Exploitation of workers


WASHINGTON (AP) – Maybe a higher minimum wage isn’t so bad for job growth after all.

The 13 U.S. states that raised their minimum wages at the beginning of this year are adding jobs at a faster pace than those that did not, providing some counter-intuitive fuel to the debate over what impact a higher minimum has on hiring trends.

Many business groups argue that raising the minimum wage discourages job growth by increasing the cost of hiring. A Congressional Budget Office report earlier this year lent some support for that view. It found that a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour, as President Obama supports, could cost 500,000 jobs nationwide.

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But the state-by-state hiring data, released Friday by the Labor Department, provides ammunition to those who disagree. Economists who support a higher minimum say the figures are encouraging, though they acknowledge they don’t establish a cause and effect. There are many possible reasons hiring might accelerate in a particular state.

“It raises serious questions about the claims that a raise in the minimum wage is a jobs disaster,” said John Schmitt, a senior economist at the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research. The job data “isn’t definitive,” he added, but is “probably a reasonable first cut at what’s going on.”

Just last week, Obama cited the better performance by the 13 states in support of his proposal for boosting the minimum wage nationwide.

“When … you raise the minimum wage, you give a bigger chance to folks who are climbing the ladder, working hard…. And the whole economy does better, including businesses,” Obama said in Denver.

In the 13 states that boosted their minimums at the beginning of the year, the number of jobs grew an average of 0.85 percent from January through June. The average for the other 37 states was 0.61 percent.

Nine of the 13 states increased their minimum wages automatically in line with inflation: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Four more states – Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island – approved legislation mandating the increases.

Twelve of those states have seen job growth this year, while employment in Vermont has been flat. The number of jobs in Florida has risen 1.6 percent this year, the most of the 13 states with higher minimums. Its minimum rose to $7.93 an hour from $7.79 last year.

Some economists argue that six months of data isn’t enough to draw conclusions.

“It’s too early to tell,” said Stan Veuger, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “These states are very different along all kinds of dimensions.”

For example, the number of jobs in North Dakota – which didn’t raise the minimum wage and has prospered because of a boom in oil and gas drilling – rose 2.8 percent since the start of this year, the most of any state.

But job growth in the aging industrial state of Ohio was just 0.7 percent after its minimum rose to $7.95 from $7.85. The federal minimum wage is $7.25.

Veuger, one of the 500 economists who signed a letter in March opposed to an increase in the federal minimum, said the higher wages should over time cause employers to hire fewer workers. They may also replace them with new technologies.

The Congressional Budget Office cited those factors in its February report. But in addition to job losses, the CBO also said a higher minimum could boost paychecks for another 16.5 million workers.

Sylvia Allegretto, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, said that research comparing counties in states that raised their minimums with neighboring counties in states that did not has found no negative impact on employment.

Restaurants and other low-wage employers may have other ways of offsetting the cost of higher wages, aside from cutting back on hiring, she said. Higher pay can reduce staff turnover and save on hiring and training costs.

State and local governments have become increasingly active on the issue as the federal minimum wage has remained unchanged for five years. Twenty-two states currently have higher minimums than the federal requirement.

And 38 states have considered minimum wage legislation this year, the most on record, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. At least 16 will boost their minimums starting next year, the NCSL says.

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AP Economics Writer Josh Boak contributed to this report, July 19, 2014

This section of Graphic Humor in political-economic, national or international issues, are very ingenious in describing what happened, is happening or will happen. It also extends to various other local issues or passing around the world. There are also other non-political humor that ranges from reflective or just to get us a smile when we see them. Anyone with basic education and to stay informed of important news happening in our local and global world may understand and enjoy them.

Farewell!. (CTsT)

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 Fast-food workers and labor organizers marched, waved signs and chanted in cities across the country on Thursday in a push for higher wages.

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Organizers say employees planned to forgo work in 100 cities, with rallies set for another 100 cities. But by late afternoon, it was unclear what the actual turnout was or how many of the participants were workers. At targeted restaurants, the disruptions seemed minimal or temporary.

The protests are part of an effort that began about a year ago and is spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union, which has spent millions to bankroll local worker groups and organize publicity for the demonstrations. Protesters are calling for pay of $15 an hour, but the figure is seen more as a rallying point than a near-term possibility.

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At a time when there’s growing national and international attention on economic disparities, advocacy groups and Democrats are hoping to build public support to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25. That comes to about $15,000 a year for full-time work.

On Thursday, crowds gathered outside restaurants in cities including Boston, Lakewood, Calif., Phoenix, Washington, D.C., and Charlotte, N.C., where protesters walked into a Burger King but didn’t stop customers from getting their food.

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In Detroit, about 50 demonstrators turned out for a pre-dawn rally in front of a McDonald’s. A few employees said they weren’t working but a manager and other employees kept the restaurant open.

Julius Waters, a 29-year-old McDonald’s maintenance worker who was among the protesters, said it’s hard making ends meet on his wage of $7.40 an hour.

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“I need a better wage for myself, because, right now, I’m relying on aid, and $7.40 is not able to help me maintain taking care of my son. I’m a single parent,” Waters said.

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In New York City, about 100 protesters blew whistles and beat drums while marching into a McDonald’s at around 6:30 a.m.; one startled customer grabbed his food and fled as they flooded the restaurant, while another didn’t look up from eating and reading amid their chants of “We can’t survive on $7.25!”

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Community leaders took turns giving speeches for about 15 minutes until police arrived and ordered protesters out of the store. The crowd continued to demonstrate outside for about 45 minutes.

Later in the day, about 50 protesters rallied outside a Wendy’s in Brooklyn. Channon Wetstone, a 44-year-old attorney ended up going to a nearby Burger King because of the protests.

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She said that fast-food employees work very hard. When asked if she’d be willing to pay more for food so they could earn more, she said it would depend on what she was ordering.

“I would say 50 cents, 75 cents more,” Wetstone said.

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The push for higher pay in fast food faces an uphill battle. The industry competes aggressively on being able to offer low-cost meals and companies have warned that they would need to raise prices if wages were hiked.

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Fast-food workers have also historically been seen as difficult to unionize, given the industry’s high turnover rates. But the Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 2 million workers in health care, janitorial and other industries, has helped put their wages in the spotlight.

Berlin Rosen, a political consulting and public relations firm based in New York City, is coordinating communications efforts and connecting organizers with media outlets. The firm says its clients are the coalitions in each city, such as Fast Food Forward and Fight for 15. Those groups were established with the help of the SEIU, which is also listed on Berlin Rosen’s website as a client.

Fast Food Protest

The National Restaurant Association, an industry lobbying group, said most protesters were union workers and that “relatively few” restaurant employees have participated in past actions. It called the demonstrations a “campaign engineered by national labor groups.”

McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Yum Brands, which owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, said in statements that their restaurants create work opportunities and provide training and the ability to advance. Burger King reissued its statement on past protests, saying its restaurants have provided an entry point into the workforce for millions of Americans.

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In the meantime, the protests are getting some high-powered support from the White House. In an economic policy speech Wednesday, President Barack Obama mentioned fast-food and retail workers “who work their tails off and are still living at or barely above poverty” in his call for raising the federal minimum wage.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised a vote on the wage hike by the end of the year. But the measure is not expected to gain traction in the House, where Republican leaders oppose it.

Fast Food Strike

Supporters of wage hikes have been more successful at the state and local level. California, Connecticut and Rhode Island raised their minimum wages this year. Last month, voters in New Jersey approved an increase in the minimum to $8.25 an hour, up from $7.25 an hour.

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AP  |  By By CANDICE CHOI and SAM HANANELPosted: 12/05/2013

AP Writer Mike Householder contributed from Detroit, AP videographer Johnny Clark contributed from Atlanta and AP Video Journalist Ted Shaffrey contributed from New York, AP Writer Mitch Weiss from Charlotte, N.C.

Consumer Reports magazine today released its fourth annual “Naughty and Nice” list to highlight business practices it believes are helpful and not so helpful to consumers.

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Consumer Reports’ staff compiled the list with suggestions from the company’s Facebook fans. “In each case, we verified the policy and/or practice either by direct contact or reading through the details on the company’s website,” the magazine says on its website. Although we cite companies by name, other businesses may engage in similar practices—for better or worse. And praise or blame for a specific policy doesn’t mean we give a thumbs-down or thumbs-up or for everything else that company does or the way it treats customers.”

BJs_Wholesale

BJ’s Wholesale Club was in Consumer Reports’ “naughty” list for not accepting “perishable” items in its online return policy, but the company told ABCnews.com that its website does not sell perishable items. Kelly McFalls, a spokeswoman for BJ’s, said the company brick and mortar stores accept refunds of perishable products, like food items.

Here are 9 companies that made the Naughty list:

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Amazon

The magazine dings the world’s 11th-largest retailer by sales for recently raising the requirement for free Super Saver shipping on eligible items to $35, from $25.

In a statement, the company said, “Amazon.com has not changed the minimum order amount for free shipping in more than a decade. During that time, we have expanded free shipping selection by millions of items across all 40 product categories. Fast, free shipping is not a holiday promotion at Amazon. We work hard to offer the best price available anywhere, every day, including Black Friday, Cyber Monday and all year. Nothing is more important to us than earning and maintaining customer trust.”

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Best Buy

Best Buy made the naughty list because it requires a photo ID for store returns, even if you have a receipt, and maintains the right to store your information to track future returns and exchanges. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

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Fry’s Electronics

The electronics store doesn’t allow returns on large televisions. In particular, the company says onits website: “Refunds cannot be given on televisions 24″ and larger.” The company did not respond to a request for comment.

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Kmart

Kmart made the naughty list for marketing that its stores will be open for 41 hours straight, starting at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Sears Holding Corp., which is Kmart’s parent company, says seasonal associates and volunteer workers will be staffing stores.

The company says it has been open on Thanksgiving Day for 22 years and that it extended hours based on feedback from Shop Your Way members.

“We understand many associates want to spend time with their families during the holiday,” the company says. “With this in mind Kmart stores do their very best to staff with seasonal associates and those who are needed to work holidays. All associates who work on Thanksgiving are compensated with holiday pay.”

 New York City. Lord & Taylor department store decorated for Christmas Season.
Lord & Taylor

Though Lord & Taylor recently advertised a one-day sale with 25 percent savings, it only mentioned in the fine print that 70 brands and categories were excluded. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

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QVC

QVC was added to the naughty list because of its complicated pricing system.

“QVC prices goods 20 different ways,” Consumer Reports writes. “For example, there’s the ‘QVC Price,’ also known as the everyday great price, ‘Today’s Special Value,’ a steep one-day markdown, the ‘Event Price,’ another temporary deal, and ‘While Supplies Last Price,’ identifying big savings on items in relatively short supply.”

In a statement, the company said: “QVC consistently ranks as one of the top retailers for customer service and we take great pride in being completely transparent about our pricing. Our customers are expert shoppers and expect great value on everything they purchase at QVC. They shop with the assurance that there will never be a surprise about a purchase price or total delivered cost.”

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Raymour & Flanigan

“Deferred-interest credit cards let customers pay for purchases interest-free for a set period,” Consumer Reports writes. “But there’s a heavy burden on borrowers who fail to pay down the entire amount by the end of the promotional period: the prevailing interest rate gets applied retroactively to the entire original balance, not just the remaining amount you owe. Raymour & Flanigan isn’t the only chain that offers deferred-interest plans. Many big players, including Apple, Walmart, and Best Buy, for instance, do, too.”

But the furniture chain and Best Buy feature the option on their home page. Failure to pay off the balance in time could result in an APR of 28 percent. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

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Toys ‘R’ Us

Toys ‘R’ Us was added to the naughty list for suspending its price-match policy on Black Friday, and not matching online deals during the week of Black Friday (starting Nov. 25) or on Cyber Monday. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

 United airlines
United Airlines

United Airlines doesn’t allow pre-boarding for families with young kids. The airline policy states, “Families with infants or with children who are under the age of 4 may board the aircraft when their group number is called.” The company did not respond to a request for comment.

The “nice” list can be found here.

 

 

* Text by Susanna Kim (ABC), Nov. 25, 2013

Americans aren’t so sure about rich people.

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For every revered Steve Jobs, there’s a reviled Bernie Madoff; for every folksy Warren Buffett, there’s a tone-deaf Mitt Romney. The pursuit of happiness is patriotic, but the pursuit of riches can come off as greedy. This ambivalence toward the wealthy is embedded in American democracy, and no one knows how to yank it out.

Even Alexis de Tocqueville agreed — a good thing, too, because discussing democracy in America without quoting “Democracy in America” is forbidden. “Men are there seen on a greater equality in point of fortune . . . than in any other country in the world, or in any age of which history has preserved the remembrance,” Tocqueville wrote of his travels in the United States. But then, the dagger: “I do not mean that there is any lack of wealthy individuals in the United States. I know of no country, indeed, where the love of money has taken stronger hold.”

So Americans dislike inequality but crave wealth — and this paradox propels our mixed feelings about the rich. Oppressors or job creators? Ambitious go-getters or rapacious 1 percenters?

Robert F. Dalzell, a historian at Williams College, believes he has an answer. America has a long-standing deal with the rich, he explains, one that allows the country to “forge an accommodation between wealth and democracy.” It’s simple: Yes, rich people, you can exploit workers and natural resources and lord your wealth over everyone if you like, and we’ll resent you for it. But if, along the way, you give a chunk of your fortune to charity, all will be forgiven, old sport. History won’t judge you as a capitalist; it will hail you as a philanthropist.

This uneasy bargain is the premise of Dalzell’s “The Good Rich and What They Cost Us,” which chronicles the deal from before the revolution through the recent financial crisis. Of course, just because the deal has lasted this long doesn’t mean that it will endure. Or that it is a particularly good one. Or that the rich aren’t constantly trying to rewrite the terms.

Early on, the wealthy waited until their deaths to strike the deal. Dalzell writes of Robert Keayne, a prominent 17th-century Boston merchant who sought to cleanse his price-gouging reputation by devoting his posthumous riches to college scholarships, improvements in his city’s water supply and defense, and construction of a town hall where important men like him could discuss weighty things. His will became a unilateral contract with town leaders; if anyone tried to sue his estate for past misdeeds, Keayne stipulated, all his giving would “utterly cease and become void.” Boston took the deal.

John D. Rockefeller saw no reason to wait. His Standard Oil empire — whose ruthless business tactics Ida Tarbell exposed and whose interlocking parts the Supreme Court split up — became the basis for the greatest philanthropic enterprise the world had ever seen. From major financial commitments to Spellman College and the University of Chicago, to support for medical research that developed the yellow-fever vaccine, to the financing of the Cloisters museum in Upper Manhattan and the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, to list just a few initiatives, Rockefeller and his descendants set the model for modern, large-scale philanthropy. And they did so in a way that preserved the family’s influence and wealth over multiple generations.

“There was something Medici-like about the whole effort,” Dalzell writes, “for within the soul of that great Renaissance family there lay an urge to combine what many might have thought uncombinable — vast wealth and dedicated public service.”

But he also sees a more prosaic motivation: Billionaires want to polish their reputations for posterity. Wealth does not dull their sensitivity to what we think of them; it heightens it. Dalzell thinks it is no coincidence, for example, that the Giving Pledge — a public commitment by the world’s richest individuals, led by Buffett and Bill Gates, to donate most of their fortunes — coincided with the Great Recession’s backlash against the wealthy.

So, the rich just want to be loved. Is that so wrong? If more than 100 of the planet’s wealthiest families and individuals are promising to give away unfathomable amounts of money, why quibble?

Well, there’s at least one reason: The deal gets worse as the price paid for the rich’s charity — the inequality between the affluent and the rest — keeps rising. From 1979 to 2007, the real, after-tax income of the top 1 percent of the U.S. population grew by 275 percent, compared with 18 percent for the bottom fifth, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Social mobility has become more stunted in the United States than in Europe. And Americans see themselves falling further behind: A Washington Post-ABC News polllast year found that 57 percent of registered voters believed that the gap between the rich and rest was larger than it had been historically; only 5 percent thought it was smaller.

The deal will get even worse if efforts to push laws and policies that benefit wealthier Americans succeed. In “Rich People’s Movements,” Isaac William Martin, a sociologist at the University of California at San Diego, says today’s tea party is just the latest manifestation of another American tradition: the mobilization of wealthy and middle-class citizens in an effort to cut their taxes and contributions to the state.

Before the tea party, Martin tells us, there were tax clubs — groups of bankers throughout the South that agitated for tax cuts and helped bring about the Revenue Act of 1926, which “cut the tax rates on the richest Americans more deeply than any other tax law in history.” Before we hadGrover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform, we had J.A. Arnold and the American Taxpayers’ League, and Vivien Kellems and the Liberty Belles, a 1950s women’s movement that campaigned to repeal the income tax. And before Arthur Laffer and supply-side economics, there was Andrew Mellon, the banker, philanthropist and Treasury secretary whose 1924 book,“Taxation: The People’s Business,” argued that cutting income tax rates would create more revenue through greater economic growth.

Rich people’s movements respond to perceived threats, such as the New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt’s effort to cap incomes during World War II (because “all excess income should go to win the war,” FDR explained) or, now, the policies of the Obama administration. But these movements sell their efforts not as benefiting the rich alone — that would be too transparent, too tacky. Instead, they claim to protect freedom, promote growth, safeguard the Constitution or fend off an ever-more-intrusive government. Martin calls this “strategic policy crafting,” and it brings more allies to the fight.

In fact, it is not just the wealthy, but often the middle class or the slightly-richer-than-average who have campaigned for lower taxes on affluent Americans. “People need not be dupes in order to protest on behalf of others who are richer than they are,” Martin argues. “The activists and supporters of rich people’s movements were defending their own real interests, as they saw them. A tax increase on the richest 1 percent may be perceived by many upper-middle-income property owners as the first step in a broader assault on property rights.” In other words, there’s nothing the matter with Kansas.

Shortly before the Republican National Convention gathered last year to nominate a man who could have become one of the richest presidents in U.S. history, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey on American attitudes toward the wealthy. The chronic ambivalence was there: Forty-three percent of respondents said rich people are more likely than the average American to be intelligent, and 42 percent believed that the rich worked harder than everyone else. The good rich! But 55 percent said wealthy people were more likely to be greedy, and 34 percent thought they were less likely to be honest. The bad rich.

Can “giving pledges” and foundation grants sustain America’s deal with the wealthy in a time of increasing inequality and falling social mobility? In his conclusion, Dalzell worries that the belief in the generosity of the good rich leads us to “tolerate, even celebrate, the violation of some of our most cherished ideals” of fairness and egalitarianism.

Perhaps the dilemma of extreme wealth and disparities in a democracy is that noblesse oblige becomes necessary. These two books show that the wealthy give much with one hand but seek to contribute far less with the other. That makes the giving they choose to do all the more critical but all the less accountable.

And that doesn’t sound like such a good deal.

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By Carlos Lozada, Washington Post, November 27, 2013

Not too long ago, I woke up, grabbed my iPhone and popped onto Facebook to see what I had missed since falling asleep. What can I say other than I play on social media like it’s my job. Normally my news feed is full of baby photos, food, and travel shots and the occasional questionable joke. On this particular morning, I was faced with a photo of a food stamp with a note to “those on welfare” who “don’t work” and “milk the system.” The post was calling for “accountability.” I just shook my head in disappointment.

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While most political comments don’t hit me very hard (we all have a right to our opinion), I have a difficult time with those that group any set of people into a section and blame and berate them. It’s especially disturbing when those I know make these kinds of statements and then look me in the eye and say it to me as though I am above some kind of fray. Quite frankly, it makes me sick to my stomach. Yes, there are people who abuse all kinds of systems, regardless of their tax bracket, but too often I hear people equate poverty with laziness or worse, criminal behavior, and it’s heart-wrenching for me on a deeply personal level.

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I have made no secret that I come from way down. I grew up in various cockroach-infested apartments with a violent, drug-addicted ex-felon father and a mother who did me both a favor and a great disservice by leaving. The only person I had to watch over me and make sure that I had food, water, and ice for my wounds was my beloved, hardworking and retired grandfather who supported me with a $500 monthly budget that was paid to him via pension and social security.

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That included rent money.

When we lost our home (thanks to my father skipping bail) we moved into our fishing trailer and ate Pork and Beans nearly every weeknight for dinner. On weekends, we lived lakeside and ate the fish we caught. Finally, after we had to spend one third of our income on my eyeglasses, we went to sign up for food stamps, and stood in line for our boxed block of “government cheese.” For a former foreman and a little girl who was already made fun of for a number of reasons and who was particularly sensitive to her grandfather’s feelings, it was humiliating.

GERMANY, BERLIN, - ARCHE is a German Christian child and juvenilia registered association in ab problem district of East-Berlin, Berlin-Hellersdorf, It is considered as representative project in the fight against child poverty, O,p,s, Children during 5

I hated seeing my proud and dignified hero standing in line for handouts. This was a man who prided himself on being self-sufficient and instilled a sense of duty and independence in me from day one. We were not drug addicts living the high life-we were just poor.

“You will be educated and life will be better for you when you get older, Brenda Lynn,” he promised. He was going to fight like hell to see that it happened. “You just need to go to college and you’ll never have to go through this again.” But I was five years old. We had a few years, hospital trips, pairs of shoes, and meals to worry about.

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My grandfather had a moral fiber as thick as wool. He was a God-fearing man who treated everyone with dignity and respect, volunteered to help others, worked odd jobs to make money for us, and taught me to also treat everyone with dignity and respect, reminding me that “we are all equal, and we all put our pants on one leg at a time.” He may not personally have agreed with your way of life, but he’d certainly vote for your right to live as you saw fit as long as it did not hurt anyone else.

He tipped his hat to women on the street. He firmly shook the hands of men. He opened doors. He gave what he had to help others, and he kept his word. He pressed and polished our cheap clothes and shoes to make us look as nice as possible. He didn’t smoke, drink or do drugs. He paid his taxes-on time.

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My grandfather wanted what all good, decent and loving fathers want for their daughters–the best, safest and most dignified life. While he’d have to save up for a few months to buy me a new dress at Sears in order to see the bright surprise flash across my face, I believe we were rich. Very few children enjoyed the conversation, love, companionship and connection we had. Having a hamburger and slice of pie once a week was our “big date” when we could afford it, and believe me when I tell you that there is still no better “date” for me today.

I was raised to believe in hard work, the value of education, human interaction, honoring your word, equality and making your own way in this world and helping others. When he passed away, everything beautiful in my world went with him.

I was bounced from home-to-home and turned to the system only once when I was cold and needed somewhere to sleep over Thanksgiving. I walked into Juvenile Hall and asked to stay there. Those two days were enough time for me to realize that I needed to stay under the radar.
God knows it would have been easier to have food stamps to offer someone to take me in or medical insurance, but I had to make due without both. On the occasion that I needed to go to the doctor, I went to Planned Parenthood. Not to exercise my right to choose, but for breast exams and free medical attention in a facility that treated me like a human being.
When I tried to work at 14, I was told I was not old enough to get a full time job. So, I worked under the table when I could and accepted food, clothes and shelter from those who felt sorry for me. Equally humiliating.

When it was time to go to college, I had the grades and essays to get in, but I was under 24 and that meant that I needed a parental signature. I was on my own and never a ward of the court, a painful purgatory for someone who ached to just get to the starting line like everyone else.

Thanks to President Clinton, an amendment was made, making it possible for kids who had been on their own and who had stayed out of the system (i.e., bounced from home-to-home or on the streets) to prove they were alone and apply for loans on their own and go to school. With that, a scholarship and loans, I attended American University, excelled where I could and Interned at The White House.

In the time since childhood and now, I have made an incredible family of friends who are on both sides of the political fence. Some of my friends feel very strongly about helping others whereas others feel we should all be responsible only for helping ourselves. Some of my friends are gay and have been humiliated, put down, abused, shut out and treated as second-class citizens by family members and strangers alike solely because they love the “wrong” gender. I have friends who have started rehabilitation programs and others who have benefited from them. I have friends who go to church every week and others who have never stepped foot into one. I personally believe in God and God said that we should steer clear of judging others unless we want to be judged ourselves. I believe God judges deception, bigotry, cruelty and those who live their lives in ways that bring pain to others.

You may not believe this. We don’t have to agree. But I will still show you respect, not only because that’s how I was raised, but because it feels right on a deep and human level.

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I am writing this because I want to say that I was one of those “welfare” people so many people callously group into the “lazy” section of the room. While I am now often told by these same people that I am one of the hardest working people they know, the reality is that there is no way I would be where I am today without the help I received in my past. Some tell me, “Yeah, but you are an exception.”

No, I am not.

I am just one of the many people born under difficult circumstances who wanted to do better and needed a little help getting onto my feet. Now that I am on them, I do my best not to forget what it felt like when I was not. If anything, my past has benefited me in that it has served as a strong warning not to play the “we” VS “them” game as one day you might be the “them”.

 

*Text by  Brenda Della Casa, Nov.2013

When Chinese textile worker Wang Mingzhi heard he could more than triple his income with a three-year stint working in Japan as an apprentice, he eagerly paid a broker $7,300 in fees and deposit money.

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In this May 17, 2013 photo, Wang Zhigan, a 31-year-old Chinese laborer, picks up a dried food as he prepares a lunch at his dormitory in Hokota, Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo. Caught between Japan’s shrinking workforce and tight restrictions on immigration, employers such as small companies, farms and fisheries are relying on foreign interns from China, Vietnam and other countries under a program set up to transfer technical expertise to developing countries, but which critics say is abused by some employers seeking a source of cheap labor. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

From afar, Japan seemed a model of prosperity and order. Japanese government backing of the training program he would enter the country under helped ease worries about going abroad. But when he joined the ranks of 150,000 other interns from poor Asian countries working in Japan, Wang was in for a series of shocks.

Promised a clothing factory job, the 25-year-old wound up at a huge warehouse surrounded by rice paddies where he was told to fill boxes with clothing, toys and other goods. Wang and other new arrivals weren’t given contracts by their Japanese boss and monthly wages were withheld, except for overtime.

Anyone who didn’t like the conditions could return to China, their boss told them. But then Wang would have lost most of his deposit. And how could he face his family, who were counting on sharing in the $40,000 he hoped he would earn for three years work.

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In this May 17, 2013 photo, Chinese laborers Li Jin, 23, left, and Wang Xile, 22, sit in a room of their dormitory in Hokota, Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo. Caught between Japan’s shrinking workforce and tight restrictions on immigration, employers such as small companies, farms and fisheries are relying on foreign interns from China, Vietnam and other countries under a program set up to transfer technical expertise to developing countries, but which critics say is abused by some employers seeking a source of cheap labor. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

“We didn’t have any choice but to stay,” Wang said from his bunk in a cramped house he shared with a dozen others in Kaizu, a small city in central Gifu prefecture.

Wang’s story is not unusual. Faced with a shrinking workforce and tight restrictions on immigration, Japanese employers such as small companies, farms and fisheries are plugging labor shortages by relying on interns from China, Vietnam and elsewhere in Asia. The training program is intended to help developing countries by upgrading the technical expertise of their workers but critics say it is abused by some employers who see it as a source of cheap labor.

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In this June 9, 2013 photo, Chinese textile worker Wang Ming Zhi, right, with his colleague Cao Li Mei listens to an official from the Gifu General Labor Union at his room in Kaizu, Gifu prefecture, central Japan. When Wang heard he could more than triple his income with a three-year stint working in Japan as an apprentice, he eagerly paid a broker $7,300 in fees and deposit money. Wang and other new arrivals weren’t given contracts by their Japanese boss. They say they were told the company would withhold wages until the end of their three years in Japan, and only give them overtime pay until then. (AP Photo/Malcolm Foster)

Employers committing violations such as failing to pay wages numbered 197 last year, down more than half from 452 in 2008, according to Japanese officials. Lawyers and labor activists say the true number is many times higher and interns fear being sent home if they speak up despite government attempts to prevent abuses.

In interviews with The Associated Press, eight current and former interns described being cheated of wages, forced to work overtime, having contracts withheld or being charged exorbitant rents for cramped, poorly insulated housing. Some said they were prohibited from owning cellphones. The internship system has been criticized by the U.N. and the U.S. State Department, which in its annual “Trafficking in Persons Report” said Japan is failing to stop cases of forced labor.

“The program is portrayed as way to transfer technology, and that Japan is doing a wonderful thing, but in reality many are working like slaves,” said Shoichi Ibusuki, a lawyer who has represented several interns in court cases.

Some say the plight of the interns highlights the need for Japan to rethink its deep-seated resistance to immigration, out of sheer economic necessity. A government institute projects Japan’s workforce will plummet by nearly half to 44 million over the next 50 years as the population ages and birthrates remain low. At that rate, many companies will run out of workers. Foreign workers and first generation immigrants make up less than 2 percent of Japan’s workforce. In the United States, the percentage is 14.2 percent, and in Germany it is 11.7 percent, according to U.N. figures.

Unions and others have called for the training program, established in 1993, to be abolished and replaced with a formal system for employment of foreign workers. That will better meet the demand for low-skilled laborers as young Japanese flock to the cities and shun work that is dirty, dangerous or difficult, they say.

“We need to stop the deception,” said Ippei Torii, vice president of ZWU All United Workers Union, which has battled on behalf of interns. “If we need to bring in foreign workers, then we should call them workers and treat them so.”

Hidenori Sakanaka, former chief of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau who has become a champion for immigration, said Japan needs 10 million immigrants over the next 50 years or its economy will collapse.

“That’s really our only salvation,” said Sakanaka, now head of a think tank. “We should allow them to enter the country on the assumption that they could become residents of Japan.”

The chances of that happening are low. Immigration is perceived as a threat to Japan’s prized social harmony, and opponents paint scenarios of rising crime and other problems.

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In this May 17, 2013 photo, Chinese laborers Li Jin, 23, left, stands with his colleagues in front of their dormitory in Hokota, Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo.Caught between Japan’s shrinking workforce and tight restrictions on immigration, employers such as small companies, farms and fisheries are relying on foreign interns from China, Vietnam and other countries under a program set up to transfer technical expertise to developing countries, but which critics say is abused by some employers seeking a source of cheap labor. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

About 20 years ago, Japan granted special visas to Latin Americans of Japanese descent but many had difficult fitting in. After the 2008 global financial crisis they were offered money to return home.

The training program got public attention earlier this year after a Chinese intern stabbed to death his boss and another Japanese employee at a fishery in Hiroshima but its ongoing problems have not been front page news.

The government strengthened laws covering the program in 2010, including prohibiting trainees from paying deposits to labor brokers. Japanese employers are expected to pay the third-party agencies. A panel of experts and officials is reviewing the program again to see if it needs further changes.

“There are some who go against the objectives of this program and use it as a source of cheap labor,” said Jun Nakamura, an immigration bureau official. “We have tried to strengthen the legal framework.”

After not receiving their regular wages for 16 months, Wang and about a dozen others at the distribution company in Gifu confronted their boss, Akiyoshi Shibata, demanding their back pay. They said he gave them a choice: return to China or drop their complaints, apologize and stay on.

Wang and three others chose to go home. A few days later they were taken to the airport, where Shibata paid them each 750,000 yen ($7,500), barely enough to cover the broker fee, according to Zhen Kai, an official with the Gifu Ippan Labor Union who helped in negotiations between the two sides.

In a phone interview, Shibata said he withheld 50,000 yen (about $500) every month from each trainee’s wages for the first year as a security deposit due to problems in the past, including cases where trainees ran away. He said he paid the remaining regular wages on time and in the end paid them all they had earned.

After “all this trouble,” Shibata said he has decided against using foreign interns any more.

“I think it may be better to scrap the program since there’s a risk both sides will just be unhappy.”

 

By Malcolm Foster,KAIZU, Japan (AP) —Nov.22, 2013