Weathering The Credit Crunch

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
Illustration by Monica Seaberry
c.2007 Newhouse News Service

You've heard about subprime borrowers falling into foreclosure as their adjustable rate mortgages reset to higher, fixed rates.

You've heard that financial institutions, losing money as this happens, are tightening standards for mortgages and other forms of credit.

The headlines say housing's in a slump, consumer confidence is falling, and some experts predict a recession.

You're wondering, "Should I worry?''

The short answer is yes.

"It's a very far-reaching crisis that affects so many elements of our economy,'' said Bill Hardekopf, CEO of His Birmingham, Ala.-based Web site lets consumers compare credit-card offers.

The 40-Hour Workweek?

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2007 Newhouse News Service

Pop quiz: Since the 1950s, the length of the average American workweek has ... A) climbed. B) declined. C) stayed roughly flat.

If you picked A, you're wrong. The average employee worked 39.2 hours a week in 2006, nearly two hours less than the 40.9 the Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded for 1956.

So why does it feel like we're working harder every year?

A third of those surveyed in July by Indianapolis-based business consultants Walker Information said they're forced to devote too much time to work, and 45 percent sacrifice personal balance for their jobs — increases from Walker's 2005 survey.

What's going on?

For starters, statistical averages can be misleading, lumping white-collar professionals with blue-collar and part-time workers.

While a growing chunk of the labor force regularly works 50- or 60-hour weeks, those in manufacturing have seen their hours dwindle to an average 34 per week this year. That's down from the nearly 39 the BLS reported for 1964.

"There's a bifurcation process going on where some people work excessively long hours, and there are other workers who can't get enough hours,'' said Vicky Lovell, director of employment and work/life programs at the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

Moreover, the labor force is now dominated by two-worker families, leaving less time for child rearing and housekeeping duties that haven't gone away. People report working almost 10 hours more per week than their ideal, said Arne Kalleberg, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina. Married employees "are working three jobs — two in the workplace and one at home,'' he said.

Infrastructure Needs Reform

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2007 Newhouse News Service

WASHINGTON — Money alone won't spare the U.S. another tragedy like Wednesday's bridge collapse in Minneapolis. Transporation experts say government must also reform its piecemeal approach to investment in the nation's public works.

"We have the largest civil infrastructure in the world, but also it is the oldest,'' said Riyad Aboutaha, a professor of civil engineering at Syracuse University. "We do not repair it until it reaches a critical stage.''

But if $1.6 trillion fell from the sky to bring roads, bridges, airports and water systems into good condition — the amount the American Society of Civil Engineers says is needed over five years — the nation might soon face the same issues it does today, experts said.

The problem is the lack of any comprehensive, rational system. Three separate federal laws authorize money for airports, highways and water, and different jurisdictions squabble over whose piece of pie is bigger.

Every year, localities push forward their most urgent projects, and the state or federal government decides what hits the jackpot. With 90 percent federal highway financing, there's a strong incentive for local jurisdictions to wait for the next year's gravy train instead of tackling projects on their own, said Everett Ehrlich, who has examined the issue for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"We don't have a system that lets us know which the best things to build are,'' Ehrlich said. "The policies we have were put in place 50 years ago or more, to get stuff built but not to maintain it.''

The stakes are high.

Target-date Mutual Funds

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2007 Newhouse News Service
Graphic by Monica Seaberry

Americans love one-stop shopping. You can buy groceries, pick new prescription glasses, gas up the car and have dinner — all without leaving your favorite big-box retailer.

In retirement planning, target-date mutual funds offer the same convenience. These products, also known as life-cycle funds, blend stocks and bonds and systematically reduce the proportion of stocks as retirement — the target date — draws closer.

And while financial advisers recommend rebalancing your portfolio at least once a year to ensure the mix of assets still fits your goals, if all your savings are in a target-date fund, you can be less disciplined. Not only is your shopping complete, you never have to return to the store.

"It makes things a lot simpler: Paperwork is simpler, managing your money is simpler,'' said Susan Black, director of financial planning at eMoney Advisor Inc., a Conshohocken, Pa.-based software company.

Modern Dads Balancing

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2007 Newhouse News Service
Photo by Kraig Scattarella

Today's dads are changing diapers, driving the carpool and cooking dinner — shouldering more child and household responsibilities than the previous generation of fathers.

The numbers tell the story: Fathers do 67 percent more housework and 50 percent more child care than 25 years ago, according to surveys by the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit organization based in New York.

Decades ago, men responded to fatherhood by honing their ability to support a family. Now, more are making career sacrifices and adjusting their work days as they try to reconcile the roles of provider and parent.

Yet they don't always find sympathy at their jobs. Bosses and colleagues who nod knowingly when a new mother scales back may react with surprise when a new father wants to do the same. And the biggest career-oriented rewards, many experts say, still go to those with few home duties, who can devote their full energy to work.

"The culture still remains one based on the whole breadwinner-homemaker model,'' said Ann Bookman, executive director of the MIT Workplace Center at the Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Mass.

The model of fatherhood is changing because wives expect a partnership and men want to be actively engaged with their kids.

"We ... have ratcheted up the expectations of what the father would do compared with previous generations,'' said Daniel Isaac, 38, of Yardley, Pa., a research scientist and teacher at Princeton University.

Negotiating Reduced Hours

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2005 Newhouse News Service
Photo by John Kuntz

Whether to care for children, assist aging parents, or ease into retirement, many American professionals are pushing back at employers' demands for longer workweeks and 24-7 accessibility.

They don't want to quit their jobs. Nor do they want to take scut work at low pay to get a part-time schedule. Instead, they're negotiating reduced hours compatible with their personal lives, often with a promise to live up to excellent track records.

"Working part time has let me feel I don't have to choose between two pieces of myself," said Diane E. Thompson, 38, an attorney with the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation in East St. Louis, Ill., who cut her hours when her first child was born. "I feel like a whole person."

The Society for Human Resource Management
found in August that about 33 percent of employers have formal part-time positions for professional staff and 39 percent allow reduced hours case-by-case. Two-thirds of respondents said part-time options helped retain critical employees. The survey did not break down results by profession.

Job Sharing is Work Marriage

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2005 Newhouse News Service
Photo by Jane Therese

Mary Kay Ross and Sharon Snyder share a lot.

Together they fill a single full-time position of human resource manager at AT&T Corp. in Bedminster, N.J. They share a phone number, e-mail address, cubicle -- even a resume.

Each works about 25 hours over three days every week, overlapping in the office on Wednesdays. They've kept that schedule for a decade, through four different jobs and a joint promotion.

"We're able to hold challenging jobs together that as individual part-timers we might not be able to secure," Ross said. "I just feel very, very fortunate that we've had this opportunity for so long."

People who job-share say the arrangement lets them care for their children, attend school activities, volunteer in the community or ease into retirement while continuing to enjoy career success and earn a paycheck.

Yet only 19 percent of companies surveyed this year by the Society for Human Resource Management allow job sharing.

When business people started talking about work-life balance two decades ago, they envisioned job sharing as one of a range of new and exciting choices for workers, including flex-time, compressed workweeks and telecommuting. Job sharing has turned out to be the least utilized flexible option.

"Job sharing is the most foreign from the manager's perspective," said Pat Katepoo, founder of in Honolulu. "It's the laggard of the flexible work options. It's a tougher one to pitch and manage, but the benefits are really, really worth it and it should not be ignored."

Indeed, companies are taking a fresh look at job sharing as a way to retain valuable employees, boost productivity and prevent burnout in high-stress, demanding jobs.

Dad Unfriendly Work

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2005 Newhouse News Service
Photo by Bob Black

Daniel Malinski drove over a curb when his wife told him she was pregnant. After digesting the shock, he started planning for the monumental change of having a baby.

Knowing that a few mothers in his office worked part-time from home, he asked to telecommute an afternoon or two a week. To his surprise, the request was denied.

"It was frustrating," said Malinski, 29, a customer support specialist in Urbana, Ill.

Fathers on average are taking on dramatically more child care and household responsibilities. In 1977, they did about 35 percent as much household work and 58 percent as much child care as mothers, compared to 67 percent and 77 percent in 2002, according to the Families and Work Institute, a non-profit research organization in New York City.

Now, as more men try to tap family-friendly workplace policies, many discover the arrangements aren't as available to dads as to moms.

"In society in general, they feel that moms in the workplace need more and dads are supposed to just work and deal with it and fit in," Malinski said. "I don't think it's fair. I think dads need support too."

Just as women have struggled for equal opportunity at work, men are fighting for workplace accommodation of their bigger roles at home. Resistance ranges from snide comments and negative signals to outright discrimination.

"Fathers are just as susceptible as mothers to a backlash when they prioritize family over work," said Shelley Waters Boots, acting director of the Work and Family Program at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy institute in Washington, D.C. "There can be some very significant consequences, including being fired."

Multilingual Workplaces

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2005 Newhouse News Service

Bill Conerly, a construction director in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., says his crews are "a well-oiled machine."

Watch them put together a house, and you'd never imagine that some can communicate with each other only through the foreman. But 25 percent of workers in the DiVosta division of Pulte Homes, Conerly's employer, are native Spanish speakers and 10 percent primarily speak Haitian Creole.

Pulte faces labor shortages in some of the trades, said Kathy McGuire, its director of human resources in Palm Beach Gardens. Without Spanish and Creole speakers, she pointed out, "I wouldn't have enough people to build my houses."

With immigrants filling gaps in an aging work force and U.S. firms expanding to serve customers around the world, a babble of tongues is now heard in offices and at job sites across the country. The 2000 Census found that 47 million people, or 18 percent of the population, did not speak English at home -- up from 32 million, or 14 percent, in 1990.

The situation poses challenges for employers, who may need to change time-worn habits of interaction, translate written materials into other languages or pay for classes for managers and employees.

But there are advantages as well. Veterans of multilingual work forces say the range of national origins not only makes companies more effective in serving customers and business partners around the globe, it makes them more interesting places to work.

Making Home Business Good

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2004 Newhouse News Service
Photo by Jane Therese

Troll the Internet for home-based businesses and it starts to feel like a graveyard tour.

The Web sites follow similar formats, with catchy names and professional appearances. You're urged to buy baby slings and clothes, hire a personal chef, sign up a virtual assistant, or send gift baskets to your best clients. But dig deeper and you find many of the links are broken, testimonials are "under construction," and e-mails bounce back, user unknown.

These are the remnants of many a parent's dream: an at-home business that minimizes your work day and maximizes your hours with young children.

In reality, creating a business takes more time, money and hard work than you might imagine. Even some who turn a profit concede that compensation borders on minimum wage.

"A lot of people who work outside the home perceive it to be very easy and very relaxed, and it's not," said Shelly Howard, 31, of Clinton Township, Mich., who sells kid-friendly recipes at

"I'm not ever done until I go to sleep," explained Howard, who has a 2-year-old son. "Trying to do that and raise a family and be a good wife is difficult."

Managing Multiple Generations

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2003 Newhouse News Service

American employers face a new challenge: managing a work force with an ever-growing span of ages.

Even as fresh college graduates seek employment, life expectancies are climbing, and older workers are postponing retirement by choice or financial necessity. The resulting age diversity increases the complexity of recruiting, training and motivating workers, since each generation has different needs, expectations, skills and work styles.

"The issue is huge, and it's going to get worse before it gets better," said Karl Ahlrichs, an Indianapolis-based human resources consultant. "For the first time, we've got four generations side by side."

Indeed, a single workplace today may hold "traditionalists," born before 1946; baby boomers, born 1946 through 1964; members of Generation X, born 1965 through 1981; and those known as Generation Y, born since '81.

The age disparities will only grow -- the number of people in the work force older than 55 increases by 10,000 each day, said Bruce Tulgan, a New Haven, Conn., researcher on generational differences.

Career Change, Rewards v. Risks

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2003 Newhouse News Service

An argument about fresh produce pushed Rosemarie Verderame over the edge on June 28, 2000.

The chef at her Manhattan restaurant insisted, for the umpteenth time, on shopping at the cash-only farmer's market even though the summer lull made business tight. Abruptly, Verderame decided to close "Rosemarie" -- the Italian bistro into which she had poured her soul, 14 years and more than $350,000 in startup costs.

Despite her conviction to leave behind the long hours and never-ending expense, the decision was hard. The 50-seat restaurant, she said, "was like my child."

Three years later, the 44-year-old New York native is finishing a master's degree in social work at Fordham University and confident she made the right call. "I miss the food and I miss the customers," Verderame said, but, "I am happier. I feel more peaceful."

Mid-life professionals longing for a new direction often believe their years of specialization are more liabilities than assets in changing careers. But with discipline, a shift of viewpoint and some leg work, say those who have made the transition, the emotional and logistical difficulties can be overcome.

"If you can find a place that you love going to, a place where you wake up in the morning and it excites you, you owe it to yourself to seek it out and take an opportunity to make that your career," said Rory Smith, an associate dean at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago who quit a corporate law job to become an administrator.

Telecommuting Downside

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2003 Newhouse News Service
Photo by Monika Graff

Most telecommuters started working from home in hopes of striking a happier balance between job and family. Now some are finding that they labor more hours and endure greater stress, only to see their careers nosedive.

New research suggests employees may add tension to their lives by telecommuting if they don't first make a careful assessment of their personalities and employment situations.

"People have trouble shutting work off," said Ellen Ernst Kossek, professor of human resources at Michigan State University, one of the study's authors. "There's confusion for family members. They see you home and they want to ask you a question, and then you yell at them."

Along with researchers at Harvard University and Canada's Simon Fraser University, Kossek interviewed 300 employees and 95 managers across the country. They learned that workers' home lives suffered if they telecommuted with inadequate space or technological infrastructure.

Even if those problems were absent, telecommuters complained that family and friends didn't understand or respect the fact that they had full-time jobs. Others missed the give-and-take among colleagues and the casual hallway encounters that kept them in the know.

Cheatin' Heart? Your Tax Return Will Tell on You

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2007 Newhouse News Service
Illustration by Monica Seaberry

Now that you've filed your taxes, take a hard look at your return. The innocent-looking pages of numbers could reveal a nasty surprise: a cheating spouse.

Why would a dishonest mate be truthful with the Internal Revenue Service?

"Your spouse may forgive you, but the IRS never will,'' said Helen O'Planick, a tax professional in Manchester, Pa. "They have a little longer arm and there are so many paper trails.''

Healers Reflect on Va Tech Tragedy

By Michele M. Melendez and Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2007 Newhouse News Service

How do you make sense of the senseless?

The violence and horror that punished the campus of Virginia Tech, leaving 33 dead, is incomprehensible. Yet we yearn for some grasp of our own reactions, if not even greater understanding. Many of us will turn to trusted counselors — therapists, spiritual leaders and others we admire. Here, gathered in the tragedy's aftermath, is guidance from some of those healers.

"For the people directly hit by a tragedy like this, this is not a good time for philosophical discussions. It's time for grieving, not for explaining. It's time just to try to survive the tragedy. Reflection comes later.

"For those of us who are not directly hit, it is a chance to think together, to pray. ...

"Take a little time to feel the sadness in a meditative or prayerful way. Let that feeling flow, but in the flow of that compassion, then consider what difference I can make in alleviating suffering.

"That's a beautiful and a healing response. There's no need to feel the least bit of helplessness. There are circumstances where we're overwhelmed, but there is some freedom with which we can respond. ...

"In the Biblical tradition, we're called to respond with love, not with fear. We're called to respond with compassion and not with terror. We're called to respond with sharing the suffering. That is also a passion that moves us into action.''

— Catherine Keller, professor of theology at Drew University in Madison, N.J.


"It's a good thing to try to get a measure of control back. The most important thing is to have the experience of being heard and creating communities for people to share the uncertainty. People who are going to isolate themselves are going to have the hardest time. ...

"Those who are not directly touched by it can help by sending notes of encouragement, putting flowers on sites. Anything that helps us communicate that we care about what happened and we care about the people, and we want to make it right.''

— The Rev. Dennis Kenny, director of pastoral care at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio


FCC Auction Key for Wireless Broadband

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2007 Newhouse News Service
Illustration by Monica Seaberry

WASHINGTON — There's about to be a land rush in telecommunications as the U.S. government auctions the only remaining airwaves suitable for nationwide, high-speed wireless Web access.

Big telephone and cable companies are jostling alongside Internet and technology entrepreneurs to control the spectrum, estimated to be worth as much as $30 billion.

"It's the biggest chunk of spectrum to come back into the public administration in a generation and it's by far the most valuable piece,'' said Ben Scott, policy director at Free Press, a Washington-based nonprofit focused on communications policy.

And it's a hot topic in Washington: House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., will explore the issues in a hearing Thursday, and the Federal Communications Commission, hoping to schedule the auction this fall, may vote on rules as early as April 25.

What's at stake? The auction winners will determine whether American homes, businesses and classrooms have access to a third "pipe'' for high-speed Internet, not to mention better reception and innovative services for mobile phones and other devices.

When Debt Is Smart

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2007 Newhouse News Service
Illustration by Monica Seaberry

Americans are drowning in debt. Advice abounds to cut up the credit cards, rethink the car loan, and step away from the home equity line.

But in many circumstances, debt isn't simply acceptable, it's the best option. After all, without a mortgage or student loan, many people would never own a home or graduate from college.

"It can be smart to have debt because it means you have other people's money going to work for you,'' said Kenneth Shapiro, a financial security adviser in Hazlet, N.J.

Here are six key questions to ask before taking out a loan, or deciding to pay one off early.

Wanted: Opportunities for Part-Timers

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2007 Newhouse News Service
Illustration by Monica Seaberry

Professionals seeking part-time opportunities generally look in vain for meaningful, well-paid positions. Jobs advertised as flexible tend to be scut work, entry level or work-at-home scams.

Take it from Jennifer Pultz: "The part-time jobs are not really career oriented."

An environmental educator from Portland, Ore., Pultz left the work force when her sons were toddlers, figuring to return part time when they were in kindergarten. She's been actively job hunting since hitting that milestone two years ago. "It's so frustrating," she says.

Enter the Internet. Several new Web sites all launched since August are matching talent with stimulating part-time, seasonal or project-based employment. The sites hope to serve older professionals who aren't ready to fully retire, parents scaling back or returning to work, and even young singles who want time to pursue a hobby or entrepreneurial venture.

"There are so many qualified people out there that want to work but need the flexibility," said Ilyse Shapiro of Wynnewood, Pa., who began in February. Shapiro cites a June Gallup Poll finding that 51 percent of Americans would like to work part time before completely retiring.

Multi-tasking Has a Downside

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2007 Newhouse News Service
Illustration by Monica Seaberry

We feel so efficient, listening to a teleconference while sorting e-mail and eating lunch at the same time. But experts warn that instead of completing three tasks in the space of one, we're really spending more time to achieve mediocre results.

"Research that's looked at multi-tasking shows that you can't do it well. No one can," said Kristin Byron, assistant professor of management at Syracuse University. "You're fighting the way your brain works."

The brain acts on just one task at a time. What we perceive as simultaneous multi-tasking is really rapid switching back and forth to keep different tasks going even if one is as simple as deciding to lift the sandwich for another bite.

It's like the classic vaudeville act of spinning plates. Your brain can set a task in motion, then another, and then another, before returning to pick up the first task, explained David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. "If the demands of any given task aren't too taxing, you can get two, three, four plates going up, but at some point you're going to reach a threshold when they're going to crash."

Employers Should Eye Workplace Romance

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2007 Newhouse News Service
Illustration by Monica Seaberry

The arrest of astronaut Lisa Nowak may be an extreme example of an office crush gone awry, but it nonetheless highlights some real concerns for employers regarding workplace romance.

Managers must balance respect for staff privacy with vigilance for signs that a personal relationship might be jeopardizing the productivity or safety of their employees, workplace experts said.

"They want to make sure nothing escalates to the level of this situation," said Mimi Moore, an employment lawyer at Bryan Cave in Chicago. But "there's a line that employers have to draw in terms of getting too involved in people's personal lives."

Time to Think About Taxes

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2007 Newhouse News Service

Preparing your income tax return? This year, pay special attention to deadlines, dates and paperwork.

First, the good news: Taxes are due April 17, a couple of days later than usual. The traditional April 15 is a Sunday, and a local holiday on April 16 would affect six states and the District of Columbia, so the Internal Revenue Service pushed back the deadline for all Americans.

Not so good: Tax code complications are likely to cause delays and revisions in some of the forms you receive in the mail. Mutual fund companies could send corrected 1099s as late as March, said Rod Coleman, senior vice president at SYM Financial Advisors in Warsaw, Ind.

"People who have filed their taxes too eagerly end up looking at a revision," Coleman said. "Mid-March ought to get you past most of it."

To prepare your taxes, you'll need the following paperwork and information:

Managing E-Mail Overload

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2007 Newhouse News Service
Illustration courtesy Cohesive Knowledge Solutions

Do you ever sit down to check your e-mail "for a minute," and the next thing you know, two hours have passed?

You've got company. American professionals spend over 40 percent of the workday on e-mail and information storage, and consider a third of the time wasted, according to research by Cohesive Knowledge Solutions, a Guilford, Conn., corporate training firm.

That amounts to $300 billion in lost productivity, said CKS chief executive Mike Song, co-author of "The Hamster Revolution: How to Manage Your E-mail Before it Manages You."

"People have reached the breaking point," Song said.

The burden on personnel and computer servers has some companies training their work forces to use e-mail more efficiently. Last year, 42 percent of companies surveyed conducted e-mail training, up from 24 percent five years earlier, according to the ePolicy Institute in Columbus, Ohio.

The results are striking. On average, one 45-minute CKS seminar saved Novartis Oncology employees eight days a year, and 75 minutes of training returned 11 days a year to the typical Capital One worker.

"Few investments in business ... have that kind of payback," said Nic Oatridge, global head of information technology for Novartis Oncology in Florham Park, N.J. "People are saying we've set them free."