jr., along with his family and other top corporate executives. At a random drawing held that evening, 10 lucky full-time employees each received a $10,000 prize.

“This is to celebrate the success the team had this year,” says Sullivan. “In 2013, the company experienced a second consecutive year of record-breaking revenue and double-digit growth. With a 95-year track record, this is a major accomplishment. It’s our heartfelt ‘thank you’ to every employee for all they do to drive the company forward.”

The tradition of incentivizing Collette’s employees based on the performance of the company dates back several decades, notes Sullivan, who says that he wants all of Collette’s employees to “act as if they own the business and to reward them based on the performance of the company.”

Sullivan pointed out that the $1,000, which was on top of the company’s annual performance base incentive, was a result (77 percent of the employees received it) of one of the most profitable years in its long history. Collette is currently up over 37% in advanced reservations for 2014, too.

According to Sullivan, 82-year old Betty Sullivan, sister of the late Dan Sullivan, former President and CEO of Collette, was honored for her 50 years of service to the company. In recognizing her years of service, Collette gave her a new car.

To improve the health and quality of its employees’ lives, which in turn will enhance their productivity and competitiveness, last July Collette also built a 4,620 square foot Wellness Center that offers two levels of exercise areas and amenities for use by its employees and their families. It also includes one group exercise room, full facilities for men and women (locker room with showers, bathroom, etc.), towel service and more.

Life Long Learning

“Part of our long-term strategy is to rely on learning and critical skills development for growth and performance [of its employees],” said John Galvin, Chief Financial Officer for Collette. “Our goal is to develop and maintain a culture of learning in the organization – this is from the top down. Even the Executives are required to pursue continued learning. We want our entire team committed to continuous learning because this will make all of us more successful in the long run.”

Galvin says, “We offer classroom training for our in-house employees as well as newly hired members of the sales team. In 2013, we provided over 11,000 combined hours of training. Training will be made even more accessible to our outside offices with the use of our new video conferencing software.”

Tuition assistance is available to full-time employees who have worked here for six months, adds Galvin, noting that courses, up to two courses per semester, must be taken through an accredited program that’s job related. He notes that all courses have to be approved by an employee’s supervisor or manager and also by Human Resources Department. Once a grade is verified the employee’s tuition reimbursement will be processed.

Currently, there are 14 Collette employees enrolled in school for advanced degrees, and 215 employees are participating in multiple online training programs through the company’s innovative Learning Management System. In 2013 alone, Galvin states, “14 of our employees completed the Bryant Certificate program and four others completed degree programs earning a master’s, bachelor’s degree, and two earned associate’s degrees.”

As an employee perk, Collette even offers discounted tours to employees and FAM, or “Familiarization,” time off,” adds Jeni Wilson, Collette’s Vice President of Human Resources. “It gives employees a chance to become familiar with the products Collette sells without them having to tap into vacation time, and it is certainly a nice perk for employees and their families,” she notes.

Giving Back to Your Community

A sense of community even drives its charitable endeavors, says Sullivan, who notes that since 1997, his company has given more than $7 million to local and worldwide projects. Through employee-led initiatives, 20,000 children have received enhanced education; balanced nutrition; and clean water.

Sullivan says that Collette employees have the opportunity to designate four work hours each month to volunteer, too. In 2013, the Collette employee volunteers gave 2,263 hours to its communities.

“I feel like I get so much joy out of life that it is only fitting for me to try and give back,” said Chris Cahill, Collette’s Applications Developer. More specifically, the company allows its employees to travel worldwide and experience new cultures and Collette’s volunteer program gives them an opportunity to “give back to the communities they visit. An 11 year Collette employee, Cahill volunteers at Pawtucket Proud Day, the Rhode Island Food Bank and Tourism Cares event.

Collette has received kudos for its spirit of volunteerism. The company recently won a World Travel Market Global Award in recognition of its global philanthropic work over the past 12 months. Locally, Sullivan noted that his company was one of the local companies honored with The Ernie Marot Humanitarian Award Dinner by the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen. The award honored some of the kitchen’s most committed supporters.

Employees Are Assets

In Rhode Island or across the nation, successful companies view their employees and customers as their most valuable assets, says Edward M. Mazze former Dean of the College of Business Administration (from 1998 to 2006) at the University of Rhode Island. “To remain in business you must have the type of employee who is going to be loyal to your company and at the same time be customer-oriented,” he says.

Compensation and Benefit programs, like Collette, offers, will allow you to both motivate and compensate the best people, keeping them from going over to your competitor, says Mazze.

But it just makes good business sense to retain your employees rather then starting a job search to hire employees to fill vacant positions. “Giving a person a thousand dollar bonus is much cheaper than having to go into the market and fill the position,” adds Mazze.

Collette, like many over savvy companies, puts its dollars in its employees’ pockets, even supporting a myriad of worthy nonprofit causes both locally and globally. Collette is a perfect case study for other CEOs to look at – being penny-wise and pound foolish can be hazardous to your company’s bottom-line. Recognizing the importance of your employees’ role in meeting your business objectives will come back a thousand fold. Just ask Dan Sullivan, Jr.

For more information about Collette, visit http://www.gocollette.com.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care, medical and even business issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.