Tag Archives: recession

Hunger Knows No Borders: Poverty at Home and Abroad

Copyright JC Politi Photography

There is an article in the New York Times this week about the increasing number of people living in poverty in Spain.

The article references the fact that the unemployment rate in Spain is over 50% for young people and that over 20% of families in Spain live in poverty. It tells the stories of people who find themselves forced to search for food in trash bins in order to feed themselves and their families.

It is striking to read about how dire the situation is in Spain right now, especially after having just visited the country. We were blown away by the food and the beauty, but this article makes it clear that there is another, much more tragic, story to be told.

As I read this article, I felt like I was reading about the United States. The article spoke of people who had never been on government assistance who are now accessing food pantries or searching through dumpsters for food.

So frequently, we read an article like this and look at it as an interesting, but sad anecdote from a foreign land. But the truth is, we can see the same thing here in our own back yards every day.

Copyright JC Politi Photography

The recession has had far-reaching implications across the globe. The number of people in the United States who are accessing public benefits has sky-rocketed.

Some people complain about the number of people who are accessing government assistance, including food assistance. I don’t understand this.

If jobs are not available and people are hungry, why would we not be grateful to live in a society where people who have hit rock bottom have a place to go to feed themselves and their children? How can we be so sure that we will not be the next family to come upon hard times, through a loss of a job or through a medical emergency that leaves us financially devastated?

I am honestly baffled and saddened by the lack of compassion in much of the United States during these difficult economic times.

What do you think? Why do you think people are so critical of government efforts to support low-income families? Why do you think people are so quick to judge families who have come upon hard times? How can people be so sure that they will not be the next person to need a little help? And how can we reduce the stigma associated with accepting government assistance so that more people can have a bridge to survive their current hardship in the hopes of eventually getting a job and escaping poverty?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!

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Filed under Culture, Economy, Ethics, Health, Income inequality, International, Photography, Photos, Policy, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, Role of Government, Stereotypes, travel

Simple Secret to Success: Just Do It

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The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.
Lao Tzu

Are you optimistic or pessimistic? And how do you think this impacts your ability to set and reach your goals?

An article in the New York Times called “How to Make Optimism Work for You” offers tips and suggestions for increasing optimistic attitudes in people looking for work.

Suggestions include:

Face your fears head on. Step outside your comfort zone to help eliminate fear, anxiety and negative thoughts that can stand in the way of success.

Re-evaluate events in your everyday life. Tell yourself that maybe things aren’t so bad.

Practice mindful meditation. Allow feelings and thoughts to pass through your mind without judging or reacting to them; that helps create a sense of detachment from negative experiences.

Take control over how you feel instead of letting feelings control you. A sense that you control your destiny can help you bounce back from setbacks and maximize your enjoyment of life.

Laugh. Use positive feelings to counter negative ones.

Be fully engaged. Get involved in activities that are meaningful to you, whether it’s a career, hobby, sport or volunteering. Do it, as Bill Richmond says. Then learn how.

The last suggestion is the suggestion that intrigues me most. The article includes a portrait of a 90 year old man whose life reads like a who’s-who of Hollywood. His motto is “Do it. Then learn how.”

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I know many will be appalled at this suggestion. I am not one of them. I have always been impatient with the planning phase of projects, preferring to jump in and begin.

This may be a weakness on my part but, in fact, I can think of few times when this philosophy has backfired. Perhaps I have had to tweak something after beginning, but taking action has rarely been the wrong choice.

I should mention that Mr. Richmond, while quick to take action, also seems to be quick to recognize his need for further development in whatever he has begun, taking courses in whatever discipline he has chosen to work in next. But he takes the courses after he begins, not prior to taking the first step.

His advice resonates with me: “The important thing,” Mr. Richmond said in an interview, “is to visualize what you want and go after it. Be ready for an opening — serendipity — all the time.”

Many of us have a fear of failure or a need to be perfect, so we never take that first step. Many prefer to remain in the safety of the planning phase of a project until the real opportunity – or serendipity – has passed.

That is not how I want to live. I would rather fail, but fail while trying to actually do something. Inaction feels like the greatest failure to me.

You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.
Wayne Gretzky

What do you think? Do you prefer to have all of your plans in place before you make a major life decision or are you more willing to learn as you go? Do you think these tendencies are natural or learned? What do you encourage your kids to do when they are embarking on a project? Have you learned any lessons you would like to share with others about this?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading.

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Filed under Business, Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Education, Parenting, Photos, Relationships, social pressures

The Power of Strengths and Weaknesses: Giving Kids Permission to Just Be

Photo Courtesy of Danny Brown

The old man pointed to a baker standing in his shop window at one corner of the plaza. “When he was a child, that man wanted to travel, too. But he decided first to buy his bakery  and put some money aside. When he is an old man, he’s going to spend a month in Africa. He never realized that people are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”

“He should have decided to become a shepherd,” the boy said.

“Well, he thought about that,” the old man said. “But bakers are more important people than shepherds.”…

“In the long run, what people think about shepherds and bakers becomes more important for them than their own Personal Legends.”

The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

 

A New York Times article, “Redefining Success and Celebrating the Ordinary” has been on the list of the most e-mailed articles for some time now. This topic fits with the theme of the last few weeks on this blog, so I thought I would explore this issue further.

The article discusses the tendency, at least in the United States, for people to push their children to excel at all levels, filling their time with activities and events which provide further opportunities to compete with their peers.

I am sure many of you read about a commencement speech earlier this year where the speaker told the students that they were not exceptional. The reactions to this speech were heated.

But perhaps the speaker was just trying to give the students permission to find value and define success differently than their parents and society prescribe. Perhaps the speaker was trying to help students understand that it is OK to have both strengths and weaknesses.

The constant drive to compete is positive in many ways. It can lead to innovation and progress.But at what price? Where is creativity encouraged?

What about the artist who is not strong at math or writing, but can compose a symphony or paint a beautiful landscape? Where is the encouragement for this type of success?

Where is the recognition of people who may not be academics, but build and maintain personal relationships better than most?

Part of the stress many of us feel, where people run themselves ragged at all times and fail to disconnect from work, even when on vacation, seems to come from this drive. People think, “If I don’t stay connected, will people think that I am not a hard worker? Will I appear to lack ambition?”

What are we teaching our children with these messages? Are we teaching our children to develop the same neuroses that we have developed, where the prioritization of work over relationships is sorely misaligned?

This problem has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. It is striking to me, how every speech by a major politician is peppered with statements that the United States is the best country in the world.

There are many areas where the United States excels and there are also areas, like healthcare, where the United States has much to learn from the rest of the world. The US has strengths and weaknesses, just like any person or child. And is there really anything wrong with that?

What do you think? What do you think accounts for people’s relentless drive to be the best and to push their children to be the best? Have you dealt with these pressures as a parent or an employee? Do you have any tips for others who would like to readjust their priorities and goals? Do you feel that this drive alienates potential teammates in a workplace or a social environment? Why do you think this issue has gotten so much attention lately? Do you think the intensity of the pressures have increased recently? And if so, why do you think that is?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading.

 

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Filed under Books, Business, Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Education, Health, International, Parenting, Peace, Relationships, social pressures, Stereotypes, Technology, travel, Women, Youth Leadership

Four Strategies to Achieve Higher Employee Engagement

 

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As readers of this blog know, I do not usually stay on any specific topic for more than one post, but we seem to have hit a nerve on the last few posts, so I am going to keep with this theme for one more day.

There was in interesting post over on CNN’s Management and Career Blog entitled “Exposing Management’s Dirty Little Secret.”

The tagline of the article reads: If employees aren’t as enthusiastic as they could be, it’s not because the work sucks; it’s because management blows. While obviously, this is a broad statement, there is certainly some truth.

The article talks about three factors that contribute to employee satisfaction and engagement:

The scope that employees have to learn and advance (are there opportunities to grow?);

The company’s reputation and its commitment to making a difference in the world (is there a mission that warrants extraordinary effort?); and

The behaviors and values of the organization’s leaders (are they trusted, do people want to follow them?).

My husband works in Human Resources and much of his work focuses on efforts to track and improve employee engagement in corporations. We discuss these issues frequently and agree that opportunities for growth and adequate compensation are critical components to keep employees engaged. And they are certainly the basic ingredients for success.

But the discussions on this blog over the past few days have made me think about a fourth, equally important but more elusive factor. What kind of work-life balance does a particular job offer its employees?

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We have discussed some of the reasons many women leave high level positions in earlier discussions. But this issue is certainly not confined to its impact on women. And change will only come if we expand the discussion to include the impact on men.

A few thoughtful readers commented on the benefit to a company’s bottom line of having healthy, balanced employees. I do not have data to support this claim at my fingertips, but I would imagine that companies that provide these types of intangible benefits have more loyal employees and less turnover.

This must impact the bottom line.

What do you think? What makes you want to stay in a job or look elsewhere for work? Do you know of any companies whose employees are exceptionally engaged? To what do you contribute this success? How much of a role do you think a manger plays in this and how much is determined by the overall corporate culture? What energizes you at work?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!

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Filed under Business, Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Education, equality, Income inequality, Parenting, Peace, Policy, Poverty, Relationships, social pressures, Stereotypes, Technology, Women, Youth Leadership

Sheryl Sandberg’s Top 3 Tips to Keep Women in High Level Jobs

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Yesterday’s post about an article in The Atlantic magazine entitled “Why Women Can’t Have It All” written by a women in a high-level position with the State Department, who chose to leave her job in order to spend more time with her family generated quite a discussion yesterday. I would like to continue the discussion today.

Many thanks to Diana from TalktoDiana for her passion and engagement. In the comments section, she shared this TED Talk, by Sheryl Sandberg, who is the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, which I would like to share with all of you today:

This video confirms many of the statistics included in the Atlantic article. Ms. Sandberg also posits some theories about the root causes behind the statistics. She discusses three important reasons why she believes that there are not more women in leadership positions, and offers advice for women who would like to change these realities. Her advice includes:

Women need to sit at the table

Make your partner a real partner

Don’t leave before you leave

I will not go into detail on these three reasons, as I could certainly do no better job than Ms. Sandberg in explaining this complex issue. But I encourage you to watch the talk if you are interested in helping think through this more.

The first reason will resonate with most women. Women simply have less faith in their abilities to succeed than men. It is a fascinating reality that I do not fully understand, but we have all seen and felt it in action. As an example, Sandberg highlights data showing that most women do not negotiate salaries and most men do.

The second reason will also resonate: women need to stop doing all the work at home. The statistics – and people’s personal realities – show that this is an expectation which makes it hard for women to reach professional heights they might otherwise like to reach. Perhaps women need to stop enabling this reality. (I should mention that I do not suffer from this particular problem. My husband is much tidier and a much better cook than me – good man.)

The third reason really intrigues me. Don’t leave before you leave. Sandberg points out that many women make professional choices and changes before life circumstances require them to do so. I know this to be true, as I believe will other women.

I remember applying for a job several years ago. We had just moved to a new city and I had been volunteering and looking for work for several months. While my husband and I have been fortunate professionally, our lifestyle requires two incomes.

My husband and I had been trying to conceive a baby and I was absolutely convinced that I was pregnant, which is probably a subject to which many couples can also relate. I was called in for a promising job interview.

I distinctly recall talking with my best friend about whether or not I should disclose the fact that I was pregnant to the potential employer. My best friend, who is one of the superwomen described in the Atlantic article who is currently doing it all with a high level job and two small children, said “Don’t say a word.”

I turned out not to be pregnant. Wise advice from a wise woman. I believe that this type of thinking is what Sandberg refers to in the TED Talk. I am not sure why women do this, but we frequently adjust our plans based on what might be, rather than what is. I appreciate Sandberg’s advice and plan to put her suggestions into action. Thank you again to Diana for sharing this TEDtalk with us.

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Yesterday, I also came across an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Being Murphy Brown in a June Cleaver World.” Apparently, there is an entire column in the Wall Street Journal called The Juggle dedicated to just these issues. This article just confirms my suspicion that regardless of the choices a woman makes she will feel inadequate in one portion of her life or another.

There is so much to discuss here. But I believe the key is to start having an honest dialogue about how society can enable women and men to contribute to professional society, and also allow them to have fulfilling and contented lives at home – without guilt.

I am thinking about gathering personal stories about people’s experiences with these dilemmas to turn into a book. Women and men both have a lot of stories to tell. I would love to speak with high-level professional women to learn about how they have handled this and lessons they have learned along the way.

What do you think? Does the TED Talk resonate with you? Do you have feelings of guilt regarding your adequacy as a parent or a professional, or both? Or have you been forced to make these difficult choices? How did you decide which road to take? How do you think we start to shift the paradigm, as Hugh suggested yesterday? What else does this bring up for you? Do you think there is a book idea here or are there too many books on this topic already? Any thoughts on how I should get started?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.   

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Filed under Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Education, equality, Ethics, Health, Income inequality, Parenting, Policy, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, Role of Government, social pressures, Stereotypes, Technology, Women, Youth Leadership

No More Golden Parachutes for Firefighters! Why Are Pensions Always the First to Go?

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An article in the New York Times this week entitled “When ALEC Takes Over Your Town” examines the financial problems of a town in Rhode Island. This town could be just about any town in the United States.

The article discusses the demise of a proposal to increase taxes to boost the local economy in the town and highlights the fact that one of the two legislators in the House of Representatives who blocked the proposed increase is on the on the national board of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

While ALEC is a blog post topic for another day, anyone who is unfamiliar with this group should simply know that this is a highly conservative lobbying group posing as a non-profit, which promotes some of the most mean-spirited state legislation you can possibly imagine.

One of their pieces of model legislation, which they shop around to state legislators around the country, is the infamous Stand Your Ground Law that was the subject of much conversation in the Trayvon Martin case.

ALEC also devotes significant energy to working to shrink the size of government. But again, I have no doubt that I will write a post another day on ALEC.

But what interested me in this article is something that also came up in the comments section from yesterday’s post about the European Financial Crisis. The issue that I would like to explore today is the issue of what many call “bloated” pensions and what impact these pensions are having on budgets around the world.

As one of my brilliant readers noted yesterday, many say that pensions play a significant role in the financial problems in Europe today. We know that this is also an issue here in the United States, especially on the state and local level.

But it is important to remember what we are talking about here – the people who will be receiving these pensions are people who have served their country in one way or another, be it as a teacher, a fire-fighter, a police officer or some other sort of public servant. These are not people with golden parachutes and corporate bonuses.

I would imagine that firefighters and teachers plan for their financial future just like the rest of us. So, what happens when the legislature or local government slashes these benefits? What is the human impact on the people who depend on these benefits?

I understand that the math is complicated when it comes to talking about pensions. And I also understand that we have an aging population which creates complications on a number of levels, with significant fiscal consequences.

But shouldn’t we be focused on finding solutions to the problems that arise with an aging population? And why are the pensions of hard working individuals the first thing on the chopping block?

What do you think? Why do you think there is so much attention right now on pensions? Do you see other ways that a government could address the aging population that could actually help save money? What do you think people do when their pensions are slashed? Are there other areas of the budget where you think states and localities could find savings? Have you, personally experienced a reduction in the benefits you were expecting to receive? How has that impacted you and your family?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading

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Filed under Career Planning, Economy, Education, End of Life, equality, Ethics, Health, Income inequality, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, Role of Government

What is Happening in Europe and Who is to Blame?

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I am no economist, but I have been doing my best to understand the economic problems currently plaguing Europe. Cocktail party conversations have been enlightening, but have only confused me more.

People have strong opinions on whether Greece or Germany is a bad actor and about whether either of these countries, or any other, will leave the euro zone.

In the past week, two articles on this topic have piqued my interest. The first was written by Thomas Friedman for the New York Times, entitled Two Worlds Cracking Up. This is an interesting examination of the economic crisis in Europe, contrasted with the spike in violence in the Middle East.

The second is an article by Paul Krugman, also for the New York Times, entitled Greece as Victim.

While there are many opinions about what has caused the current crisis in Europe, there seems to be general agreement that the euro zone’s lack of a strong, cohesive governance model has contributed to the problems.

The financial problems in the euro zone are a shame. The US economy is also in a state of chaos, and opinions differ on what caused our financial meltdown as well, but at least our entire governing model is not in jeopardy.

Most of us will recall the optimism which accompanied the announcements when the euro zone was established. The concept that the European region would be more powerful if countries gave up some of their sovereignty in order to band together, on its face, was strong.

But as in most things in life, the devil is in the details.

What do you think? What do you see as the future for the euro zone? Do you believe that the lack of a strong governance model contributed to the problems? Do you see a way to remedy this issue or do you think that countries are too unwilling to give up their sovereignty to make this work? Do you think that the euro zone has helped or hurt Europe in the long run? What about in the short run? If you live in Europe, how has the euro zone benefitted or harmed you personally?

Again I am no expert on this – just an interested observer. I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.

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Filed under Culture, Economy, Income inequality, International, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, Role of Government, Stereotypes, travel

Politicians Trying to Weaken the US Economy: Conspiracy Theory or Current Reality?

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Although I have written a lot about the polarization of the United States political system here, I tend to shy away from partisan politics on this blog. But there was an interesting article in the Guardian newspaper this week analyzing claims by some Democrats that Republicans are intentionally trying to sabotage an economic recovery in the United States in order to win the White House in November.

Regardless of your political affiliation, I think this article is worth reading, if only to better understand the debate and rhetoric. One of the sections of the article that I found compelling is below:

“When teachers are laid off, for example (and nearly 200,000 have lost their jobs), it means larger class sizes, other teachers being overworked and after-school classes being cancelled. So, ironically, a policy that is intended to save “our children and grandchildren” from “crushing debt” is leaving them worse-prepared for the actual economic and social challenges they will face in the future.”

It seems like a bit of an exaggeration, or at least a generalization, to say Republicans are intentionally trying to weaken the economy. But policies currently espoused by the Republican party, which include finding savings through deep cuts to social programs and refusing to discuss options for increased revenues, do seem to create further challenges for our country’s economy.

I am no economist, but I trust the large number of economists who have repeatedly said that, in an economic recession, the federal government must take leadership and increase its spending to help the country recover. As someone who has worked on public policy on the state level for many years, I have seen the spending restrictions on the state level, such as balanced budget amendments, which make doing this impossible on the state level.

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Again, I have a hard time believing that Republicans are intentionally trying to weaken the economic recovery. But it is more important now, than ever in my lifetime, for the two parties to work together to help the country move forward from the economic devastation that has led so many families to lose their homes and their livelihoods.

What do you think? If the two political parties cannot come together to find a way to solve the current financial crisis the United States, when will they ever be able to come together? What type of visionary leadership do you think is required to help get the US economy back on its feet? Do you see the answer to these problems coming from the corporate or the government sector? Or do you think it will need to be a partnership? Do you think that extreme factions of the political parties are making this situation worse? What can we, as voters, do to help bridge the gap between the parties? Are these problems as prevalent on the local and state level or do you think this is more of a federal problem?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.

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Filed under Campaign Finance, Income inequality, Politcs, Poverty, Role of Government

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? Dividing Women Does Not Serve Anyone

There was an opinion piece in the Opinionator section of the New York Times, which is their online commentary section, entitled “Mommy Wars Redux: A False Conflict.” This article includes a critique of a book that was recently translated into English called “The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women,” by Elisabeth Badinter.

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As a woman, I can’t help but feel that all of the seemingly-fabricated conflicts trying to pit stay-at-home moms against working moms or against working women who are not mothers, feels like an intentional effort to divide women along class lines.

The truth is that most women do not have a choice whether or not to work outside the home in order to provide for their children. And some women who do have a choice, make the choice to work because they believe that outside intellectual stimulation can help make them better parents.

While the article in the New York Times is fairly academic, I appreciated this statement, which rings true for me:

…under current social, economic, and cultural conditions, no matter what one chooses, there will be costs: for stay at home mothers, increased economic vulnerability and dependence on their spouses, which can decrease their exit options and thus their power in their marriages; for working mothers, the high costs of quality child care and difficulty keeping up at work with those who either have no children or have spouses at home taking care of them, which exacerbates the wage gap and keeps the glass ceiling in place.

While I realize that every woman’s experience is different and every life decision requires couples to make difficult choices, I quickly tire of the rhetoric trying to divide women. This is a critical issue that needs examination, but the divisive rhetoric does not help move this issue forward.

What do you think? Wouldn’t all women support more family friendly policies in the workplace, including policies that enable men to spend more time with their children or policies that make quality child care more affordable? Why do you think people try to divide women like this? Do you have any tips for moms who are trying to work and take care of their kids to create a better work-life balance? Or are you a stay-at-home mom who has tips for other stay-at-home moms about how to manage those stressors? What do you think it will take for Congress or State Legislatures to finally do something to encourage or require more workplaces to establish family-friendly policies?

This is a complex issue and I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!

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Filed under Career Planning, equality, Health, Income inequality, Parenting, Policy, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, Role of Government, social pressures, Stereotypes, Women

She Works Hard for the Money: Should Universities Do More to Prepare Students for the Workplace?

There is a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal about a move by some universities and colleges to refocus their courses to better prepare students to enter the workforce.

Programs cited in the article have titles such as “Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship” at Wake Forest University and “Liberal Education and Effective Practice” at Clark University. This is an exciting trend, but as the article in the Wall Street Journal notes, there is some controversy about this approach within the education field.

Detractors will say that if Universities tailor their programs too much toward the current business environment, skills they develop may not serve them as markets change. I hear this concern and realize that there are likely many other challenges to implementing this model and I hope readers will share thoughts and concerns.

I was a Russian and International Relations double major in college. While I learned a lot and enjoyed my coursework, sometimes I wish I had also had the opportunity to receive more concrete training in critical analysis or in career-oriented skills such as project management and strategic planning.

Perhaps I chose the wrong major. While many students do not choose their majors based upon what they intend to pursue as a career, the vast majority of students are eventually forced into the harsh realities of the workplace. There are certain skills that could be beneficial for all students to learn to prepare.

I also wish I had been exposed to a wider variety of professional possibilities. Perhaps, if I had been taught to play jazz instead of classical music in school and gone to see professional jazz musicians in action, I would have been more motivated to learn about music. If I had understood that people can make a career as a marine biologist and spend time outside by the sea for their work, maybe I would have been more motivated to do better in science.

I am not advocating for schools to eliminate courses that are not applicable to any particular profession, but the idea of connecting the learning environment more with potential career opportunities is exciting.

What do you think? Do you think that Universities should offer more courses to help prepare kids to enter the workforce or do you think that one of the beauties of a college education is that it provides students with the opportunity to study and learn without those types of pressures? Did you go to a school where you learned these types of professional skills? Did you feel prepared to enter the workforce when you graduated? Do majors like computer science and engineering prepare kids more to enter the workforce than majors like English and philosophy? Or do the skills that students learn in English and philosophy translate into a wider range of potential careers? What else do you think about this new trend?

I hope you will share your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:

What is the value of face-time with a Professor

Harvard and MIT Partner to Create Free Online Courses: The Great Equalizer?

Pineapples, The Limits of Privatization and Corporate Influence in Education

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Filed under Career Planning, Education, Parenting, Youth Leadership

Welfare Limits Left Poor Adrift as Recession Hit

An article in this Sunday’s New York Times, entitled “Welfare Limits Left Poor Adrift as Recession Hit,” written by Jason DeParle was both disturbing and informative. You can find the article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/us/welfare-limits-left-poor-adrift-as-recession-hit.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1.

As someone who has worked on public policy issues, mostly related to low income families, for the past 15 years, this story really hit home for me. I started working in this field in 1996, right at the height of the debates around “ending welfare as we know it.” I was working for NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund at the time and we were actively engaged in the debates.

We were working to inform Congress about the devastating impact that this new law could have on people – mostly women – who were experiencing domestic violence. Research had come out at that time about the disproportionate number of women receiving cash assistance who were being abused and on how many women found cash assistance to be a life-saving resource that allowed them to finally escape the violence. This advocacy led to to adoption of the Family Violence Option, which intended to allow domestic violence survivors some relief from the strict requirements of the law.

The 1996 welfare reform law, as you can read in this article, imposed significant work requirements and strict time limits on people receiving cash assistance. The debates were highly contentious, with people on both sides of the issue predicting either economic Armageddon or a society where every person would obtain a job that would enable them to become “self-sufficient.” In fact, as this article shows, neither of these predictions turned out to be entirely accurate.

It has been interesting to observe how the political rhetoric around these issues has evolved as the country has experienced a deep recession with significant job losses and rising poverty. You can hardly open a paper without seeing an article about the number of people who have been supported by food assistance in the past several years. And while some politicians and pundits say that this is evidence that the United States is creating a welfare state, others work to debunk the stereotypes about who is accessing food assistance and to tell the human stories of what a difference this support made for their family.

It seems to me that the entire reason to have public assistance programs for needy families is to help people weather significant economic hardships.

As usual, this article raises some important questions: If these benefits are not available to people in need during an economic downturn, what are the consequences for that family and for society as a whole? Why has the political rhetoric around these issues become so divisive and polarized? The Ryan budget looks to essentially dismantle these programs entirely over the long term. Is that what we want as a society? Why does it appear that many of the politicians who portray themselves as highly religious are some of the individuals who are most interested in dismantling these programs to support the poor? And why can’t moderate politicians on both sides of the political divide set aside the rhetoric and work together to find a middle ground, where these critical supports are guaranteed and available for people when they are in need, but still include some strong incentives and work supports? As income inequality grows in this country, do you think that movements like Occupy Wall Street will gain momentum? What will that look like? Do you think that money in politics and Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United impact this debate?

A lot of food for thought in this article. I hope that you will consider commenting! And thanks for reading.

This graph from the New York Times article was amazing to me and may be helpful to put this issue into context:

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Filed under Income inequality, Policy, Poverty, Role of Government