Friday, February 21, 2014

Making Hay Off the Minimum Wage Debate

President Obama has called on businesses to act where our busted, dysfunctional Congress will not; he has taken the lead by offering federal contract workers a raise to $10.10 per hour.  Contrast this to the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr and it seems like a lot, doesn’t it?  In fact, it’s almost a 40% pay increase.  Okay.  But let’s be frank:  Gross earnings of $400 a week doesn’t come much closer to putting you in a $700/month one-bedroom apartment than $290 a week. 

Do some simple math, people:  I have 50¢.  Dinner costs $1.00.  I’m going hungry.  Wait…I got a raise!   Now I have 70¢.   But dinner still costs a dollar, and I’m still going hungry.

Moral of this story:  let’s not get all puffed up and proud of these minimum wage hikes “all the way up to” $10 an hour.  It’s not enough.

Not enough to put a decent roof over the heads of your family, or put healthy food in your kids’ mouths.  Maybe just enough so that you don’t qualify for federal benefits anymore…

But beyond the president and some “brave” retailers getting good press out of a move that hardly even qualifies as a stop-gap measure, I was interested in what the retail spokespeople had to say when questioned about the “business sense” of investing more money in their staff.  The question itself was posed from a position of tacit accusation that paying people more money was a risky and unsound business practice.  That is, after all, the conventional wisdom upon which our economy has been going to hell in a handbasket since the union-busting eighties.

In an interview with Marketplace’s Adrienne Hill, Jack Calhoun, global president of Banana Republic, posited: 

“We thought it was a great opportunity to make a strategic investment in our employees.   Our front line employees that are really the most important aspect of our business.  These are the employees that interact with our customers every day in our stores…  It’s about attracting great talent and retaining great talent…because when we do that well we win as a company and our customers win.” 
 Well. Duh!

Imagine that!  A retail mogul at least paying lipservice to the concept that those who serve the public in a service business might actually be an important, if not THE most important, cog in the wheel.  That the faces of the men and women behind the counters are the faces of the company—at least, the faces with whom the folks who pay the bills (the customers!) will interact and will remember when they walk out the door.  Dare we hope that a 21st century retailer is actually getting a clue that perhaps the face of an over-worked, underpaid, undervalued and under-trained cashier might NOT be the image you would like the public to associate with your brand?

I will cut Mr. Calhoun a little slack.  You won’t hear anyone at Walmart—the nation’s largest retailer and largest employer—spout this kind of retail apostasy.  (Oh, sure…Walmart will spend millions on ads to assure the buying public that Walmart associates are happy, healthy, valued, motivated, and movin’ on up.  But they won’t spend those same millions on the employees themselves.  Does anybody understand this line of thinking?) 

But Calhoun’s ah-ha moment is still only lipservice. 

Because a true philosophy of “investing in great talent” would result in workers being paid somewhat more than a sub-poverty-level family wage (2014 poverty level for a family of four is $23,850;  raising wages to $10.10/hr would result in an annual wage of somewhere around $21,000—about $1750/month.)  Yeah…you’ve forked over that big, fat 40% raise.  But in a country where rent prices average over $1200/month, your “great talent” now only has to figure out how to pay for food, medical care, clothing, auto expenses, utilities and all the other cash outflow necessary to life in our society, on $18 a day.

Let's all wish them good luck with that…            

Monday, February 17, 2014

Dropping Out of the Technology Race

Just before Thanksgiving, I received my new “toy”—I ordered an iPad mini from QVC.  Having toted an unwieldy laptop on two long train trips, I was desperate for something more packable to take along when I traveled.

The iPad has solved my issues perfectly.  I am obsessed with its portability.  I am in love with its long battery life.  I am enchanted that I can carry it from room to room, even walk around the house while using it.  I can check Facebook and emails.  I can check the weather, read news, visit blogs.  I can look up information on the internet in the wink of an eye.  I can shop.  Anywhere.  It’s SO cool.

However, I’ve also discovered the dark cloud behind this silver lining.  It has shut down my writing almost as effectively as if I had lost all connection to the internet. 

Because you can’t really write on an iPad.  Oh, yeah…I got a Bluetooth keyboard to go with the thing, thinking that would adequately address my writing needs.  Anybody who has tried to tap out a long email, either on the touch screen or on one of those keyboard attachments, knows they are not created to accommodate stream-of-consciousness.  One is so intent on hitting the right keys, going back and correcting mistakes, and trying to figure out how to end run around the auto-complete function that recording the free flow of ideas is utterly impossible. 

I have managed a few short, urgent posts with the iPad, but I only do those when I am bursting with some emotion—indignation, rage, joy—that will not be quenched until I get it down on “paper.”  But anything long or the least bit analytical (and we all know how the words “long and analytical” apply to most of my writing) is a no-go on the iPad. 

So what? you ask.  You don’t necessarily need to write while you’re traveling.  Just keep a paper journal and commit it all to ether once you can get your hands on a laptop.  There are two things wrong with that:

1.)I just don’t handwrite anything anymore, except grocery lists and greeting cards.  My handwriting—never great—has atrophied with the advent of the personal computer.  Not only is it illegible, but it’s just uncomfortable.  And not nearly quick or editable enough.  The backspace and delete keys are my BFFs when I write. 

2.) My eyes SUCK.  I have had the devil’s own time adjusting to my latest eyeglass prescription, and I flat could not deal with trifocals.  (My personal feeling is that trying to cram three different lens strengths into these narrow little lenses that are all the rage, and all you can buy, is impossible to do with any true success.  I had to have the lenses in these glasses redone three times before they even came close to being usable, and that only after I finally ditched the idea of tri-focals.)  So using the laptop, which requires clear mid-range vision, has become uncomfortable, since my current glasses have only close-up and distance correction.  My favorite writing scenario—reclining in my chair upstairs, in the late hours of the evening after the rest of the household has gone to bed—is no longer possible.  If I actually put my laptop in my lap, the screen is in a position where I can’t focus clearly on it.  I mean, I can see it, I can even read it okay.  But it’s not entirely in focus, and I just hate not to be able to see clearly.  AND it gives me a headache.  So I have come to depend almost entirely on the iPad, which I can bring close enough to my eyes to focus properly, for internet browsing. 

And…I can’t write with the iPad.

So it makes me wonder if this is the reason why so many of the fine writers I used to hang with in the blog community no longer write.  We are all of a certain age.  Maybe many of us have found that our age-compromised capacities are less challenged by the smart phone or the tablet—neither of which is conducive to thoughtful, creative writing.  (Which this is not…)

I personally do not want my muse—rediscovered in the age of instantaneous communication and the internet—to now be crushed under the tank-treads of evolving technology.  This might be a perfectly appropriate time to choose a decade…or a moment, actually…and just…stay there. 

Not all change is good.  Sometimes you just have to say, “No.”

So I’m going to commit to setting my laptop in a place where I can write.  Maybe  it won’t be in my lap.  Okay.  Some adjustments have to be made.  And I’m going to take my eyeglass scrip and get some glasses that are mid-range/close range bifocals:  Computer glasses. 

And I’m going to get back to doing what I love. 


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Long and Short Of It

So I got my hair cut.  Short.  The way I wore it when I was that restaurant-owner-warrior princess.

After losing that battle, I grew my hair out.  Under the pretense that I could no longer afford to have my hair done every six weeks, which is what it takes to maintain short hair in anything resembling good order.

But the real reason was that the short hair represented a person I no longer was.  And I had this unreasonable craving to BE someone else.  Because that person had failed miserably at what she had set out to do.  I was ISO a new life.  New life, new look.  Or something like that.

What I've learned in the past 30 months--other than that my hair just doesn't DO long anymore--is that I'm well beyond the place where I can "start a new life."  Whatever life I embrace going forward will be some combination of who I was, who I am, and who I want to be.

So I got brave, and decided that right now I need to tap back into some of that Warrior Princess...