Economics

Black Friday or Black Mail?

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ef44181c6488484f8831c11fe934aedcAs millions of Americans prepare to celebrate the holiday season, retail stores across America are gearing up for their traditional Black Friday sales extravaganza’s. Shoppers have already begun lining up for sales in some locations like Best Buy nearly two weeks ahead of the somewhat infamous day. Traditionally, Black Friday has been held the day after Thanksgiving, but in recent years it has been creeping farther and farther into the Thanksgiving holiday with some stores open nearly all day on Thanksgiving.

The retail stores claim that their decision to open on Thanksgiving is due in large part to consumer demand, but there is an obvious “behind the scenes” competition between the Big-Box retailer’s to attract the most customers and gain the most profit during the sales events. Still, many are concerned about the fact that retailer’s seem to show very little or no concern for their employee’s or their families. In fact, in many cases, employee’s who are scheduled to work on Thanksgiving are being told that if they refuse, they face disciplinary action and may even risk losing their jobs as a result.

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Thanksgiving is a National holiday. It has traditionally been a day set aside for families and friends to gather and spend time with one another, being thankful for all of the good things that they were blessed with throughout the year, and is capped off with a feast of turkey and dressing. However, as greedy merchants continue to encroach further and further into the holiday, some wonder if it will continue to exist within a few short years. There is also a great deal of concern about the Christmas holiday falling victim to that same greed-filled encroachment.

Stores like Wal-mart, Macy’s and Target, who claim to care about their employees and think of them as family, certainly do not display that caring nature by forcing them to work on a day of the year that has been set aside for family. Many consumers have chosen to boycott those stores who are open on holidays that, in a large majority of opinions, should be closed. Radio Shack was one of the stores that decided this year to join the small group of Thursday sales stores, but after receiving much negative feedback from their employees they decided against their original plans and chose to open much later in the day, allowing their employees the opportunity to spend the morning and afternoon with their families. Although I applaud Radio Shack’s decision to give their employees that time with their families, I still believe that they should remain closed throughout the entire day.

Employees work throughout the year for the employers of these giant retailers, making them tons of money, and in return they are forced to give up even more time with their families. Because many workers are scheduled to either work on Thanksgiving, or the very next morning, travel to a relatives house is almost certainly out of the question if that relative lives any real distance away. No longer is is customary to venture off to grandma’s house for her fabulous stuffing, or to an auntie’s for the mouthwatering pumpkin pie. No, now it appears to be far more important to make certain that the equally greedy and unthoughtful consumers who fight tooth and nail to get the best deals first are served with a halfhearted smile on behalf of the retailers.

As for the employees who would rather be at home with their families, they are not given such a choice in most cases. Many of the stores use what could only be construed as black mail to force their employees into submission. If an employee does not work their scheduled holiday hours, regardless of the reason why, they lose their holiday pay. For many families who are already barely getting by on the wages these employers pay, that holiday pay could mean the difference between Christmas gifts or doing without. A day that was originally intended to promote a feeling of thankfulness and goodwill has been twisted by these money-hungry merchants into a realistic nightmare before Christmas.

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A solution to this problem might be found in allowing employees to choose whether or not they want to work on Thanksgiving rather than forcing them into working. Many of the employees who may not have plans for the holiday, or do not consider the Thanksgiving holiday important to them personally, might not mind working and making some extra cash. Companies could even offer extra incentives to entice those who may be on the fence about working the Black Thursday events in their stores. The point is, give those who would rather be at home with their families on Thanksgiving the option. It’s the right thing to do.

 

 

 

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May I Take Your Order – An Honest Day’s Pay?

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A protest sign is pictured during a rally to raise the hourly minimum wage to $15 for fast-food workers at City Hall in Seattle

How much is an individual’s time and labor worth? What determines the level or rate of compensation owed to someone for that which they have been hired to do? Would you be willing to pay fifteen dollars for a hamburger at your favorite fast-food franchise?

 

There is a growing debate over the subject of the minimum wage being paid to workers in the United States. Many, including a large number of our elected leadership on the state and federal levels of government, believe that the wages being paid to entry-level employees is well below what it should be. Many more however, including a significant number of small business owners, believe that what they offer in terms of compensation is fair and in accordance with the requirements and responsibilities of the jobs being performed.

The argument from those in favor of increasing the wages is that workers are not being paid enough to support themselves or their families in these modern times. With the cost of living at an all time high and continuing to rise, health coverage now a mandatory expense for most American’s, and government assistance in the form of food stamps and other such programs reaching their highest levels ever, they believe increasing the wages of entry-level employees would solve many of these problems. Those opposed to the idea believe that it would not solve the problems, but instead would compound many of them. According to a large number of those in government and business who argue against the idea, raising the wages would threaten to decrease or eliminate many jobs, cause many small businesses to close their doors, and place an even heavier burden on the tax-payer due to the massive growth in government assistance programs. Already, many employers and companies have had to reduce employee hours, changing their workers employment status from full-time to part-time, in large part because of the implementation of Obamacare and changes to the tax code, which has resulted in those employee’s receiving less pay and, in many cases, the loss of company paid benefits such as healthcare insurance.

If an entry-level employee is making such a grandiose wage, should those with far more responsibility and skill be expected to work for the same wages as those who have very little responsibility and far less skill?”

Traditionally, employers have had the freedom to determine their compensation to an employee for services provided by the employee with a minimum required under law. Employers generally tend to offer wages and/or benefits that are competitive with those companies that operate similar businesses, and that fall within the range of the job being preformed based in large part on the level of responsibility, required tasks, and other such factors. In most cases, employers who do offer the bare minimum to their employees as entry wages are hiring them to do a job that does not require a broad education, prior experience, and is in all likelihood not a position placing a significant amount of responsibility on them. Of course, the longer that an individual is employed by the same employer, and as that employee’s level of responsibility grows, along with the tasks that they are able to successfully perform, their wages tend to increase over time. The majority of people seem to understand that an individual’s monetary worth in the workplace is directly tied to things like education, responsibility, and experience as it pertains to that job. However, there seem to be those who believe that these factors should have little to do with what they are being paid.

I, like many people, began my first job working in the fast-food industry. At that time the minimum wage was a meagerly $4.25/hour. That was my starting pay and, being my first job, I was happy to have it. I was very young and still at home, so I really didn’t have any bills to pay yet. Over time, I decided that I really enjoyed the job that I was doing and I worked hard to improve in every aspect of those tasks and responsibilities that were given to me. I moved up within the business, and my pay increased along with my skills and responsibility. I wound up in a management position in time, and though I was not making the kind of money that the CEO of a huge company was making, I was doing well. Would I have liked to have been paid more money? Well, sure I would’ve. The thing is, I understood that based on what I was doing for the employer; the number of people I was managing (around twelve, most of them high-school aged), the types of tasks I was performing, and the educational experience that I had directly related to managing a business (almost none), I was being paid a fair wage.

“The individuals who are striking… are a prime example of the “freeloader mentality” that is threatening to undermine or nation.”

I cannot fathom the mindset of those who believe that they should receive a minimum of $15.00/hour working in the fast-food industry. The individuals who are striking on the grounds that they are being unfairly compensated for their labor at these fast-food chains are a prime example of the “freeloader mentality” that is threatening to undermine or nation. Fast-food is considered an entry-level job for most people; a foothold on the ladder of experience in the working world. Unless a person decides to make a career out of it and move into management, they should be striving to better themselves through education and move into a career field that will better suit their lifestyle and needs. Demanding that the owners and operators of these businesses pay them those types of wages will result in those businesses raising prices or going out of business entirely, or laying off workers or firing them to hire a less rebellious workforce.

Fast Food StrikeThere is another aspect of this that must be examined as well. If an entry-level fast-food worker is worth $15.00/hour, then how much is an entry-level employee at Wal-mart or Target worth? What should the minimum wage be for an entry-level employee working at any business that offers employment to those who have very little education or experience for that matter? Also, what of those who have taken the course of furthering their education in order to better their situation and make themselves more marketable to employers – who may be making the equivalent of $15.00/hour at this time – should their pay increase as well, and to what degree? If an entry-level employee is making such a grandiose wage, should those with far more responsibility and skill be expected to work for the same wages as those who have very little responsibility and far less skill? Contrary to the belief of some, our economy is not some endless pool of monetary supply, and there most definitely is a point at which the system will collapse upon itself.

Rather than complain and strike, I believe these individuals should be thankful they have a job at all in these hard economic times. In regards to the businesses themselves, are they making substantial profits? I’m sure they probably are – that is the whole point of being in business in the first place, but when a business begins to see its profit margin decrease it usually does not bid well for either the customers or the employees of that business. Besides, there really are not that many employers out there who offer to employ a person with no knowledge or skill in the field to which they are being hired for; a doorway into the working world through which one can at least list something on their application under “previous work experience”. Imagine how hard they will make it on the generations of young men and ladies who are someday going to need those jobs just to get a start.

The Pursuit of Happiness in Turbulent Times

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breadline-2When I was young, my Grandfather often talked to me about what it had been like to live during the Great Depression. Like many during that time in our history, my Grandfather was farmed out at a very young age to help the family make whatever money they could to get by on. He worked on one of a farm in the area near his home for substandard wages, but every penny helped to keep food on the table. He explained how many of the people he  and his family knew packed up whatever they could carry, and moved away to try and find work elsewhere. He said that they learned to never throw anything away if it could be put to use, and not to waste whatever they had.

I listened to my Grandfather talk about how hard things were during those years, and I listened to much of the advice that he shared with me, taking it to heart. After all, he said that he hoped I would never have to live through anything like that, but that it could happen again someday. I thought about that many times, and sometimes still do. The fact that I might wake up one morning and find that the entire country’s economy has collapsed; that there are no jobs to be found anywhere, and there is no money left in the Governments coffers to help people in need, or that the banks have all closed their doors and nobody can get to what they have labored for and saved. How would I handle that? What could I do to take care of my family?

It is a very frightening concept, and one that many people would rather not even consider, but the truth is that for people like my Grandparents, and possibly even yours, it was not a concept at all, but rather a harsh reality. I have taught myself to try and avoid taking too much for granted. I tend to think as far in advance as possible about various scenarios so as to be as prepared as possible for whatever may come. The sad truth is that no matter what I do, it may not be enough, or more than that – it may be overreacting. There is no way to tell what the future may hold. I recall asking my Grandfather what was the most important thing that he learned during that time in his life, and his reply was simple enough. “I learned to be happy with what I had.”

The words were simple enough, but since then, I have mulled them over in my thoughts time and again. I’ve wondered many times, how could anyone staring into the face of such adversity ever be happy at all? We are guaranteed the pursuit of happiness by the Constitution, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we will catch it, after all. Now, I have been blessed in more ways than I could count here, and I am basically happy with where I am, but is their a broader scope of happiness that I am missing? My thoughts about this led me to other questions about happiness, but they all culminated into one basic question…what is happiness?

I’m sure that for some having lots of money, flashy clothes, or a fancy house set on a hill might be the answer given, but that isn’t the type of happiness I’m referring to. Sure, those things are nice, but they are short-lived and, more importantly, self-gratifying. No, what I’m referring to is something far greater than that, and much harder to come by. Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting things for ourselves or our families, but is that really all there is? Why are we here, poking around this world, working day in and day out and struggling to survive at times? Do we have a purpose, or are we simply here for the short-term to only serve ourselves and those closest to us?

I believe there is more. I have come to the conclusion that true happiness is that feeling you get inside when you do something for another person. Not in a prideful way, or while expecting something in return, but just because you want to. When you provide food to someone who is hungry, or a blanket for someone who is cold, it’s that warm feeling inside of us when we reach out to someone else and make a difference in their life by doing the simplest of things…showing them we care. When they look back at us with those eyes of true gratitude and smile, the warmth of the happiness you feel inside can never be measured in dollars or cents. It is pure happiness that fills our hearts and souls.

There was a movie called Pay It Forward that I had the pleasure to watch a few years ago, perhaps you’ve seen it. In the movie, a classroom teacher challenges the students in his charge to come up with an idea for doing something that could change the world. He was attempting to get them to think beyond themselves. Each student came up with their own ideas; most of them as ridiculous as you might expect, but one young man exceeded the teachers expectations by choosing to use an act of pure kindness to make the change he wanted to see. The premise was so simple; perform an act of kindness by helping three people with something they need with the only catch being that each of the three must find a way to help three more, and so on. The idea hinges on the monopoly effect caused by the number of people growing over time. All from the heart and mind of one young man who truly cared. It seemed strange to me that someone older didn’t come up with that idea, but when I consider what the Bible says about The simple things confounding the wise, it makes perfect sense. If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it.

I’ve mentioned the movie to illustrate my point. The boy in the movie sought to make a change in the world by making others happy. His happiness came from being able to help them without their being able to repay him. The happiness he must have felt by doing so is the kind of happiness that I’m talking about here. Long lasting happiness comes, I believe, by continually finding ways to help our fellow man and woman as they too struggle on life’s journey. There are countless organizations throughout the world that seek to help others, and they are, by and large, great organizations indeed. Just about everyone is willing to share their money and time with others—with a church, a charity, or even a relative in need. Charitable organizations count on these donations. But most people have one kind of need to which they are sensitive and will give a little more, a little extra; the kind of need for which a person will sacrifice and not just give a token amount. What sort of need gets that kind of response from you? It might be our neighbor lady who has slipped and fallen in the winter weather and can’t get around like she normally does? Would she appreciate us offering to bring her mail to her from the box each day until she were better or simply checking on her needs every couple of days? Maybe there’s a man who is alone and barely getting by on his Social Security check each month? What might he say if we simply picked up something for him to eat while we were doing our shopping and dropped it by? What about the person we see stranded on the side of the road because their car broke down? Perhaps there is nothing we can do to fix the car, but might they need some gas, or perhaps just need to call for a tow-truck? It doesn’t have to involve money. It doesn’t have to involve anything other than a willingness to care about tying to help make a small difference in their lives.

These indeed are turbulent times. Thought I really don’t think they compare to the era of the Great Depression that my Grandfather spoke of, I do know that times are hard for many and that the needs are great in our communities. It seems that everywhere we look there are reasons to be upset, or angry, or depressed, or worried. All we need do is switch on the news or read the morning paper and the problems leap out at us. At times like these, happiness can seem as elusive as the Dodo Bird, but it is still there to be had. It simply requires two things of us; to learn to be happy with what we have, and to try and share a little of our happiness with others whenever the opportunity presents itself.

The Holy Bible is filled with instruction on developing character qualities in our lives. It holds the key to true happiness within its pages. If you truly seek to be filled with happiness, regardless of what times we may be living in, I encourage you to learn about what God has waiting for you.

“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.”               – 2nd Peter 5-9 (KJV)