as a weekly practice I listen to npr and do a little sketch on one of the stories. take a look, you can click on the illustration to make it bigger!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Finding A Job Is Hard For Even The Most Educated

Getting a degree in down times can be a liability for some who can't find jobs and have massive loans.

The conventional wisdom that getting a degree helps your career is not quite panning out for Shana Berenzweig.

The 33-year-old quit her job at the Texas Medical Association to get a master's in public administration at New York University. She worked part time, graduated nearly two years ago and moved back to Austin, Texas. So far, she hasn't been able to find a job.

A Rarified Elite

"It's very scary to be in this position," says Berenzweig, who is trying to make payments on her six-figure school loans with some assistance from her parents and by cobbling together babysitting gigs.

Berenzweig's education puts her in the rarefied elite among job seekers. The unemployment rate for college graduates is 5 percent, which is less than half of the 10.5 percent rate for high school grads. But now she sometimes considers that degree she paid so dearly for a liability, at least when it comes to some jobs. She takes it off her resume when applying for waitress jobs.

"It's almost like people are just going to assume that because I have a master's degree, I'm going to ask for money," she says. "Or if something better comes along, I'm just going to jump ship."

With the unemployment rate at 9.7 percent, sustained unemployment is afflicting even some of the most educated. Some fled to graduate school recently as a temporary safe haven from the economy, only to find themselves still without jobs. Many are applying for low-paying or nonpaying internships to try to fill in gaps in their resumes.

A lot of people who are qualified for more higher level jobs are settling for more entry positions, and so that's a roadblock for new graduates.
- Blair Coward, an American University senior
New Graduates At A Disadvantage

American University senior Blair Coward visited several employer booths at a recent job fair. She has a couple of summer internships lined up, but is finding that few employers have any full-time, entry-level jobs open.

"A lot of people who are qualified for more higher level jobs are settling for more entry positions, and so that's a roadblock for new graduates," Coward says.

In August, Coward, who will graduate magna cum laude with a degree in international economic relations, will not only be unemployed, she'll lose her housing. "I'm quite terrified," she says.

Instead of standing in line alongside her, many of her classmates are opting for more schooling, Coward says.

Higher education comes, of course, with many benefits. Some degrees are still in demand and command high salaries, especially engineering.

Still, today's economy will force many graduates to settle, says John Irons, policy director at the Economic Policy Institute. Young people who start their careers in a bad economy tend to accept jobs at lower wages, and that leaves them at a disadvantage with their salary for about a decade, he says.

The scarring has another effect — in the same way that people who lived through the Great Depression might hoard food, people affected by this Great Recession might feel less willing to leave their jobs. They might stay in jobs that aren't a great fit.

EnlargeYuki Noguchi/NPR
Recent and soon-to-be college grads attend a job fair at American University. With the unemployment rate at 9.7 percent, sustained unemployment is afflicting even some of the most educated.
"I think the recession in a way is pretty traumatic," says Max Caldwell, managing principal for Towers Watson, an HR consulting firm. The healthy response, he says, is for graduates to start managing their own career development, and rely less on employers to provide training and advancement.

Is More School The Right Choice?

Matt Jones wishes he had a career to manage. Right now, he'd take a job even if it didn't make use of his new law degree.

Jones graduated from Michigan State University's law school two years ago and has not been able to find work outside of AmeriCorps, where he worked for several months. He has the financial and emotional support of his family, his fiancee and her family, but he still thinks "many times a day" about how and when he might find a job.

Jones says he's cut back on as many expenses as he could. And he thinks the austerity has also made him a more spiritual person. "That's been a nice source of comfort," he says. "But it hasn't gotten any easier."

"There's been a lot of soul searching, especially in the last six months," he says. "Did I make the right decision going to law school?"

-excerpt from NPR

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Click! Polaroid Snaps Back On The Scene

One of the most famous names in photography is trying to make a comeback.

Polaroid, the company that popularized instant photography, has struggled in recent years and even announced it would stop making its famous instant film. But starting Thursday, a partner of Polaroid is selling instant film and Polaroid is selling a new image.

When it comes to image, it's hard to top Lady Gaga: singer, fashion maven and self-marketing dynamo. She's been recruited by Polaroid to helps spice things up.

A Polaroid instant camera makes a strategically placed cameo in Lady Gaga's latest music video for the song "Telephone"; Lady Gaga snaps a photo of Beyonce with it.

Polaroid Corp. Collection, Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard Business School
When Polaroid's creator, Edwin Land, debuted his first instant camera in 1948, people thought it was a miracle.
Earlier this year, Lady Gaga signed a deal to be a "creative director" for the company. She also reportedly has an equity share in the company. It's a good deal for both sides. Lady Gaga might get some money, and Polaroid gets a big boost in its effort to be cool again.

History Of Polaroid

In the 1960s and '70s Polaroid was the height of cool. It was the Apple of its day. The company was known as a creative innovator and its founder, Edwin Land, is often compared to Apple's CEO Steve Jobs. When Land debuted his first instant camera in 1948, people thought it was a miracle.

"It completely changed the relationship between people and photography and cameras. The impact of something like that, I think, is difficult to understand today," says David Bushman of the Paley Center for Media in New York.

When digital photography came along, Polaroid struggled to keep up. It came up with its own digital camera, but the camera wasn't very good, according to Mark McClusky, a senior editor at Wired magazine.

"When you think about digital cameras you think about Canon and Nikon, and then you think Sony and Panasonic and Kodak. Polaroid sort of never enters the conversation. They aren't a player," he says.

In 2001 Polaroid went bankrupt. The company was sold only to go bankrupt again. The biggest blow to Polaroid fans came in 2008 when the company stopped making instant film. By then, Polaroid was little more than a name. But in business, names have value, and the right to that name was purchased by a holding company, which licenses the Polaroid name to manufacturers that make things like TVs, picture frames and digital cameras.

But instant film was not dead yet. A group of Polaroid fans and ex-employees formed a company called "The Impossible Project." They took over an old Polaroid factory in the Netherlands and started making instant film again, using a different process because the original Polaroid chemicals were no longer available.

"I'm sure if you made a phone call to some of the old research people from Polaroid, they would assure you that we were mad," says Andre Bosman, who heads The Impossible Project.

New black-and-white film is now on sale, and color film is coming soon. Bosman says the new film is clearer and crisper than its original film. But that may not be what Polaroid enthusiasts want. Photo historian Claude Cookman says part of the appeal of the classic Polaroid film is its less-than-perfect images.

"The colors feel quite different," Cookman says. "They are not crisp and clear and [it] has a certain retro feel to it in terms of its color and its size. And I think this is a really important dimension of it."

Bushman of the Paley Center for Media agrees. He says in this day of HDTVs and digital photography, there's something quaint, otherworldly to traditional Polaroid film.

"It has a very nostalgic value to it for that reason," he says.

Eking Out A Market

Polaroid's Scott Hardy says there is a market for instant film — even if it's a small one. But the company's not banking on film alone. It sells other products, including a digital camera with a built-in instant printer. But McClusky is skeptical that Polaroid will become a household name again.

"It seems unlikely to me that Polaroid's going to regain that status in the marketplace. You know, stranger things have happened in this world but they have a long road ahead of them," he says.

Whatever happens with Polaroid, at least it's got Lady Gaga along for the ride.

-excerpt from npr

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bump For Cash: Phones As Virtual Wallets

The use of mobile phones to exchange money is a main theme at this week's wireless industry conference in Las Vegas. Last week, PayPal introduced an iPhone app that lets users pay for items by tapping their handset against another phone.

As Mario Armstrong tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer, the PayPal app is similar to the old days, when people with Palm Pilots used an infrared beam to share contact info between devices. Bump Technologies introduced software to simplify that process. The new app uses software from PayPal and Bump to let registered users conduct a transaction via their phones.

To prevent unauthorized use, the app requires a password for every transaction. But, Armstrong said, "as mobile payments and using mobile devices to pay for transactions rises, we will obviously see more types of security threats in this area."

So, with sophisticated phones that can use this software becoming more prevalent, will shoppers soon be tapping their phones against the cash register at stores, instead of using a credit card? That's already happening in some countries, from Austria to Korea, Armstrong says.

In the United States, Starbucks is running trials in some markets, allowing customers to use their phones as their Starbucks card. And Arkansas has become the first U.S. state to let people use their phones to pay for e-government services — everything from probation fees to property taxes.

As for Bump, Armstrong says he's given it a try — and he concedes that the idea of zapping real money around by using virtual gestures can take some getting used to.

But, he said, "the convenience is really incredible — the ability to transfer funds on the spot, or look at multiple accounts on the spot — to be able to have almost a virtual wallet at your fingertips."

-excerpt from npr

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Boomerang Kids Drive Rise Of Extended Family Living

As jobs have disappeared and houses have been foreclosed on, many Americans are sharing space to save money. A new study by the Pew Research Center found the number of people in multigenerational households grew by 2.6 million between 2007 and 2008.

But the bad economy isn't the only reason more homes are filled with several generations; the trend has been under way since 1980.

In a roomy townhouse in Northern Virginia, the Anderson family exemplifies what demographers say is a cultural shift. Jackie Anderson, 23, graduated from Penn State last year. Given the horrendous job market, she pretty much planned on ending up back with her mom and dad. These days, she certainly sees no shame in that.

U.S. Population Living In Multigenerational Family Households

Source: Pew Research Center
Credit: Stephanie d'Otreppe/NPR
"Most of my friends that are from high school are still around this area, and most of them do live with their parents as well," Jackie says. "And I know a good number of them up in Pennsylvania do the same thing."

The recession has hit young workers especially hard. But Jackie's mother, Chris, says long before the bad economy, she had always expected her daughter to move back in.

"I thought when she graduated she would want to build up enough money to get a place of her own, to get a car, all the things she wanted to live comfortably," she says.

Generation Gap Closing

The Pew study found that the share of people in multigenerational households has grown by a third since 1980 — to 16 percent of the population — and young adults like Jackie are leading the way. The center's Paul Taylor says baby boomers may have come of age protesting just about every conviction their parents held. But, he says, that generation gap has virtually disappeared among their children, the so-called "millennial" generation.

"It seems rather admiring of older adults," Taylor says. Millennials "believe older adults have values that are better than their own. At some level they're becoming buddies with mom and dad, and they may not find it so unusual to still be living in their childhood bedroom."

These so-called "boomerang kids" aren't the only ones driving the trend of extended family living. Older adults are also slightly more likely to share such households. Demographers say the generation that gave birth to the baby boomers has a lot more kids to potentially move in with.

Another big factor is the increasingly large share of the population made up of immigrants, who are far more likely than native-born whites to live with grandparents and grandchildren.

"Particularly among Hispanic families, they are looking for larger-sized homes," says Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. "And some of the Asian communities are just accustomed to living with grandparents in their home countries, so they're adopting it here as well."

Yun says home sales were the same last year as in 2000, even though the U.S. population grew by nearly 30 million. Clearly, he says, people are moving in with each other instead of buying their own place.

Jackie Anderson recently found a job and is planning to move out … sometime.

"I'm kind of playing it by ear," she laughs. "I'd like to do it maybe around the summer — that's a tentative date."

Her dad says she'll have her parents' blessing when she goes, but they like having her around, and they're not going to give her the shove.

-exerpt from npr

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The End Of 9-To-5: When Work Time Is Anytime

When you think of cutting edge, 21st-century workplaces, chances are a county government bureaucracy does not come to mind. But the Human Services and Public Health Department of Hennepin County, in Minneapolis, Minn., is engaged in about as radical an experiment with flexible work as exists.

One morning late last year, the lobby was packed with people applying for food, housing and other public assistance. But down a hall, in a grayish-beige cubicle farm, it feels like a ghost office.

"Here's another one, empty," says supervisor Ann Zager as she guides me among vacant chairs and black computer terminals. Her staff of 13 determines eligibility for assistance, and half of them are not here.

"I mean sometimes I don't see or hear from them for days," Zager says.

Zager has figured out that she needs only five or six staffers at a time to handle face-to-fact client meetings. Everyone takes turns being in the office, and otherwise schedules themselves as they wish.

"At first it was really hard for them," she says. "They would come to me and say, 'Ann, I need to take off next week, or I need to do this.'" Zager would remind them that if they were not scheduled to be in the office, they did not owe her any explanation.

"It was hard for them to believe I really don't care!" she says.

Hennepin County is practicing what's called a results-only work environment, or ROWE, which gives everyone in a company the freedom to do their job when and where they want, as long as the work gets done. The state of Minnesota signed a contract for the program last year as part of a campaign to reduce rush hour traffic on 35W in Minneapolis. Nationwide, 3 percent of businesses now say they have a ROWE, though as far as participants here in Hennepin County know, theirs is the first public agency to adopt it. Many are ecstatic at the way it's working so far.

Non-Traditional Time

More In This Series
PART 1: More Employers Make Room For Work-Life Balance
March 15, 2010
Can Working Moms 'Have It All'? Ha!
March 14, 2010
In a northern suburb of Minneapolis, county program manager Kara Terry has made her kitchen table a home office. Nearly every evening after dinner she brings out her laptop, typing away as she oversees her three sons doing their homework. They are in elementary and middle school, and Terry says she's never been able to spend so much time with them.

"Oh gosh, I can go and have lunch with Brandon," she says, "or volunteer at the kids' school, and still get my 40 hours in. I just do it at a non-traditional time."

Back at the county offices, human services representative Anna Reynolds is giddy about not having to make her 50-mile commute every day, which often meant arriving home past dinnertime.

"I don't have to come home and find my little bit of cold leftover sitting aside," she says. "It's really nice to have hot food, and fresh food, and to eat with my family."

Making Flex Time Work

So where did this radical work system come from? It was created by two human resource workers who became frustrated that the daily grind wasn't only constraining, it was also inefficient.

"There's this belief that if you're at work, you're doing work — and people are not," says co-creator Jody Thompson. She says 80 percent of companies' lost productivity is from "presenteeism" — when someone is physically in the office but mentally somewhere else.

In the early 2000s, Thompson and her colleague Cali Ressler were working at Best Buy and charged with creating a flexible work strategy there. They soon decided that letting some employees telecommute or have a four-day week wasn't working. Ressler says when managers grant these special favors to some but not others, co-workers become jealous, and the work atmosphere can be hostile. What's more, she says those who get the flexibility are stigmatized, since a lot of managers don't actually believe the employees are working if they can't see them.

Their solution was to give everyone — from managers on down — the same flexibility. Best Buy adapted this results-only program at its headquarters, and Thompson and Ressler later left to create their own consulting firm.

Productivity Spike

At Hennepin County's social services agency, not everyone welcomed the dramatic change.

"I didn't like it at all because I feel we're accountable to the taxpayer," says Bob Brinkhouse, a child-support officer who's been with the county for 17 years. He admits he's "old-school," and felt that "someone should know where we're at during our eight hours a day."

ROWE Basics
Want the extreme flexibility in your workplace? Here are a few things to expect from a results-only work environment:

All meetings are optional. Read that again if you need time to absorb it. ROWE's creators insist on it, even though plenty of managers have backed out of the program when they learned of this. Staff are still responsible for what happens in meetings. They say if it's worth it, they'll come. But they also soon discover how many hours they'd previously wasted in unnecessary meetings.

Results have to be defined. When you can't judge someone's effectiveness by how many hours a day they show up, you are forced to look at what they produce. Managers and staff say they've had to jointly spell out explicit tasks or achievements and specific dates for them to be completed.

You must change the way you communicate. You may get more work done at home without all those office distractions, but if you need to communicate something, it's a lot easier when your colleague is in the next cubicle. Before the Human Services and Public Health Department of Hennepin County, in Minneapolis, Minn., launched ROWE, staff did a test run: They spent one day in the office pretending they were all working alone, communicating only via e-mail, instant messaging or phone.

Every day feels like Saturday. This is a favorite ROWE tenet, though it begs the questions: When does the work happen, and couldn't every day also feel like Monday? ROWE's creators point out that many of us are incredibly busy on weekends, but we feel more relaxed because we are in control of our schedule. So ROWE lets you set your schedule every day, fitting in laundry, conference calls and errands as needed.

Brinkhouse also worried that some colleagues would fall behind in their work, or worse, take advantage of the freedom, a sentiment echoed in snarky letters to the local newspaper. (One essentially asked, "How are you going to waste my tax dollars now?")

But Brinkhouse and the two child-support colleagues on his team forward their phones and use instant messaging to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. To his own surprise, he's come around.

"The way it works," he says, "all three of us could be home and it wouldn't affect anybody. Now, one drawback is, I get lonely at home. It's too quiet!"

Clearly, something is lost in a ROWE workplace: Call it an intangible synergy, or that spontaneous brainstorming that can accomplish more than a dozen e-mails ever could. But there is a strong business case for a results-only work environment.

Zager, whose staff processes Hennepin County's public support cases, says her unit receives about 8,000 pieces of mail a month.

"Before we started ROWE," she says, "we were about two, 2 1/2 weeks out on processing. We are now down to five days or less," she says. People were just more productive.

In fact, productivity jumped so much, rumors flew about possible layoffs.

Work-Life Balance

In a pure results-only workplace, no one needs to track their hours, and paid time off disappears. Who needs it if you set your own schedule?

Flex Work Options

Chart: What Are Flexible Working Options?
For those who lament that working 9 to 5, as Dolly Parton once sang, is all takin' and no givin', there are options for a more flexible arrangement. Don't know your flextime from your job share? Here, a quick primer.

But as a public agency, Hennepin County employees must still put in 40 hours a week. And as a union shop, no one has tossed out carefully negotiated vacation and sick leave benefits. Employees, though, say their leave time is piling up, so this might force the issue.

Another hitch: Old attitudes about work die hard, so a lot of time is spent trying to change them. In a basement conference room, two dozen county workers line a U-shaped table as trainer Ashley Everett engages volunteers in a role-playing exercise.

"Tina, let's talk about Tammy," she says. "Oh my gosh. Tammy only shows up at maybe 10 o'clock during the day. I mean, geez, does she ever work?"

Taking her cue, Tina shakes her head, "No, not really." The others erupt in peals of laughter as they recognize such routine office gossip. But Everett says in a results-only system, for all they know Tina was up until midnight finishing a company report.

In another role play, Everett pretends she's just entering the office, as a colleague says, "Ten o'clock and you're barely getting in?"

Everett turns around and delivers a devastating comeback line: "Is there something you needed from me before 10?"

The others laugh even louder and offer up a round of applause.

Sometimes at sessions like this, as the possibility of a new way of work sinks in, results-only co-creator Ressler says she's seen boomer-aged men break down and cry.

"They realize they've not seen their children grow up," she says. "They've given up hobbies, they've given up dreams to play the game. We don't want future generations to look back on their lives and have so many regrets that they cry."

-excerpt from npr