How I Realized Poverty is Self-Perpetuating

couponsThis past Sunday, I found the following in the coupon section of the paper: “Buy a $50 Visa Gift Card and receive $10 off your order of $50 or more!”  Well, hey, I can put together a list of things I need, or can use in future, that adds up to $50, and I can use that gift card to buy gas or other necessities; in the process I’ll save $10 on things I’d buy anyway!  Good deal!

Then it hit me.  I am fortunate enough to have sufficient disposable income to take advantage of the offer.  If, however, I was eking by from paycheck to paycheck, thus was unable to pay $100 all at once to garner the great savings (10% of the total), I couldn’t take advantage of it, and I’d have to pass on saving an extra and sorely needed $10.

In other words, too often you must have money to save it, or make more of it…too often, those who most need the savings or increased income literally can’t afford to take advantage of the typical means for getting it.

We in the middle class can relate to this on a different level: we can’t take advantage of the same investment vehicles available to the wealthy because they require a million dollar buy-in, for example.  We must pay an ever increasing chunk of our paycheck to insurance premiums with ever increasing out-of-pocket costs, increasing our cost of living with no concomitant increase in salary – another example.

But even more systems are set up in this same “no-win” way for the “working poor” – folks who work hard at the kind of low-wage jobs that keep us going (maids, clerks, lawn care, home health aides, social service workers, maintenance workers) yet still live in poverty.

Here just a few of the myriad things that work to keep the poor, poor:

  • can’t get a car loan, so, presto, no car to get to work, daycare, grocery store, etc.
  • no health insurance so must pay out of pocket for everything – costs that are far higher than those charged to insurance companies; add to that living in substandard housing which exacerbates asthma, allergies, some still with lead paint, causing more illness
  • neighborhoods with “D” or “F” rated public schools…so much for a decent education
  • lots of coupons are found in the daily paper…unless you can’t afford the subscription, then that option is out as well
  • vehicles for saving for the future (IRA’s, investments, even savings accounts) require a minimum deposit and balance to qualify

We hear, often, of folks beating poverty and making it big.  Unfortunately, that is a very small minority, and the ticket up and out is usually through professional sports or the film/music industry.

As an executive with large social service agencies, I know what those who care for your profoundly disabled son’s/parent’s care are paid, and it’s not a living wage.  We all know what the hotel maids and all service workers on whom we depend are paid, and we know it’s insufficient.  Even teachers and bank tellers are paid ridiculously low wages given the skill and education required.

So, please keep this in mind the next time you see headlines about workers at MacDonald’s and Walmart fighting for a decent wage.  They have lots of company in folks with jobs that are far more crucial.

Then keep in mind that the only way out of poverty – or the lower-middle class for that matter – is through wages paid.

Looking for Someone to Blame…

Talk to the handWe can all understand a national angst around a number of life-altering issues, from our woeful economy & jobs outlook, to food that makes us sick and a growing number of crazed individuals who want to see all of us blown to bits.

And when we get scared, or angry, or feel out of control, we want to pinpoint the source of the problem – we want someone or some entity to blame.

Is it Congress?  Is it one political party or the other?  How about the media, issuing  inflammatory stories, whether ultimately true or not, to keep their market share from falling?

Or, is it that we as a nation, and we Boomers as the current leaders of it, have lost our “moral compass” – that our society as a whole is disintegrating, causing much of what’s wrong with our nation today – as we hear more and more often these days?  How about our own unwillingness to make tough sacrifices thus keeping ourselves reliant on extremely unstable parts of the world?

It’s really tough to resist the natural temptation to look everywhere else but in the mirror for the root cause of our problems.  But here’s the cold truth of our distresses:

  • A bad Congress continues to be bad only because we let them get away with it…and I don’t mean just keep voting ’em out…I mean we don’t hold them accountable when they’re in.  Admittedly that takes time…to write them…let them know consistently what you want them to do – but that is the pesky part of a “representative government”
  • Sensationalism in the press continues because it works…we watch/listen/read it
  • Political parties respond to their loyal and most extreme base because they’re the most vocal; moderates are the least, which is the majority of Americans
  • The disconnect that is now the norm in our communities (our lack of involvement), our spread-all-over-the-world families, or our use of technology more often than face-to-face, makes life a tad surreal, moving ever closer to an imitation of it; this may make life easier, but it doesn’t make it better…
  • Companies that do bad things rely on us forgetting about their bad behavior in short time…and we do.  The best example of this over the past year has been the toxic food that’s made it’s way into our homes as a result of agribusinesses’ unsanitary conditions (being humane and clean takes too much out of the profit-margin).  They also know that we simply do not use our consumer clout to send them a clear message of discontent – refusing to buy from companies with poor track records is a tad inconvenient (shopping elsewhere…keeping track) and they rely on us being too busy, or apathetic, to do so

As the song puts it so well:

I’m Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I’m Asking Him To Change His Ways
And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change

Here’s the link: Sing along with Michael Jackson, and perhaps we’ll finally take seriously the powerful message of this song from so many years ago, that is even more relevant today.

Top 9 Boomer Markets

This 2008 list compiled by Forbes is as relevant today as it was then, so it bears repeating.  And right now, with so many Boomers wondering what to do in their “second act” or deciding whether to continue a job search or instead go into business for themselves, it’s timely as well.

This is particularly germane because who better to target a Boomer market than a fellow Boomer?!  And, besides the fact that this information was compiled by Forbes, a most credible source, this article includes the elements that make these businesses “top” for the Boomer market: They are in greatest favor with the most lucrative market – we Baby Boomers with the highest levels of disposable income, the highest levels of education (so we are savvy consumers), and the greatest willingness to spend our hard earned dollars.

Here are some statistics to support the smart marketing model of targeting fellow Boomers specifically and strategically:

  • 45% of the consumer market is aged 40-70 (Boomers were born between 1946 & 1964)
    That is larger than all the other individual market cohorts
  • Boomers spend a whopping $2.3 trillion annually on goods & services
    That’s $400 billion more than any other age cohort
  • In 2010, Boomers  control about 65% of the available disposable income

The bottom line?

  • If you’re considering starting your own business, these warrant close consideration (particularly if any one is your passion) for immediately heightened ROI results;
  • If you’re considering investing in someone else’s business, you’re smart if you choose one of these, and;
  • If you already own one of the types of businesses below, make sure you’re choosing advertising venues designed to specifically target Boomers…you’ll be very glad you did.
September 10, 2008

Boomers generate $2 trillion in annual income, own more than 70% of U.S. financial assets and represent half of all discretionary spending, according to Age Wave, a San Francisco-based demographic-trend tracker. “Although marketers tend to pursue the youth market, that’s not where the money is,” says Age Wave founder Ken Dychtwald.

Here are nine ideas for tapping that huge demographic:

‘Active Adults’ Residences

For Boomers who like to stay active but would rather have someone else cut the grass, gated communities with organized activities like hiking trips, community service projects and educational lectures have become popular. (Prime example: communities developed by Del Webb, a unit of Pulte Homes.) Demand for the next step–assisted-living facilities–should also continue to grow, though the permits and operating challenges there are myriad.

Health Club

Boomers are all about being in shape. Gym proprietors that offer low-impact equipment and fitness classes in convenient locations stand to do well.

‘Cosmeceutical’ Retailer

Boomers gravitate to “hope in a jar” products that promise to keep Father Time at bay. Little wonder sales of cosmeceuticals–products that straddle the line between cosmetics and drugs, like fluoride toothpaste–are growing at double-digit rates. While also sold online, cosmeceuticals are still viable fodder for brick-and-mortar retailers, as customers want to see and smell what they are buying. (They also score juicier margins than clothing does.)

Beauty Salon/Spa

Aging gracefully may be a state of mind, but it’s also a decent haircut (if you still have hair) and maybe a stress-relieving back rub. Best are salons/spas that offer hair coloring and cutting, manicures and pedicures, massages, facials, waxing and makeup services, as well as hair and beauty products.

Specialty Contractor

Boomers need to age-proof their parents’ homes (or their own), including handrails, handicapped-accessible toilets and showers, escalators and wheelchair ramps. The designs have to be hip, too–no “hospital chic,” please:

Green Galore – Green is the new black in the remodeling industry as energy costs soar and global warning takes center stage.; “It’s clear we’re living in an era of scarce resources and we have to adapt to that,” said Rick McConnell, senior vice president of Hanley Wood Exhibitions. “That’s more and more reflected by the companies in the exhibit.”

Geocel introduced its green sealants and adhesives at the show, while other manufacturers slapped a green label on their older products.

For example, the Icynene Insulation System promises to slash energy costs by up to 50 percent if you replace the conventional foam in walls with its soft-foam variety.

“Obviously, high energy prices are driving the bus,” said Ron Hruz, regional sales manager.

Even those exhibitors without green credentials, from bathroom accessory suppliers to home finance companies, got in the act and offered tote bags that could double as environmentally friendly grocery bags.

Going Gray – Suppliers and manufacturers are ready for the onslaught of seniors as Baby Boomers turn gray.

“Baby Boomers are doing more for their parents now than for themselves, but they have it in the back of their minds for down the road,” said Jason Multanen, national sales manager for Best Bath Systems.

His company offers stylish tubs with doors and wheelchair roll-in showers accessible for everyone. The systems are backed by plywood thick enough that grab bars can be installed without extra reinforcement.

Similarly, AKW Medicare showed off its barrier-free showers and a half-height shower door that allow a caregiver to help bathe an individual.

Room Without a Roof – Contractors are taking their skills outside as decks, porches and terraces become the next popular “room” to redecorate. The show even offered a deck design competition with winners to be announced Thursday afternoon. Next year, show organizers plan to combine its Deck Expo with The Remodeling Show.

Making its debut at a U.S. trade show, Norway’s Kebony unveiled its durable wood products for beautiful decking or siding. Regular wood is infused with a bio-based liquid made from agricultural waste from sugar cane production. The result is a stronger and more stable version of the wood, which retains its natural grain.

“It’s like taking pine up to the hardness of oak,” said Douglas Murray Jr., Kebony’s head of North American operations.

The product also wards off termites better than poison-treated wood, Murray said, because the bugs end up starving to death on the agricultural waste. To boot, it’s environmentally-friendly too, Murray said, because it uses bio-waste and doesn’t leech off the environment like rain-forest wood that’s now popular in high-end deck design.

Hot & Toasty – You can keep your hands and feet warm with technologies rolled out by two companies at the show.

Watts Radiant Inc., based in Springfield, Mo., introduced its electric underfloor mats. Heating coils are woven into the mats, and regulated by a floor sensor, which can be turned on or off at any time. The cost for an underfloor mat run about $800 and up, per room, and operating costs average about a dime a day.

In the bathroom, MTI Whirlpools provides tubs and showers with radiant heating systems. The shower’s floors and seat offer two heated areas for comfortable entry. The tub has two similar areas, along the back and on the bottom, so a bather doesn’t have to sit and lean against a cold tub. It also can come with an air-jet system that gives a light, full-body massage.

Odds & Ends – Avoiding that kitchen makeover because of the hassle? A solution is in sight.

Dwyer showed off its freestanding, temporary kitchen for homeowners in the midst of a kitchen renovation. The portable unit looks like a large stainless steel island with overhead cabinets. Depending on the model it can feature a breakfast bar for seating, a dishwasher, one or two cook tops, a sink and a microwave.

Financial Advisement

With age comes wisdom–but not necessarily about where to invest your hard-earned stash. Even financial pros have trouble (as all the wise institutions who owned shares in mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can attest). Assuming your clients aren’t looking for three stock tips a day, guarding their assets can be a fairly low-impact, low-overhead and scalable business (meaning that you can add more clients without adding a lot of expenses).

Errand Service

Here we’re talking activities like driving, cooking and maintenance (not nursing). While most boomers are still vital enough not to need these services, their parents may well be in the market.

Travel Agency

Many boomers have wanderlust. To compete in an age of Web-dominated trip planning, agents have to specialize–either by focusing on specific geographies or customer demographics, such as intergenerational family groups. “[Boomers] want someone to plan a trip to Hawaii where they can take their 100 year-old mother and 20-something children,” says Corinne Asturias, a boomer-consumer strategist with Minneapolis-based consumer researcher Iconoculture. “They want everyone to have privacy, but with at least some activities that entertain all.”

Nutrition/Weight-Management Consultant

Baby boomers are extremely heath- and weight-conscious. And while eating right may amount to common sense for many, there are plenty who seek extra guidance–hence the estimated $40 billion to $50 billion diet-products industry.

Thinking for Ourselves….Part II

Here’s some quick, easy, and helpful tips for self-determination of thought so we can stop relying on TV & Radio pundits to do the thinking for us…

  • Assessing legislation: It’s easy to tell when legislation is designed to help a special interest rather than us (it’s clear in a bill’s language, carved out exceptions, etc.) – what makes this even easier is that pretty much all legislation is designed to help the politicians as much (or more) than their constituents; how would you create that bill (in general terms) so it benefits us, not them?  Now you know how to think/respond to not only the legislation at hand, but your legislators about it…
  • Assessing decisions made by leaders, whether elected or otherwise: Those who have been in a supervisory/decision-making position know first-hand how difficult the job is, and that you can’t please everyone…those who have experienced a variety of supervisors know the difference between a true leader (helps others to do the right job the right way) and a “manager” (tells others what to do/seeks no input); true leadership requires balance – balancing the needs of the many against those of the few, doing the utmost to create a win/win for all concerned and if that’s not possible, ensuring there’s balance between all interests so everyone at least comes away with something they need.   When those at the fringes of both sides of an issue are unhappy with the outcome, that’s a very good sign that the outcome is balanced, that true leadership rather than “management” has taken place, and that the decision is generally a good one
  • Avoiding The Dunning-Kruger Effect: Discovered by Cornell University David Dunning (along with Prof. Kruger) this states that our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence – wow, that’s a catch 22…and it underpins much of the erroneous thinking we unwittingly do (like letting others do the thinking for us…).  To keep this from happening to you, simply increase your level of competence.  This is easily accomplished by:
    a). some fast fact-checking of claims/opinions/statements made (the internet makes this effort that much easier), thus making sure you form your own thoughts based on fact, not emotion or a situation in process that may not even pan out; and

    b). understand that we all have levels of incompetence and be strong enough to find out what are yours…once you know what they are, you can ensure you don’t fall prey to them…

  • Don’t make decisions when you’re very angry or depressed: When you do, they will most often be bad ones… This is why we see Boomers holding opinions that are self-contradictory (wanting government out of their lives while preparing to collect SS/use Medicare), or choosing to behave badly, from shooting at Census workers to brawling at their children’s sporting events…  That incompetence thing above is fueled by such powerful negative emotion, which masks our ability to think more rationally/use deductive reasoning (or any reasoning at all for that matter…).  These are awfully hard times – making bad decisions that will come back to haunt us later will only make things worse.  Remedy: seek some input/help from someone you trust who isn’t angry/depressed, and listen to them.

As we Boomers, the ones in power and with the greatest influence, wield that power and influence, it is imperative that we live by Spidey’s uncle’s words: “With great power comes great responsibility” – what we do, how we vote, what we say now, will not just make a lasting impression on our young children/grandchildren, but will form the basis of our lives for years if not decades to come.

To do these things with little preparation, in-depth thought, and with too little rationality, is no different that letting a teenager drive with no training and practice (whoa…that’s scary – teens driving with lots of training/practice is scary enough…), seeking a job without a resume let alone a well-written one, or going on vacation without packing for it…

We can do this right.  Let’s start right now.