Class of 2015 Graduates into Best Job Market since the Recession

The Class of 2015 is preparing to don their cap and cloaks, turn their tassels, and transition from college into the "real world" of the workplace. Commencement speakers will encourage new graduates to follow their dreams and change the world, but many soon-to-be grads are worrying more about the immediate question: "Will I be able to find a job?"

New graduates are no strangers to the effects of the Great Recession. When they started their college years in 2011, the graduating class had over 10% unemployment and 19% underemployment. Many of those in the Class of 2015 witnessed their siblings who graduated during the worst years of the recession founder, scrambling to find full-time employment and moving back in with their families.

This year's college graduates are entering into the best job market since the Recession; however, they will still be competing for entry-level jobs and may find it difficult to earn wages that will help chip away at their student debt. Employers expect to hire 9.6% more college graduates this year than in 2014; organizations also reported that they have more job openings for new graduates than the previous year (NACE, 4/15/15). The Class of 2015 may not be competing against each other as fiercely as in the past, but the market is still competitive, and employers receive an average of 23 applications per posting (The Wall Street Journal, 4/15/15). Despite several years of continued job growth, the unemployment rate for those in their 20s with a four-year degree actually rose last year to 12%, putting a damper on the optimistic expectations for this year's new graduates (CBS News, 4/16/15).

New graduates in certain fields face better prospects than others. Health care, STEM industries, and accounting and finance offer the best growth and some of the highest salaries for newly minted college grads. Health care careers are expected to grow by nearly 20% between now and 2020, engineering has a similar growth projection (and some of the highest starting salaries for new graduates), and accounting jobs are expected to grow by 17% (Fortune, 4/7/15). College graduates with degrees that are less in-demand may face more trouble finding a job with decent pay. Less than 10% of companies are making it a priority to interview and hire those with degrees in communication, journalism, liberal arts, and education (CareerBuilder, 4/28/15).

Members of the Class of 2015 have high hopes for themselves, despite the fact that nearly half (49%) of college graduates from 2013 and 2014 consider themselves underemployed or working in a job that does not require a college degree (MarketWatch, 5/12/15). In contrast to this and perhaps reflecting the optimism of youth, some 8 in 10 college graduates are confident about their working future and report that their education prepared them for the workforce (Accenture, 2015).

With 58% of new graduates reporting that they will leave college with more than $50,000 in student loans (MarketWatch, 5/12/15), wages are a concern for new graduates. Although 33% of employers plan to raise the starting salaries of college graduates that they hire, 57% have no plans to change starting salary offers, and 26% plan to offer less than $30,000 a year (CareerBuilder, 4/28/15). Just like hiring, the salary predictions for the Class of 2015 will vary widely depending on their degree. Those that leave college with an engineering degree can eagerly await starting pay upwards of $60,000 a year, while those carrying degrees in education, the arts, or communication can expect to make less than $40,000 per year (PayScale, 2015).

Although anyone graduating in 2008 or previous years would be envious of the job market for the Class of 2015, this year's new graduates will face still face a tough (although improved) job market. If companies hire as predicted, many new graduates will be able to answer the pressing question of whether they will find a job with a solid "Yes." However, will their presumptions about the working world match with the reality of what companies expect? Find out in Part 2 of our series next week.

Readers, what are your predictions for the Class of 2015? Comment and let us know!

Cracking the Millennial Consumer Code

Millennials remain a mystery for many companies. Those belonging to Generation Y have been characterized as both self-absorbed narcissists and socially conscious advocates for change, as lazy Peter Pans who won't grow up and as ambitious self-starters looking to take on leadership roles. Whatever Millennials may be, they will soon become one of the largest groups of consumers in the United States, and companies are trying to crack the code on how to harness their enormous buying power.

Millennials (generally known as anyone between the ages of 18 and 35 in 2015) represent about one fourth of the U.S. population and have about $200 billion in annual buying power (Forbes, 1/20/15); by 2020, it's estimated they'll account for 30% of all retail sales (Accenture, 2013). Almost every company is trying to capture the attention and patronage of Millennials. Organizations are investing an enormous amount of money and effort into attracting them as potential customers, especially as consumer spending continues to remain stagnant despite job growth and falling unemployment.

Many companies have launched new product lines and branding techniques in order to win Millennials as patrons. Whole Foods is the latest in a string of companies trying to attract Gen Y customers; the health food grocery store recently announced they will open a chain of stores that will sell less expensive food and also focus on "streamlined design and innovative technology." However, in order to fully understand what Millennials consume and how they choose to buy, Whole Foods and other organizations need to understand the experiences and mindset that influences the purchasing decisions of Generation Y.

They are still recovering from the Great Recession.
Many Americans across a wide range of demographics are still recuperating from the Great Recession. However, the 2008 recession may loom the most for Millennials. Many in this generation graduated into or just before the downturn, where unemployment for their age group hit 18% in 2010. More than a third of un- or under-employed Millennials moved back in with their families, giving them the reputation of youths who would never grow up. They postponed marriage, children, and home buying because they could simply not afford it. Even as prospects improve for Gen Y, most are skeptical of the economy and the housing market especially; about 30% of Millennials claim they have no plans or desires to ever own a home (The Washington Post, 2/28/15).

They are saddled with student debt.
Millennials are the most educated generation in American history, but their knowledge has come at a huge price. Student loan debt has increased 84% to $1.2 trillion since 2008 (CNN Money, 9/10/14). Students hoped to take on debt that would allow them to get a better job with a higher wage; instead, they graduated into the worst U.S. economy in eight decades. For more than 50% of Millennials, more than half of their monthly incomes goes to paying off debt (The Boston Globe, 4/26/15).

They do their research.
Before Millennials buy, they do their research on products and companies, but rarely is it through such historically traditional media sources as the news, magazines, or books. Rather, Millennials are relying on blogs and social media to scope out their purchases before they buy. Some 33% of Millennials will consult blogs that they trust before making purchases (Forbes, 1/20/15), while 62% use Facebook to do research on products they're hoping to buy (Brafton, 7/14/14).

They don't trust advertising or rhetoric.
Deriving from their experiences during the Great Recession, many Millennials are skeptical of corporations and companies. Some 86% of Gen Y don't trust Wall Street (The Washington Post, 4/30/15). Cynicism toward big business means that those in this generation don't trust advertising or corporate rhetoric. Only 1% of Millennials claim that company advertising makes them more willing to purchase goods or services from them. They value actions over words; almost half (43%) rank authenticity as more important than content (Forbes, 1/20/15).

Millennials have an influential amount of buying power, and when they like a company and product they have brand loyalty; 60% of Gen Y continue to be patrons of brands they already trust and like (Forbes, 1/20/15). However, unless companies understand the experiences that have shaped how Millennials think about money, they may have trouble winning their patronage.

Readers, do you think that Millennials are a different kind of consumer than other generations? Comment and let us know!

April Jobs Report

Relieving fears that the economy may have been starting to stall due to weak GDP growth and disappointing job increases in the first quarter, April saw the job market rebound, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Employment Situation Summary. The U.S. economy added 223,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate decreased to 5.4%, the lowest since May 2008. The labor participation rate edged up slightly to 62.8%, a still worryingly low number despite falling unemployment.

The number of long-term unemployed persons remained little changed at 2.5 million, accounting for 29% of the total unemployed. Despite continued hopes for increased wages, average hourly earnings rose only 0.1%, indicating that any meaningful pay growth for workers still has yet to materialize.

Industries that experienced the most growth in April included professional and business services (+62,000), health care (+45,000), construction (+45,000), and transportation and warehousing (+15,000). Temporary help services increased by 2.1% and created 16,100 new jobs.

Employee or Contractor? The Answer Could Change the Economy

When people need a ride around town, instead of hailing taxis, many are ordering rides from Lyft or Uber. If their home needs to be spring-cleaned, rather than calling a maid service, they can find someone on Handy. When they have a to-do list that needs to be checked off, they don't need a personal assistant because someone from Task Rabbit can do the work for them. Postmates will deliver your packages or meals, Instacart will buy and deliver your groceries, and Washio will launder and deliver your clothes. There is now a business for nearly any human task or job that needs doing. However, all of these companies, and the entire structure of the "sharing economy," could be dramatically changed depending on the outcome of a slew of recently filed lawsuits. Businesses like Lyft and Uber have tens of thousands of people working for them; Uber alone has about 300,000 drivers around the world. These workers are all classified as independent contractors, not as employees. Last year, multiple class action lawsuits were filed in California against Uber, Lyft, and Handy claiming that categorizing workers as contractors, and not employees, exploits them by avoiding paying benefits, health insurance, or other costs (such as gas, vehicle maintenance, and cleaning supplies) that would be incurred by the company if they were employees.

Last month, separate U.S. judges overseeing the lawsuits ruled that they could not make a determination regarding how Uber's and Lyft's workers should be classified. These cases will now move to juries to try and establish the status of the drivers. If drivers are determined to be employees and not independent contractors, the verdict could set a precedent that would greatly alter, and even possibly dismantle, the sharing economy and any business that operates like Uber. A verdict in favor of the plaintiffs could force these companies to take on the cost of payroll expenses, Social Security, workers' compensation, and unemployment insurance. Classifying workers as contractors is estimated to save these companies about 20-30% in labor costs (Fast Company, 2/17/2015). According to SHRM, the average premium for employee health care is $882 per month; by that standard, health care costs alone would cost hundreds of thousands per month if drivers were classified as employees (CNBC, 2/2/2015).

The amount of compensation for which Uber and Lyft would be responsible is unclear, as the plaintiffs have not disclosed the damages they are seeking and neither company will reveal exactly how many drivers work for them in California. For a business like Uber that currently has 300,000 independent contractors, putting even some of those workers on the books as employees would create serious financial impact. Additionally, any future start-ups could collapse under the monetary obligation to pay workers as employees, and those fresh companies looking for venture capital investment that are structured similarly to Uber or Lyft could struggle to find investors that would be wary of that business model.

The plaintiffs suing Uber and Lyft argue that because the companies exert a significant amount of control over their work, such as setting compensation and vehicle standards and terminating employees who fall below performance measurements, they should be treated as employees and protected by the same wage and labor rules. Whatever ruling the jury hands down would apply only to operations in California; however, this verdict could have influence in other decisions.

Many are pointing to the recent lawsuit involving Federal Express where the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the company had misclassified 2,300 drivers as independent contractors, opening up the company to hundreds of millions in wage claims. The FedEx case orbited around the question of whether the logistics company maintained control over the work of its drivers; the judge ruled that it did. The sharing economy businesses could have the verdict for their cases balance on a similar issue.

In an economy where more than 17.7 million Americans work more than half-time as independent contractors (The New York Times, 8/16/2014), classifying even a portion of these workers as employees would have huge costs for companies and would change the very landscape of the sharing economy.

Readers, do you think that workers in sharing economy companies should be classified as independent contractors or as employees? Comment and let us know!

Water-Starved California Could Cause Economic Drought

While some eastern states are still searching for signs of spring, California's streak of never-ending sunshine continues. Though the warm weather may seem enviable for those still donning winter coats, the lack of rain and eternal shine for more than three years has entrenched the Golden State in a severe drought, which could end up affecting the entire country. The southern parts of the state would need 40 inches of rain (about 2-3 seasons of consistent rainfall) to break the drought (The Washington Post, 4/6/15). The Sierra Nevada snow pack, which provides one third of the state's water supply, was at just 6% of normal, an alarmingly low amount considering the next lowest year on record was 25% in 2014 (Vox, 4/10/15). To top it off, California clocked in its hottest winter on record. Virtually the entire state is facing "severe," "extreme," or "exceptional" drought conditions.

Some 38.8 million people call the Golden State home, more than doubling since 1960. Despite ever-growing urban populations, metropolitan areas have actually become more efficient with water usage: Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other cities use less water today than in 1980 (The New York Times, 5/4/15). Even so, Governor Jerry Brown recently mandated water reductions for the first time in the state's history, requiring a 25% statewide decrease in usage. Cuts will be determined based on current consumption, so water-guzzling communities such as Beverly Hills and Palm Springs will have to save more than communities that have a record of conservation.

If California were its own country, it would have the seventh-largest economy in the world. As the world's fifth-largest food supplier, it grows one-third of all of America's vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts; 99 percent of almonds, 95 percent of broccoli, and 90 percent of tomatoes are grown in the state. In 2014, farmers lost $1 billion in revenue and over 17,000 jobs, and this year's costs are predicted to be even higher. Approximately 620,000 acres of farmland will go fallow, resulting in a potential loss of $3 billion (Vox, 4/21/15), and the agriculture industry will lose about 20,000 jobs (NBC News, 3/3/15).

Thus far, consumers have not seen food prices skyrocket at the grocery store as emergency measures are being taken by farmers that have kept food prices level for the short-term. Growers have turned to groundwater pumping, which has helped the Central Valley replace 75% of lost water. However, groundwater pumping is only a temporary and unsustainable measure; underground aquifers can take years to refill and pumping can cause the ground to sink, permanently restricting the amount of water the ground can hold.

Although the drought has hit farmers harder than consumers and low oil prices have helped keep food prices down, shoppers should not get too relaxed. Eventually, groundwater pumping and temporary measures will no longer be an option and oil prices will rise, increasing the cost of food transportation. The USDA has continually warned that the ongoing drought in California could have large and lasting effects on fruit, vegetable, dairy, and egg prices (USDA Food Price Outlook, 4/23/15).

Higher food prices could have devastating effects for families, especially low-income households, and the economy at large. In April, consumer confidence plummeted to its lowest level since 2014. Weak job and wage growth in the first quarter have dampened consumers' outlook and the disappointment is reflected in their spending. Despite more disposable personal income, consumers are not consuming. Expenditures declined the first two months of 2015; in February, they shrunk to the lowest levels since 2009 (Reuters, 2/2/15). Although spending increased in March, economists worry that consumption is not high enough to help boost the economy. The decrease in the beginning of the year is especially worrying as consumers had extra money in their pockets from falling oil prices. Rather than spend the extra cash, workers were tucking that money away and the saving rate hit a five-month high February.

Now that oil prices have stabilized, people will no longer have a surplus of cash from cheaper gas. If food prices increase, workers, especially those in low-wage jobs, will have even less disposable income as more goes to food. Rising food prices is likely to flatten any gains in consumer confidence and continue to compress consumption. Consumer spending is the engine of economic growth and if food prices rise, but wages don't catch up, consumers will continue to be reluctant to spend more, slowing the entire U.S. economy.

As California scrambles to reduce water usage, drought conditions are not predicted to ease this year or anytime soon, especially without any foreseeable solution to warming and climate change. Researchers from NASA warn that the current conditions could stretch on for many years to come, culminating in a "mega drought" for which California, and the nation, are not prepared.

Readers, do you think the California drought is a threat to the economy?

Would $70,000 a Year Make Employees Happier or Lazier?

After reading a 2010 Princeton study, which attempted to answer the eternal question Can money buy happiness?, Gravity Payments CEO Dan Price concluded that the answer is might be yes. The study, which is based on massive survey data from Gallup, concludes that people with higher incomes reported happier moods and less stress. However, once someone hits the $75,000 earnings mark, more money did not improve their mood or disposition.

Based on this study, Price decided that all of the 120 employees at Gravity Payments, a Seattle-based credit card processing company, would earn at least $70,000 a year; quite an increase considering the current average wage at the company is $48,000 in annual pay. Some 70 employees will be affected by the company's new "minimum wage," and 30 of those will have their salary doubled. The changes will be phased in over the next three years.

The wage increases have been both lauded as a smart business move that will increase the company's competitiveness and success, and also criticized as an unsustainable business model that would make employees lose the incentive to work for promotions and salary raises. Price has made it clear however, that he believes the gap between his own pay and that of his workers is untenable. Price, who currently makes an annual salary of $1 million, will slash his personal annual pay down to $70,000 in order to help pay for the pay increases. The 29-year-old CEO claims that the disparity between CEO and worker pay is "ridiculous" and "absurd," and he openly criticizes the practice of determining executive pay by bringing in consultants who recommend compensation after focusing only on the highest paid segments of chief executives.

Most Americans are not even truly aware of the immense inequality between executive and worker pay. When surveyed, people approximated that the difference between CEO and employee pay is about 30:1. But they have drastically underestimated the figures; in actuality, CEOs make more than 350 times the average worker (The Washington Post, 9/25/14). And while worker pay has shown only minimal growth since the recession, pay for chief executives has continued in an upward trend. From 1978 to 2013, CEO compensation (when adjusted for inflation) increased 937%, while typical worker compensation grew only 10.2% during the same period (Economic Policy Institute, 6/12/14).

The vast inequality between executives and workers has emerged as a major policy issue, and there is a growing movement to curb the runaway train that seems to have become CEO salaries. In 2010, the Dodd-Frank law ordered public companies to reveal chief executive-to-worker pay ratios, but the numbers for these organizations has still not been disclosed. Three states have proposed legislation that would seek to limit CEO compensation; in California, for example, a state senator proposed a bill that would tie a firm's corporate tax rate to its executive-worker pay gap – in other words, the wider the gap, the higher the rate. Massachusetts introduced a bill that would prevent companies from claiming tax deductions for CEO bonuses over $1 million if employees are not given raises that keep up with cost of living. Although neither proposal has gained enough momentum to be turned into law, CEO compensation has increasingly come under heavy scrutiny and criticism. Hillary Clinton, who announced her bid for the Democratic nomination last week, has already attacked exorbitant CEO pay.

Economists assert that an enormous CEO-worker pay gap does not do those companies or the economy any good. Huge imbalances between executives and lower-level workers weaken loyalty and reduce productivity. Enormous wealth that is concentrated with a small percentage of the population curtails spending of the lower- and middle- classes, the consumers who ultimately drive the U.S. economy and make up the majority of GDP. Despite growth in the job market, consumption has fallen due in large part to the fact that many workers are not making enough to have disposable income to spend on consumer goods.

Although other CEOs have taken pay cuts in order to boost earnings for employees, Price and these types of chief executives are the exception, not the norm, and it may take intervention to minimize the widening income gap.

Readers, do you think that the gap between CEO and worker pay has become too vast? Will Gravity Payment's decision help or hurt the company? Comment and let us know!

Winning the “Vote” of Your Customers

Although the presidential election is still over a year away, the political machine of the election cycle is already revving its engine. Within the last month, four potential Commander-in-Chief contenders have announced bids for their party's nomination. Ted Cruz was the first, followed by Rand Paul about a week later and Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio shortly thereafter. These four potentials lead the pack of the presidential campaign thus far, but the race promises to be a crowded one, especially for the Republican Party, and more presidential hopefuls are predicted to announce within the coming weeks and months.

As each candidate strives to win the support, loyalty, and ultimately vote of their party members, their campaign announcements can teach companies about how to win the loyalty and "vote" of their customers. Whether you love or love to hate these candidates, each announcement had merits that companies should espouse.

Ted Cruz - Announced March 23
More than two weeks before anyone else had announced their candidacy for president, Cruz led the pack of Republican candidates and declared his campaign to a crowd of thousands at Liberty University, a Christian academy founded by Jerry Falwell. By declaring his nomination before anyone else, Cruz positioned himself as an immediate target for publicity, giving him a platform to speak before other contenders and allowing him to control the narrative before anyone else announced their candidacy. An adviser to Cruz said his speech highlighted his positivity and personal story, which have gotten lost amid his reputation for opposing Senate measures.

Companies should also consider how they can be the first to propose new ideas and stay ahead of the pack, especially as consumers have more and more choices and information about products and organizations. By doing so, companies can highlight optimism and their corporate histories in order to attract customers and win their loyalty and vote.

Rand Paul - Announced April 7
Like Cruz, Paul faces a similar challenge of standing out in a crowded arena. Knowing this, in his announcement speech, Paul focused on how his values and principles differ from not only the Democratic Party but even his own fellow Republicans. In fact, Paul called out his own party for being part of the problem and emphasized how his values and actions would be vastly different from other Republicans who are vying for the nomination.

Companies that want to differentiate themselves from their competition should take a lesson from Paul. Paul criticizes the shortcomings of Republicans and Democrats past and present and offers different solutions than what other nominees broadcast. Organizations should do the same: evaluate the areas in your industry that need improvement with razor-sharp precision and find a way to make your company the solution to those problems. Then, set yourself apart from the competition by highlighting your alternate thinking.

Hillary Clinton - Announced April 12
Thus far, Clinton is the only contender for the Democratic nomination, and although other potentials are predicted to enter the race, Clinton is viewed as the most likely winner; some have even predicted that her nomination is "inevitable." Unlike Cruz or Paul, Clinton did not kick off her campaign with a speech or an event. Instead, she announced on her social media sites with a short video that focused primarily on the people she hopes will vote for her. Rather than resting on an (almost) assured victory, Clinton advertised in her video that she would be "hitting the road to earn your vote." The video focused so much on those people that Clinton does not make an appearance in the video until just after the minute-and-a-half mark.

Companies with name recognition and a strong brand may have a tendency to slip into laziness and rely on recognition more than customer-centric principles. But, like Clinton, these organizations should always hone their focus on others, not themselves, and shift their mindset to serving those that keep them in business.

Marco Rubio - Announced April 13
Closely following Clinton, Rubio announced his candidacy just this week at the Miami Freedom Tower. Rubio is a 43-year-old freshman senator and the youngest contender for a 2016 party nomination; however, he has already made his youth and (relative) inexperience a calling card for his campaign. His background and youth is an immediate contrast to Rand and Clinton, as well as other potential contenders who are likely to jump in, such as Jeb Bush. In his speech, Rubio positioned his youth as a positive that would allow him to make better, clearer decisions not weighed down by outdated thinking.

Like Rubio, companies should not adhere to tradition simply because it's always been done that way. Even if a company has longevity, it should always be invigorated with new and unique innovation, rather than being tied to antiquated methods, procedures, or ideas.

All four of the current presidential contenders have announced their candidacies in unique ways. Each declaration has set the tone for the individual's campaign and each has a specific lesson that companies could adopt.

Readers, who has made the biggest impact with their presidential announcement thus far? Who else do you think will jump in the race?

The Personality Trap: Why Women Can't Win at Work

Venture capitalists (VCs) are well known for their aggressive and competitive spirits; these traits are necessary to be successful in an industry that is out for blood. But it seems that these same characteristics that make men revered may be less palatable in women VCs ... or women in any workplace.

Last week, Ellen Pao lost her highly publicized suit against her former employer Kleiner Perkins, a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley. Pao alleged that the company passed her over for a promotion to senior partner and then fired her in October due to gender bias. Claiming that she was professionally stunted because of her gender, Pao charged she was penalized and eventually terminated because of her complaints of discrimination.

Much of Pao's case put her personality on trial. When managers or superiors gave feedback about her performance, she was both criticized for being "passive, reticent, waiting for orders," while also having "sharp elbows" and being too "pushy." Although most women now face less overt gender discrimination at work, they must deal with more subtle sexism instead. Women are often trapped in performing the balancing act of the "double-bind" at work: be highly competent, but don't step on people's toes; take on leadership roles, but don't be too aggressive; advertise your success, but don't come off as arrogant. Nobody is perfect in the workplace – but women take on more of a burden for not being so; their personalities are regularly judged and found lacking even when their performance is high.

A recent study revealed the harsh discrepancy between the types of criticism that men and women receive in the workplace. In the analysis, both men and women voluntarily submitted their performance reviews for scrutiny. The study found that only 2.5% of the critical reviews received by men mentioned any negative comments about their personality, while 76% of critical reviews received by women did so (Fortune, 8/26/14). In the reviews, "abrasive" was used 17 times to describe women, but never to describe men.

Like Pao claimed for her own situation, women are judged much more frequently and more harshly on their personality at work than men. In a cutthroat industry, Pao said she was both criticized for being a wallflower and not contributing enough at meetings, but also frowned upon for speaking up, demanding credit, and positioning herself for success. In male-dominated fields especially, women are encouraged to "man up" and exhibit more masculine qualities: competitiveness, aggression, and confidence. A university study found that women who emphasize "male" qualities were more likely to be hired, but then these same qualities penalize them later in workplace reviews (University of Michigan, 8/7/14).

Another example can be seen in STEM. Women are 45% more likely than men to leave the field within a year, though 80% of those women said they love their work . So why are they abandoning the industry? Because of biased environments, prejudiced evaluations, and a lack of female mentors and leaders (Center for Talent Innovation, 2/12/14).

Although Pao lost her case against Kleiner Perkins, other women may be successful where Pao was not. A former Twitter employee is suing the company alleging that promotion opportunities are denied to women and based on arbitrary promotion policies that favor men (Tech Crunch 3/22/15), and a former Facebook employee is suing the company for sex and race discrimination (CNN Money, 3/19/15). Women in all workplaces, not just tech, face the double-bind dilemma, and more are starting to illuminate the subtle sexism that is easy to see but hard to prove.

Readers, do you think that women in the workplace face a double standard when judged on their personalities?

Still Working at 100? Not Going to Happen.

The common vision for retirement used to be plenty of leisure time spent perfecting your golf swing or visiting your grandkids. For many Baby Boomers, retirement may mean not retiring at all but continuing to work well past their 50s and into their 60s and even 70s. The Wall Street Journal has even speculated whether retiring at 100 could be the new normal, and the AARP told a picturesque tale about a 70-year-old woman who came back to the workforce as an HR Director.

However, stories like these may be painting too pretty a picture. Some 53% of workers over 60 are putting off retirement, and 75% of these say that they are staying in the workforce because their finances have yet to recover from the 2008 downturn -- not because they're afraid of getting bored or not knowing what to do with unlimited leisure time. Some 12% of older workers don't think they'll ever be able to retire (Fortune, 2/18/2015). Delayed retirement is less a choice to continue to be engaged in meaningful work and more a necessity to remain solvent and avoid personal financial collapse.

Although the average retirement age has increased over the years, the average age for men has held steady at 64 since 2008, which is not a large leap from the average age of 62 in 1985 (Market Watch, 2/18/2015). Most Baby Boomers are not continuing to work past the average retirement age; only about one third of Baby Boomers over 67 are engaged in the workforce in some capacity (Gallup, 1/26/2015). Those that do continue to work do so out of financial desperation. Near-retirees over 55 years of age, on average, have about $165,000 in their defined-contribution plans (Fidelity, 2/13/2014). And those estimates are optimistic; more dire research estimates that 75% have less than $30,000 (Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, 7/3/2012). Even 401(k)s at the higher end of the spectrum will not sustain Baby Boomers through 20+ years of retirement. With pensions plans outside the public sector essentially nonexistent and average social security benefits at $1,294 per month, about $15,000 per year and not far above the poverty line (Social Security Administration, 4/2/2014), those considering retirement are finding it increasingly attractive to try and stay in the workforce.

The feeling is not always mutual for employers, however. Many companies blatantly advertise that they are looking for "young," "fresh," "energetic" employees. The tech industry especially is notorious for age discrimination, and many are unwilling to hire "graybeards." Mark Zuckerberg has claimed that "young people are just smarter," and a Santa-Clara-based IT services company recently used the phrase "We Want People with Their Best Work Ahead of Them, Not Behind Them" on their careers page (now removed). Even outside of tech, few companies are eager to higher older workers. Workers in their 50s who are looking for a job are 20% less likely than their more youthful counterparts to be hired; when they are, they earn 15-20% less than in previous jobs (CNN Money, 2/23/2013). In addition, some companies use methods to push Baby Boomers toward retirement; isolating aging workers, cutting job responsibilities or working hours, and denying promotions are all subtle ways to move out older employees.

Employers should think twice though before pushing out their older workforce, and not just to avoid a discrimination claim. When Baby Boomers exit, companies often don't understand the loss until after their tenured experts leave. Retirees take institutional knowledge, influential relationships, and honed capabilities out the door. Losing the intangible expertise of aging workers could come with a price tag of up to 20x higher than the typical hiring and recruiting costs (Harvard Business Review, 12/2/2014). Baby Boomers have maturity and knowledge that younger workers can lack, and forcing them out of the workforce if they want to keep contributing is a costly error on the part of organizations.

Retiring from the workforce may be viewed as a choice, but for many Baby Boomers, age discrimination and illness may force them into retirement and an uncertain financial future.

Readers, is delaying retirement the new normal? Comment and let us know.

The High Cost of Low Wages, Part 2

This is part 2 of our series dispelling the myth that a company's profitability depends on rock bottom pay. To read Part 1, click here.

Since the Great Recession, low pay and stagnant wage growth have been the new normal, but Walmart's announcement that it will be giving a raise to 40% of its workforce hopefully signals that earnings are set to increase. Higher wages are obviously an advantage to employees, but they also benefit the companies that employ them. Organizations that offer paltry pay could be forced to increase wages in order to stay competitive. This trend is already playing out as TJX, which owns a variety of retailers, including TJMaxx, Marshalls, and Home Goods, announced immediately after Walmart that it will raise workers' base pay to $10 by 2016.

Any company offering higher wages is not doing so out of altruism; they have competitive pay because it is profitable for their organization. Livable wages attract more talent, increase worker productivity, reduce turnover, and at the end of the day add to a company's bottom line.

When a company offers higher wages, and especially when they are early adopters of higher pay in their industry, they will attract a higher quantity and quality of applicants. Last year when Gap announced that it would raise its minimum wage to $10 an hour, the amount of applications rose 10% (Bloomberg Business, 6/24/2014). Organizations that offer higher pay are rewarded with an applicant pool that has a higher IQ and with personality scores and motivation that make them a better fit for advertised jobs (Peterson Institute for International Economics, 1/13/2015). Walmart's choice to increase wages before other major companies such as Target and McDonald's positions it to attract and retain more qualified employees from a talent pool that is becomingly increasingly competitive and desirable. The low-wage model may reduce the cost of labor but does not do any good for a company's costs overall. Currently, about 44% of Walmart's 2.2 million hourly staff turns over each year (Bloomberg Business, 2/23/2015). Finding, hiring, and training replacements even for low-wage workers costs about 16% of an employee's annual earnings, and when nearly half of your hourly workforce is jumping ship, those costs quickly add up. With falling same-store sales and two straight years of stagnant earnings, Walmart is being forced to change its business model that is no longer sustainable in a tightening job market.

Many other retailers have already mastered the lesson that Walmart and other companies are just learning. At Trader Joe's, starting pay is $40,000; employees at Costco make on average $21 per hour; and staff at The Container Store make an average of $50,000 per year (USA Today, 10/17/2014). Costco's turnover rate is 17% overall and that number plummets to 6% after one year of employment (Bloomberg Business, 2/23/2015). All of these organizations operate in a competitive marketplace and refute the idea that retailers must pay measly money in order to make profit. Their happier, more productive employees also provide better customer service and more satisfied, loyal clientele. QuikTrip, a Fortune 100 convenience store and gas station chain, pays an entry-level salary of around $40,000; it's turnover rate is 13% (compared to 59% for the top quartile of the convenience store industry), and its per square foot sales are 50% higher than the industry average (The New York Times, 3/21/2014).

It is a myth that companies, especially organizations in low-margin industries, must constrict wage growth in order to remain profitable. Especially as the economy strengthens and competition for talent increases, companies must consider offering better pay if they want a more talented workforce, more loyal customers, and a stronger bottom-line.

Readers, do you think more companies will raise wages as the economy improves? Comment and let us know!

3/23/15 Update: On March 18, Target followed Walmart's and TJX's lead and announced that the company would be raising the starting pay of its workers to $9 an hour in April and $10 an hour by 2016. The decision will affect the pay of 500,000 employees.

4/2/15 Update: Fast food giant McDonald's announced on Wednesday that it will raise wages for employees that work at locations that it owns and operates. The company will raise wages at least $1 over local legal minimum wage for workers, to an average of $9.90 an hour by July 1. The increase in pay will only apply to those workers at the locations under corporate control, affecting about 90,000 employees. The decision does not apply to the 750,000 employees who work for the McDonald's franchisees. The pay increases come even as the company faces sagging sales.

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