Virginia farm supplies D.C. eateries despite animal-care violations

This article was originally published by on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

Mie N Yu, Potenza, Zola -- they're all among a movement in Washington culinary circles toward locally grown, all-natural ingredients.

Another thing they have in common: dealings with Black Eagle Farm, a producer in rural Virginia that was found to have violated animal-care statutes and that lost its organic and humane certifications. Last December, a Virginia state veterinary inspector found that many of the animals at the Nelson County farm were emaciated and in need of veterinary care; the farm's working dogs ate raw meat rather than appropriate food; and one hen house contained eight chicken carcasses.

"The place was completely filthy," said Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns, a Machipongo, Va.-based animal rights group that reviewed state records and photographs of the farm. "The company just stopped feeding the birds."

The state investigation was sparked by "numerous complaints" about maltreated dogs, livestock, and poultry on the farm, which is about 45 miles southwest of Charlottesville. A dead goat was tied to a fence, according to the records, and six dogs were allegedly being locked in a trailer full of feces for four days without water, and at least one was dying. The allegations and findings are spelled out in state records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by Gina Schaecher, general counsel for the Appalachian Great Pyrenees Rescue, based in Richmond, Va., which tried to rescue dogs on the farm.

Why Your Co-Workers May Hate You

This article was originally published by the Fiscal Times on Friday, Nov. 12, 2010.

It's parents vs. the childless at some workplaces as benefits geared to parents are seen as biased and unfair.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

With the holidays approaching, tension is mounting in some workplaces over which employees get time off — and which remain in the office while their co-workers enjoy turkey leftovers and long weekends out of town.

On one side: parents; on the other: childless people. Productivity demands have caused increased stress for all workers who feel they’re doing their job and two others; yet it’s often the child-free employees who pick up the slack because of a co-worker's flexible schedule, holiday plans or maternity leave. In this time of tight budgets and lean staffing the left-behinds are saying “enough.” They flock to online forums like The Childfree Life and STFU Parents to vent about being taken for granted because they have no children.

"You can work all the holidays, you can take the weekend trips, you can work late when your colleagues have to run home for the soccer practice or the recital," said Laura S. Scott, Roanoke, Va.-based author of "Two Is Enough" and founder of The Childless by Choice Project. "There's an assumption that the childfree don't have lives outside of work. There needs to be an acknowledgement that all employees, whether they have children or not, need work-life balance."

The work-life field was born in response to the flood of women entering the workforce in the 1970s, and in recent decades became mainstream as more employers recognized the value of flexible work benefits in attracting top talent. This summer, the Obama administration has spotlighted workplace flexibility through public statements, the first-ever White House summit on the topic and a pilot program giving federal workers greater flexibility.

But as employers compete to appear family friendly to both prospective employees and the government, they risk alienating child-free candidates who worry they will become second class citizens in the workplace. "The best employers provide flexibility equitably," said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute. "Where the person with a kid might need to take off the day after Thanksgiving, the person without children may have a friend who is ill. None of us are without personal responsibilities."

With young people delaying marriage and child-rearing, and some never having children, there are more child-free people in the workplace. Nearly one-in-five American women will never bear children, double the percent in the 1970s, according to the Pew Research Center. But everyone has parents. In the last year, 42 percent of workers the Families and Work Institute surveyed have had elder care responsibilities, and 49 percent expect to in the future, Galinsky said.

Financial Advisors: New Rules Protect Consumers

This article was originally published by the Fiscal Times on Friday, Nov. 5, 2010

With more than 100 professional designations for financial-services providers, it can be hard to figure out who you can trust with your with your money. New government regulations may change that.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

Wondering whether to jump back into the market after the Federal Reserve's plan to pump $600 billion into the economy sent stocks to their highest level since September 2008, but worried about the uncertain outlook? People looking for good financial advice can have a hard time.

There are no federal rules for the training or conduct of someone who hangs a shingle as a financial planner. “Certified” financial service providers include more than 100 professional designations, with acronyms like CFP, CFM, CIMA, CFA, CLU, CPA, EA and PFC, representing everything from a single self-study course to years of education, professional training, continuing education, testing and ethics.

Adela Pena, 63, thought she was being responsible when she took early retirement from a telecommunications company in 1998 and invested a $400,000 lump sum pension payment in an annuity recommended by a financial adviser. She watched the value of her portfolio plummet and the adviser stopped returning phone calls. By 2008, she had only $49,000 left.

“Now all I’m living off is my Social Security and the generosity of my children,” she said in an interview from her San Jose, Calif., home. “It’s not like I spend my money foolishly. My children and I never really went on vacation because I wanted to make sure I had some money in my old age so they wouldn’t have to worry about me.”

New Government Oversight
Now, for the first time, financial planners could be subject to government oversight and broker-dealers could be required to act in their customers’ best interests, after two landmark reviews ordered by Congress in this summer's financial regulatory overhaul. The initiatives could reshape the marketplace for financial and investment advice. Policymakers hope new rules will restore some of the confidence shaken by the global financial crisis and stock market collapse in 2008, and better protect investors for the future.

“If I go to someone who markets himself as a doctor or a lawyer, I know that person has passed an exam and that person is subject to a code of professional conduct,” said Marilyn Mohrman-Gillis, managing director for public policy at the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, the organization that grants the CFP designation. “It’s easier to be a financial planner than it is to be a cosmetologist.”

High College Dropout Rate Threatens U.S. Growth

This article was originally published by the Fiscal Times on Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2010

Just over half the students who enter a four-year college complete their degree and even fewer community college students graduate, leaving many without the qualifications they need to land a job.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

Millions of first-year college students and their families now paying for the most expensive postsecondary education in U.S. history face a land mine: just 56 percent of those who enroll in a four-year college earn a bachelor’s degree. Those new undergraduates are now reaching the end of the first semester, a critical crossroads between finishing and dropping out.

Some students drop out because of trouble paying the cost — the average college debt upon graduation is a whopping $24,000. Others struggle to hold down a job while also attending college — tuition, room and board at many private universities tops $50,000 a year, and some state schools charges $10,000 a year just for tuition. But more than half of first-year students are simply underprepared for college-level work, said Jeff King, director of the Koehler Center for Teaching Excellence at Texas Christian University, which is developing a tool to identify students who are most at risk of dropping out. “There’s increasing pressure … to prove that after these thousands of dollars that parents are paying for a credential, the students are learning,” King said.

Education policymakers for decades have focused on opening the doors to higher education to more students, without much thought about whether those students are prepared and what happens if they’re not. Now, they’re starting to take action. Over the past decade, the U.S. has fallen from leader to 12th place in the ratio of young people with the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree, well behind Russia, Canada, Korea and Japan.