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‘A tale of 2 recessions’: As rich Americans get richer, the bottom half struggles

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The path toward economic recovery in the U.S. has become sharply divided, with wealthier Americans earning and saving at record levels while the poorest struggle to pay their bills and put food on the table.

The result is a splintered economic picture characterized by high highs — the stock market has hit record levels — and incongruous low lows: Nearly 30 million Americans are receiving unemployment benefits, and the jobless rate stands at 8.4 percent. And that dichotomy, economists fear, could obscure the need for an additional economic stimulus that most say is sorely needed.

The trend is on track to exacerbate dramatic wealth and income gaps in the U.S., where divides are already wider than any other nation in the G-7, a group of major developed countries. Spiraling inequality can also contribute to political and financial instability, fuel social unrest and extend any economic recession.

The growing divide could also have damaging implications for President Donald Trump’s reelection bid. Economic downturns historically have been harmful if not fatal for incumbent presidents, and Trump’s base of working-class, blue-collar voters in the Midwest are among the demographics hurting the most. The White House has worked to highlight a rapid economic recovery as a primary reason to reelect the president, but his support on the issue is slipping: Nearly 3 in 5 people say the economy is on the wrong track, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found.

Democrats are now seizing on what they see as an opportunity to hit the president on what had been one of his strongest reelection arguments.

“The economic inequities that began before the downturn have only worsened under this failed presidency,” Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Friday. “No one thought they’d lose their job for good or see small businesses shut down en masse. But that kind of recovery requires leadership — leadership we didn’t have, and still don’t have.”

Recent economic data and surveys have laid bare the growing divide. Americans saved a stunning $3.2 trillion in July, the same month that more than 1 in 7 households with children told the U.S. Census Bureau they sometimes or often didn’t have enough food. More than a quarter of adults surveyed have reported paying down debt faster than usual, according to a new AP-NORC poll, while the same proportion said they have been unable to make rent or mortgage payments or pay a bill.

A historic House vote on marijuana legalization will take place later this month. We break down why Democrats are voting on the bill despite the fact that it’ll be dead upon arrival in the Senate.

And while the employment rate for high-wage workers has almost entirely recovered — by mid-July it was down just 1 percent from January — it remains down 15.4 percent for low-wage workers, according to Harvard’s Opportunity Insights economic tracker.

“What that’s created is this tale of two recessions,” said Beth Akers, a labor economist with the Manhattan Institute who worked on the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush. “There are so obviously complete communities that have been almost entirely unscathed by Covid, while others are entirely devastated.”

Trump and his allies have seized on the strength of the stock market and positive growth in areas like manufacturing and retail sales as evidence of what they have been calling a “V-shaped recovery”: a sharp drop-off followed by rapid growth.

But economists say that argument fails to see the larger picture, one where roughly a million laid-off workers are filing for unemployment benefits each week, millions more have seen their pay and hours cut, and permanent job losses are rising. The economy gained 1.4 million jobs in August, the Labor Department reported Friday, but the pace of job growth has slowed at a time when less than half of the jobs lost earlier this year have been recovered.

Some economists have begun to refer to the recovery as “K-shaped,” because while some households and communities have mostly recovered, others are continuing to struggle — or even seeing their situation deteriorate further.

“If you just look at the top of the K, it’s a V — but you can’t just look at what’s above water,” said Claudia Sahm, director of macroeconomic policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. “There could be a whole iceberg underneath it that you’re going to plow into.”

The burden is falling heavily on the poorest Americans, who are more likely to be out of work and less likely to have savings to lean on to weather the crisis. While recessions are always hardest on the poor, the coronavirus downturn has amplified those effects because shutdowns and widespread closures have wiped out low-wage jobs in industries like leisure and hospitality.

Highly touted gains in the stock market, meanwhile, help only the wealthiest 10 percent or so of households, as most others own little or no stock.

The disconnect between the stock market and the broader economy has been stark. On the same day in late August that MGM Resorts announced it would be laying off a quarter of its workforce, throwing some 18,000 workers into unemployment, its stock price jumped more than 6 percent, reaching its highest closing price since the start of March.

“The haves and the have-nots, there’s always been a distinction,” Sahm said. But now, she added, “we are widening this in a way I don’t think people have really wrapped their head around.”

A store going out of business
A customer leaves a retail store, which is going out of business, during the coronavirus pandemic. | Lynne Sladky/AP Photo

Without further stimulus, the situation appears poised to get worse. Economic growth until now had been led by increasing levels of consumer spending, buoyed by stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits that gave many people, including jobless workers, more money to spend.

Low-income consumers have led the way, and they spent slightly more in August than they did in January, according to the Opportunity Insights tracker — even as middle- and high-income consumers are still spending less.

But those low-income consumers were also the most dependent on the extra $600 per week in boosted unemployment benefits, which expired in July. Since that lapsed — and since Congress appears unlikely to extend it any time soon, if at all — “we’re likely to see other macroeconomic numbers really fall off a cliff in the coming weeks,” Akers said.

The expected drop in spending, paired with the expiration of economic relief initiatives like the Paycheck Protection Program, could also spell trouble for businesses in the coming months. Many economists expect a wave of bankruptcies and business closures in the fall, contributing to further layoffs.

In that sector, too, owners are feeling disparate impacts. More than 1 in 5 small business owners reported that sales are still 50 percent or less than where they were before the pandemic, according to a recent survey from the National Federation of Independent Business, and the same proportion say they will need to close their doors if current economic conditions do not improve within six months.

At the same time, however, half said they are nearly back to where they were before, and approximately 1 in 7 owners say they are doing better now than they were before the pandemic, the survey showed.

Those diverging narratives could be understating the need for further stimulus by smoothing over some of the deeper weaknesses in the labor market and the economy, experts say.

“This is a case where the averages tell a different story than the underlying data itself,” said Peter Atwater, an adjunct economics professor at William & Mary.

While Republicans appear to be embracing the idea of further “targeted” aid, they are also touting what Trump has called a “rocket-ship” economic recovery and emphasizing record-breaking growth while downplaying the record-breaking losses that preceded it.

“There’s no question the recovery has beat expectations,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, this week on a press call with reporters.

Talks between the White House and Democratic leaders, meanwhile, have been stalled for weeks. The Senate is set to return from its summer recess next week with no clear path forward on a relief package.

“People are in these bubbles,” Atwater said. “And if people aren’t leaving their homes, are not really getting out, it’s unlikely that they’re seeing the magnitude of the downside of this K-shaped recovery.”

This article originally appeared at Politico on September 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro. Before joining the trade team in June 2016, Megan worked for Reuters based out of Washington, covering the economy, domestic politics and the 2016 presidential campaign. It was in that role that she first began covering trade, including Donald Trump’s rise as the populist candidate vowing to renegotiate NAFTA and Hillary Clinton’s careful sidestep of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

A D.C.-area native, Megan headed south for a few years to earn her bachelor’s degree in business journalism and international politics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Now settled back inside the Beltway, Megan’s on the hunt for the city’s best Carolina BBQ — and still rooting for the Heels.


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How the Trump Administration’s Small Business Protection Program Has Failed Communities of Color

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The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated businesses run by people of color. The Trump administration’s Small Business Administration isn’t helping.

In recent weeks, it’s become increasingly clear that the federal government has failed to protect minority-owned businesses from the pandemic’s economic fallout. According to data published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the number of black-owned businesses decreased by 41% between February and April. For the businesses that have survived, their cash balances decreased by 26%, compared with a 12% decline overall. 

While Congress enacted two small business loan programs to be administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA), many entrepreneurs of color, who are facing disproportionate effects of the current economic crisis, did not receive emergency funding. Meanwhile, large and well-connected companies, some of which are owned by members of Congress, walked away with over $1 billion in loans from the SBA. 

Trump’s SBA not only failed to support businesses struggling the most in the midst of the pandemic, but it failed to fulfill its purpose as defined by Congress. When it first created the agency, Congress specifically outlined the SBA’s obligation to support entrepreneurs from socially disadvantaged groups, who faced (and continue to face) limited access to credit, lower credit scores, a lack of relationships with financial institutions and lower levels of personal wealth. 

In the Small Business Act of 1953, Congress wrote: “[T]he opportunity for full participation in our free enterprise system by socially and economically disadvantaged persons is essential if we are to obtain social and economic equality for such persons and improve the functioning of our national economy.” In Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act, Congress laid out the SBA’s particular responsibilities to aide “small business concerns owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals so that such concerns can compete on an equal basis in the American economy,” whether that meant a leg up in federal contracting, management assistance, or whatever else the SBA determined would aid entrepreneurs of color.

Structural disadvantage

Today, business owners of color continue to face the same structural challenges that put them at a financial disadvantage compared to white business owners when the SBA was created. A typical black entrepreneur receives a third of the startup capital the typical white entrepreneur receives. Business owners of color tend to have smaller businesses on average than white-owned small businesses. Moreover, 95% of businesses owned by Black Americans have no employees, compared with just 78% of white-owned businesses. 

These facts illustrate just how vital the SBA’s programs remain for minority-owned businesses. Yet, by all accounts, business owners of color have faced disproportionate financial suffering during this pandemic, despite the two small business loan programs administered by an agency with a specific mandate to assist them. 

Consider the larger of the two SBA loan programs: The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). PPP uses private financial institutions to issue federal loans to small businesses that can later be forgiven, so long as the business spends 60% of the funds on payroll expenses. Since the program’s rollout, SBA failed to issue clear guidance to lenders, or conduct adequate oversight. As a result, banks prioritized larger, better-connected businesses. Plus, simply by the nature of the program’s first-come-first-served design, those bigger and better-connected businesses swallowed up most of PPP’s initial funds, leaving many minority-owned businesses to wait until the second round of funding was approved. By then, many businesses had already closed their doors for good.

For those business owners of color who actually got their hands on PPP money, the loans turned out to be less useful than imagined. Minority-owned small businesses are less likely to have employees but were still only permitted to use 40% of their PPP loans on non-payroll expenses. 

That’s where the SBA’s smaller program—the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL)—could have come in handy. EIDLs provide small businesses with more flexible capital that can be used for a variety of business expenses, not just payroll. Additionally, businesses that apply for EIDL are eligible to receive a $10,000 advance on the loan that does not need to be paid back. Unfortunately, the SBA arbitrarily limited the amount of money businesses could receive from the $10,000 grants, and long wait times have left many business owners without any funds months after Congress created the program. And if business owners of color didn’t apply months ago, they won’t qualify for EIDL now: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin limited the program to allow only agricultural businesses in April.

The disparities in access to SBA loans for business owners of color are stark. In a recent report, UnidosUS and Color of Change found that only 1 in 10 Black or Latinx-owned small businesses received the PPP assistance they requested. Another reportfrom Goldman Sachs found that only 79% of Black business owners applied for a PPP loan, compared with 91% of small businesses overall—and that 26% of black business owners have less than one month of cash reserves compared with 17% overall. These disparities might have been reduced but for the SBA’s failure to instruct lenders to prioritize underserved businesses, including minority and women-owned businesses. 

Unfortunately, the SBA’s inaction in this crisis follows a decades-long tradition of failing to support its mandate to help business owners of color. The agency has not adequately provided small business owners of color with the support the Small Business Act calls for in nearly 70 years since the legislation’s passing.

8(a) program

Through the SBA’s 8(a) business development program, minority-owned businesses can compete for set-aside government contracts and receive management and technical training. Yet since its inception, opportunistic white entrepreneurs have defrauded and abused the program, while the SBA has failed to ensure money got in the right hands.

In 1977, the Washington Post reported that white-owned businesses were fraudulently applying to the program, procuring lucrative government contracts meant for minority-owned businesses. Meanwhile, actual business owners of color in the program reported that they lacked technical support and guidance from the SBA. One black small business owner reported that the SBA offered to let him split a contract with a company owned by the white brother-in-law of an SBA employee. Two Nixon officials received 8(a) contracts. One federal official received an 8(a) contract for his business that had no assets or employees and then subcontracted all the work to white-owned businesses.

In 1979, in response to the abuse, the SBA Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report that found that one in five 8(a) participants were defrauding the program. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found the 8(a) program’s eligibility criteria were not applied uniformly, and the SBA failed to properly report data on participants.

Congress attempted to improve the 8(a) program in 1978, 1980, and 1988, but it continued to be mismanaged and plagued by fraud. According to GAO, most of the program’s dollars went to a small number of firms, and the program’s management training did not provide minority-owned businesses with the tools to become self-sufficient businesses, evident from their lack of non-8(a) clients after graduating from the program. The GAO also reported that the 8(a) program lacked resources and failed to properly record data on the participating firms – in other words, they conveniently were unable to track the improvement (or lack thereof) of participants. 

Even after continued reports of mismanagement and fraud, the SBA failed to effectively implement GAO’s recommendations. In 1996, the GAO reported that, while the SBA had made some progress, 8(a) was still not optimally supporting minority-owned businesses. The report criticized the program for only graduating three businesses. Again in 2000 and 2008, the GAO reported that the program was understaffed and under-resourced and had failed to implement recommendations to improve the program and reduce fraud. This lack of resources meant the SBA could not effectively support minority-owned firms participating in the program or ensure participants met eligibility requirements.

In 2009, after years of inaction, ProPublica revealed that the Department of Defense had awarded nearly $30 million in 8(a) contracts to companies under criminal investigation for falsely claiming to be small minority-owned businesses. In 2010, GAO discovered that 14 ineligible firms received $325 million in 8(a) contracts meant for minority-owned businesses, and in some cases, the SBA was aware of the firm’s ineligibility at the time it gave out the money. As recently as 2018, the SBA inspector general reported the agency failed to remove ineligible companies from the program. Ultimately, it is unclear just how much money has been pilfered from the intended minority business owners due to the SBA’s negligence over the years.

HUBZone

In 1997, the SBA created the HUBZone program, which set aside federal contracts for businesses located in “Historically Underutilized Business Zones.” While not directly providing support to minority-owned businesses, this program served low-income communities, many of which have disproportionate levels of racial and ethnic minorities. This program would help channel funds into these communities, providing much-needed economic opportunity and growth.

Yet, since its inception, HUBZone faced many of the same issues plaguing 8(a). The SBA inaccurately reported data on HUBZone participants, which led to errors in reported levels of growth and achievement, according to one GAO report. Another report criticized the SBA’s communication about program guidelines to participating firms.

Beyond mismanagement and data entry errors, the SBA used inaccurate maps to determine whether small businesses were located in economically distressed areas. A 2008 GAO report found that the SBA awarded HUBZone contracts to small businesses in wealthy communities due to inaccurate maps and failed to address these inaccuracies with regular monitoring required by SBA policy. 

Despite the numerous warnings from GAO and OIG, the SBA did not effectively improve HUBZone, and in 2019, the Washington Post reported that $800 million in HUBZone contract dollars went to just 11 businesses, many of which were located in Washington, D.C.’s wealthy neighborhoods, including Dupont Circle, Navy Yard and downtown. Meanwhile, business owners in poorer neighborhoods were left behind. In the program’s 20-plus-year history, it has never once met its goal of awarding 3% of federal contracts to HUBZone firms. 

Reimagining the SBA

The SBA’s consistent failure to adequately fulfill its congressional mandate, especially in the age of Covid-19, requires that we reimagine what the agency could look like. If future administrations provided the SBA with adequate funding and appointed a Small Business Administrator willing to invest in these defunct programs, the SBA might be able to help build a more inclusive, stronger economy.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden has reportedly begun hearing proposals for closing the racial wealth gap from his economic advisors. He’d do well to look at what tools would already be available to accomplish that ambitious goal should he become president in 2021—the SBA is one of them. 

Unfortunately, over the past several decades, presidents have cut the SBA’s budget while its own leaders have supported these cuts in the name of balanced budgets and efficiency. Decades of budget cuts have starved the SBA of the resources needed to conduct proper oversight and tracking of its minority lending programs and its PPP and EIDL programs. 

The SBA must do better. As Connie Evans of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity recently told the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, the pandemic’s “economic consequences are projected to erase decades of minority enterprise growth in underserved markets.” But with a new administration and Small Business Administrator dedicated to uplifting communities of color, the SBA could finally accomplish its long-disregarded goals.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 8, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Miranda Litwak is a researcher for the Revolving Door Project.


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What You Need To Know About The Michigan GOP’s ‘Right-To-Work’ Assault On Workers

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On Thursday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) backtrackedon his commitment to avoid so-called “right-to-work” legislation and by the end of the day, both the Michigan House of Representatives and the Michigan state Senate had introduced and passed separate bills aimed at the state’s union workforce.

Michigan Republicans claim the state needs the measure to stay competitive with Indiana, where lawmakers passed “right-to-work” last year. In reality, though, such laws have negative effects on workers and little effect on economic growth. Here is what you need to know about the state GOP’s campaign:

THE LEGISLATION: Both the state House and state Senate passed legislation on Thursday that prohibits private sector unions from requiring members to pay dues. The Senate followed suit and passed a different but similar measure that extends the same prohibition for public sector unions, though firefighters and police officers are exempt. The state House included a budget appropriations provision that is intended to prevent the state’s voters from being able to legally challenge the law through a ballot referendum. Due to state law, both houses are prevented from voting on legislation passed by the other for five days, so neither will be able to fully pass the legislation until Tuesday at the earliest.

THE PROCESS: Union leaders and Democrats claim that Republicans are pushing the legislation through in the lame-duck session to hide the intent of the measures from citizens, and because the legislation would face more trouble after the new House convenes in January. Michigan Republicans hold a 63-47 advantage in the state House, but Democrats narrowed the GOP majority to just eight seats in November. Six Republicans opposed the House measure; five of them won re-election in 2012 (the sixth retired). And Michigan Republicans have good reason to pursue the laws without public debate. Though the state’s voters are evenly split on whether it should become a right-to-work state, 78 percent of voters said the legislature “should focus on issues like creating jobs and improving education, and not changing state laws or rules that would impact unions or make further changes in collective bargaining.”

THE CONSEQUENCES: While Snyder and Republicans pitched “right-to-work” as a pro-worker move aimed at improving the economy, studies show such legislation can cost workers money. The Economic Policy Institute found that right-to-work laws cost all workers, union and otherwise, $1,500 a year in wages and that they make it harder for workers to obtain pensions and health coverage. “If benefits coverage in non-right-to-work states were lowered to the levels of states with these laws, 2 million fewer workers would receive health insurance and 3.8 million fewer workers would receive pensions nationwide,” David Madland and Karla Walter from the Center for American Progress wrote earlier this year. The decreases in union membership that result from right-to-work laws have a significant impact on the middle class and research “shows that there is no relationship between right-to-work laws and state unemployment rates, state per capita income, or state job growth,” EPI wrote in a recent report about Michigan. “Right-to-work” laws also decrease worker safety and can hurt small businesses.

Union leaders are, of course, aghast at Snyder and the GOP’s right-to-work push. “In a state that gave birth to the modern U.S. labor movement, it is unconscionable that Michigan legislators would seek to drive down living standards for Michigan workers and families with a law that will do nothing to improve either the state’s economic climate or the quality of life for Michigan residents,” RoseAnn DeMoro, the executive director of National Nurses United, said in a statement.

This post was originally posted on December 7, 2012 on Think Progress. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Travis Waldron is is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Travis grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and holds a BA in journalism and political science from the University of Kentucky. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he worked as a press aide at the Health Information Center and as a staffer on Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s 2010 Senate campaign. He also interned at National Journal’s Hotline and was a sports writer and political columnist at the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s daily student newspaper.


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Poor Leaders Can Decrease Worker Productivity By Up to 40 Percent

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Mark Harkebe

As Newswise reports, based on employee engagement research by Florida State University business school professor Wayne Hochwarter,

recession-based uncertainty has encouraged many business leaders to pursue self-serving behaviors at the expense of those that are considered mutually beneficial or supportive of organizational goals.

This plays out in behaviors that Hochwarter’s team classified using the biblical Seven Deadly Sins as a framework.  While the percentages attached to each of those “behavioral sins,” based on feedback from more than 700 mid-level workers, is interesting, what appears further down in Newswise’s article caught my attention more from a productive workplace standpoint: FSU found that employees with leaders who committed any of these “sins” said they cut back on their contributions by 40%.  Notably, they were also:

  • 66% less likely to make creative suggestions, and
  • 75% more likely to pursue other job opportunities.

Hochwarter’s findings tell me that workplace qualities that some leaders might consider as soft (or at least far down on the totem pole of what they need to worry about day to day), such as trust, respect, and fairness, are not just “nice to do’s” – they have a real impact on product/service delivery and quality, and company spending on recruiting and retraining.

This is one of the reasons that Winning Workplaces revised our Top Small Company Workplaces award application for 2011 to take a more in-depth look at how things like rewards/recognition and employee leadership development strategies impact business results.  Year after year of our small workplace award program, we see that happier, more highly engaged employees lead to better outcomes, while the opposite lead to a path of lower profitability and competitiveness in the marketplace.

This post is cross-posted on the Winning Workplaces Blog.

About The Author: Mark Harbeke is Director of Content Development for Winning Workplace. He helps write and edit Winning Workplaces’ e-newsletter, IDEAS, and provides graphic design and marketing support. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University.


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Companies That Care About Workers’ Rights: Apply Now to be Named a 2010 Top Small Company Workplace

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Inc. magazine and the nonprofit I work for, Winning Workplaces, have partnered to find and recognize exemplary workplaces; those that motivate, engage and reward people. A model workplace can offer a critical competitive edge, ultimately retaining employees and boosting the bottom line.

Together, Inc. and Winning Workplaces will identify and honor those benchmark small and mid-sized businesses that offer truly innovative, supportive environments, thus achieving significant, sustainable business results.

“Growing, privately held companies have always excelled at competing based on the people they employ,” states Jane Berentson, Editor of Inc. magazine. “Their innate ability to innovate is woven throughout their cultures, including the way they manage and motivate their employees. Inc.’s partnership with Winning Workplaces is a great opportunity to fully recognize private company excellence in supporting their human capital.”

Click to apply for Top Small Company Workplaces 2010“Winning Workplaces is thrilled to partner with Inc. as we honor truly exemplary organizations who have created workplaces that are better for people; better for business; and better for society,” said Gaye van den Hombergh, President, Winning Workplaces. “These organizations are an inspiration to business leaders looking for ways to leverage their people practices to create more profitable and sustainable companies.”

The application process is open through January 22, 2010. To apply, go to tsw.winningworkplaces.org. The Top Small Company Workplaces will be announced in a special issue of Inc., which will be available on newsstands June 8, 2010, and on Inc.com in June. An awards ceremony, honoring the finalists and winners, will be held at the national Inc. On Leadership Conference in October 2010.

About Inc. magazine
Founded in 1979 and acquired in 2005 by Mansueto Ventures, Inc. magazine (www.inc.com) is the only major business magazine dedicated exclusively to owners and managers of growing private companies that delivers real solutions for today’s innovative company builders. With a total paid circulation of 724,110, Inc. provides hands-on tools and market-tested strategies for managing people, finances, sales, marketing and technology.

About Winning Workplaces
Winning Workplaces (www.winningworkplaces.org) is an Evanston, IL-based not-for-profit, whose mission is to help the leaders of small and mid-sized organizations create great workplaces. Founded in 2001, Winning Workplaces serves as a clearinghouse of information on workplace best practices, provides seminars and workshops on workplace-related topics and inspires and awards top workplaces through its annual Top Small Company Workplaces initiative.

About the Author: Mark Harbeke ensures that content on Winning Workplaces’ website is up-to-date, accurate and engaging. He also writes and edits their monthly e-newsletter, Ideas, and provides graphic design and marketing support. His experience includes serving as editorial assistant for Meredith Corporation’s Midwest Living magazine title, publications editor for Visionation, Ltd., and proofreader for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University. Winning Workplaces is a not-for-profit providing consulting, training and information to help small and midsize organizations create great workplaces. Too often, the information and resources needed to create a high-performance workplace are out of reach for all but the largest organizations. Winning Workplaces is changing that by offering employers affordable consulting, training and information.


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Why Today’s Workplace Readers Should Think About Attending The ROI of Great Workplaces Conference

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You found this blog, or return to it, because you’re interested in workplace rights and employers that follow the law to a tee, right?  Well, you’ll find the latest, best information on both and meet some dynamic business contacts to boot at Winning Workplaces’ 2009 annual event that will be held in Chicago on October 1-2.  We’re calling it the ROI of Great Workplaces Conference.

Click here to:

  • View event summary
  • Add event to your calendar
  • Watch a short highlights reel from our 2008 conference
  • View fees and agenda (note that the agenda is still coming together)
  • Learn about the location
  • Book your room at the event hotel at the special Winning Workplaces rate

Besides the short video of last year’s conference at the above link, you can get a sense of what attendees experienced by checking out my photo recaps on our blog here and here.

Here’s more incentive to attend: Be one of the first 100 people to register and get $100 off your registration.  Just click here and enter coupon code FRSTHUND when prompted.

Some of my favorite moments at this event happen when I meet new business people in between sessions.  This was the case last year when I was finally able to meet and sit down with your host on this blog, Paula Brantner.  I hope I’ll be able to do the same with you this year.

Register now for this event.

About the Author: Mark Harbeke ensures that content on Winning Workplaces’ website is up-to-date, accurate and engaging. He also writes and edits their monthly e-newsletter, Ideas, and provides graphic design and marketing support. His experience includes serving as editorial assistant for Meredith Corporation’s Midwest Living magazine title, publications editor for Visionation, Ltd., and proofreader for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University. Winning Workplaces is a not-for-profit providing consulting, training and information to help small and midsize organizations create great workplaces. Too often, the information and resources needed to create a high-performance workplace are out of reach for all but the largest organizations. Winning Workplaces is changing that by offering employers affordable consulting, training and information.


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What’s Wrong with This Picture?

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The following is cross-posted on the Winning Workplaces blog. I thought it was appropriate for Today’s Workplace’s focus on taking back Labor Day. After all, this holiday should offer pause not just for workers, but for company leaders to reflect on how they can do more with less in this difficult economic environment. Enjoy, and feel free to drop a comment below.
– MH

According to two new, independent employer studies – this one and this one – while more than half of employers are planning to hire full-time employees over the next year, over half also don’t offer paid maternity leave (and those that do provide only around 50% pay, on average).

This recruiting/retention picture doesn’t add up for me.  Companies that believe they’re seeing light at the end of the economic tunnel should focus on pleasing their current workforce and getting employees engaged – especially if they’ve had to make some wage or other concessions since the beginning of the recession.  This is all part of sharing the recovery as well as the pain with workers.

This is not to say that companies that see more demand shouldn’t hire more talent to meet it.  But while they make plans to do so, they should use this time as an opportunity to ramp up their benefit packages and other methods for improving productivity and commitment so their existing knowledge base is fully on board for the increased workload – and so they can serve as better ambassadors to acclimate new hires to the organizational culture.

Do you agree or disagree with my assessment that the above-mentioned studies represent conflicting human capital strategies?

About the Author: Mark Harbeke ensures that content on Winning Workplaces’ website is up-to-date, accurate and engaging. He also writes and edits their monthly e-newsletter, Ideas, and provides graphic design and marketing support. His experience includes serving as editorial assistant for Meredith Corporation’s Midwest Living magazine title, publications editor for Visionation, Ltd., and proofreader for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University. Winning Workplaces is a not-for-profit providing consulting, training and information to help small and midsize organizations create great workplaces. Too often, the information and resources needed to create a high-performance workplace are out of reach for all but the largest organizations. Winning Workplaces is changing that by offering employers affordable consulting, training and information.


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A More Level Playing Field

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The Super Bowl is a key date for any would be entrepreneurs. The milestone was a $12.95 student-shot commercial for Doritos. Not only was the commercial judged to be one of the best of the day, but this commercial officially levels the playing field between massive corporations and small entrepreneurs.

Let’s face it, for the last ten years columnists, career coaches and baristas have talked up the era of the “free agent.” Where we would all say goodbye to the shackles of corporate tyranny and strike out on our own.

But a funny thing happened on this overground railroad to freedom. It never really materialized. Sure Kinkos, Starbucks, Costco and Fed Ex have all made a lot of money catering to small businesses people. But as much as people have thrived outside of the corporate sphere, it’s still a David versus Goliath environment, where you had to avoid getting up the dander of any big corporation or risk being crushed. I’ve had a number of people write to me through the years to describe what it’s like when more attorneys show up at your door than you have employees, so it should be no surprise that big corporations have a unique ability to get their way. Or to get you out of their way.

That’s where the Doritos commercial comes in. For $2.6 million dollars Doritos ran an ad that cost $12.95 to make—to fully comprehend what you just read, you might want to consider rereading that last sentence. Normally such a miniscule expenditure would be referred to as a “shoe-string” budget, but having recently shopped for shoe strings, it’s even a notch below laces.

This commercial is important because it shows that the little guy or gal can come out on top. Part of the reason is obvious, technology. As a friend recently pointed out, the $500,000 editing suite that he used to work on at a network TV affiliate is now available on a midrange computer with relatively inexpensive software.

But there is an even bigger untold story here. Another part of the rise of the entrepreneur is the inability of many corporations to get the value out of all of the brains within their organizations. Like an elementary school class, I believe many corporations are more focused on discipline, litigation and compliance and not drawing out the genius of their people.

Think I’m exaggerating? Ask anyone in corporate America about their day. Most will tell you that they spend most of their time trying to stay afloat amongst hundreds of emails. In fact, today’s average corporate Joe or Jane is less connected to their coworkers than the average free lancer was ten years ago.

Take a bit of technology, throw in the under-use of employees in most corporations and you get an environment where small, feisty organizations can compete—and win—on even the biggest stage.

Tired of working for “the man” (or “the woman”)? Maybe it’s time for you to become one.

QUOTE.

“Never follow the crowd.” Bernard Baruch

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]


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Another Reason to Create a Winning Workplace: Less Litigation

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In recent posts on our blog I’ve mentioned the following as ROI for small organizations that define employee engagement, build and utilize practices to engage employees, and turn to manager team building to create a strong culture that trickles down from leadership:

But there’s another one that has perhaps a greater impact on the bottom line than any of the above: greatly decreased chance of a stakeholder (employee, supplier, customer) bringing forth a lawsuit against your business.

I was astounded to read on HR Daily Advisor recently that according to a survey by the law firm Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., close to 4 out of 5 companies experienced new litigation in 2008.  Compare that to cases you could count on one hand among the 70 companies that make up our Top Small Workplaces Winners and Finalists over the last two years.

And virtually all of those were due not to egregious behavior by the managers or the leadership (not as a result of a toxic company culture), but by natural oversights or miscalculations in contracts and other arrangements between employees and the company.  In addition, to my knowledge these cases were settled quickly and amicably.

So if you want your organization to fall among the 21% that are litigation free, your seemingly “soft” focus on fostering good team building can go a long way toward making that happen.

Your thoughts?

Cross-posted from the Winning Workplaces blog.

About the Author: Mark Harbeke is Director of Content Development for Winning Workplaces.  Mark’s role is to ensure that content on Winning Workplaces’ website is up-to-date, accurate and engaging. He also writes and edits their monthly e-newsletter, Ideas, and provides graphic design and marketing support. His experience includes serving as editorial assistant for Meredith Corporation’s Midwest Living magazine title, publications editor for Visionation, Ltd., and proofreader for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University.Winning Workplaces is a not-for-profit providing consulting, training and information to help small and midsize organizations create great workplaces. Too often, the information and resources needed to create a high-performance workplace are out of reach for all but the largest organizations. Winning Workplaces is changing that by offering employers affordable consulting, training and information.


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What Will First Lady Michelle Obama’s Work-Life Balance Efforts Look Like?

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We have heard for some time that Michelle Obama’s pet concerns on the campaign trail, which she hoped to be able to continue while in the White House – and will indeed be able to after last week’s dramatic election finish for her husband, President-Elect Barack – are helping families create a healthy work/life balance and easing the struggles for military families.

It’s no wonder the former is an issue that’s close to Mrs. Obama’s heart.  This article from the UK-based Telegraph newspaper talks about her own work/life balance struggles, in three distinct phases of her life: while growing up on the South Side of Chicago and seeing an ailing father continue to work hard, and leave business matters at the office; while herself transitioning from the legal field to civic and community work after marrying Barack and having their two daughters, Malia and Sasha; and most recently while Barack was on the campaign trail.

Mrs. Obama even wrote a heartfelt essay on the topic of work/life balance last month on the popular BlogHer community of women bloggers.  Here’s how she spells out the plight for working women:

As we all know, our country is in the midst of a major economic crisis.  And we’re all feeling the effects.  …

And folks are feeling it at the workplace.  Because right now, thousands of women across the country don’t have family leave at their jobs.  And those who do can’t afford to take it because it’s not paid.  And 22 million working women don’t have a single paid sick day.

That’s just unacceptable.  Families shouldn’t be punished because someone gets sick or has an emergency.

This is from the employee perspective, but Obama’s cause has direct implications for small and midsize business leaders.  Morra Aarons-Mele, a graduate student specializing in women and leadership, framed this exceptionally well recently on The Huffington Post,

Why should we care about “work life” issues when our savings and retirement funds are literally halving by the day?  Because “work life,” as nondescript as it may sound, is the stuff that keeps American families afloat.  Work life refers to issues ranging from sick leave to health care to early education and child care.  It also encompasses flexibility and better work-life balance, which have strong effects on companies’ bottom lines and employee productivity.

So what would organizations’ employee engagement activities geared toward helping workers achieve a more harmonious balance look like – ideally – four or eight years from now?  Obama hinted at this during a plenary address she gave at our annual small business leadership conference two years ago, when she spoke about creating relationships between businesses and the community.

Community organizing didn’t just help Barack become President-Elect; it has also helped his wife use resources at her present employer, the University of Chicago (and later its Hospitals) to transcend both entities from simply a “name” in their neighborhood to a visible, tangible source of inspiration and assistance.

As we spelled out in our article summarizing her remarks at our event, Obama pointed to the creation of such initiatives as school “Principal-For-A-Day” and community fitness programs as ways to not only bring the University’s and Hospitals’ employees out in the open, but to better connect their passions to their work.

This model has been readily adopted, to great effect, by some of the firms we’ve since honored as Top Small Workplaces.  For instance, 2008 winner The Redwoods Group, an insurance provider for YMCAs and Jewish Community Organizations that’s based in North Carolina, requires its 100 employees to volunteer 40 hours of service annually to nonprofits.  A condition of their employment, the company argues this has contributed directly to their steady employee growth (27% over the last two years) – including the ability to recruit cost effectively – and industry-low turnover (less than 6% on average the last two years).

So one plausible – again, ideal – work/life balance scenario is the government serving an encouraging, perhaps advisory role in helping small business leaders adjust their employee engagement best practices so employees can focus their passions on helping their communities, while at the same time benefitting the organization through enhanced workplace team building and lower rates of absenteeism and presenteeism.

Do you concur?  Or do you see Obama’s work/life-related efforts playing out differently?

Cross posted at Winning Workplaces


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