September 30, 2010

College Grads are Moving Back Home

The economy takes its toll as college grads find that high unemployment and low wages has them taking refuge in their old rooms.

This isn't such a bad thing in and of itself; living with your family until marriage was once the norm. But it's very telling when we consider whether or not the economy is improving, as some say it is.

September 28, 2010

The Whole Picture

Here and there I'll see news articles about what's going on in our country and I'll share the links here. But this link is a stunner. The writer has assembled a group of articles about what's going on, and seeing them together really brings home the fact that we are not in good shape at all. The shrinkage of our manufacturing base has resulted in some real problems.

It's my hope that we resume manufacturing again. That's why our kids will need to know how to work with their hands: so they can help rebuild this country's economy.

September 24, 2010

The Questionable Monetary Value of a College Degree

I see they haven't enabled comments on this new article crowing over the supposed financial advantage of a college degree. No wonder.....there are an awful lot of unemployed and under-employed college grads these days. Their comments can be seen on articles about the economy, and believe me, most of them are not happy.

Note that:

  • This study was done by the College Board. Not exactly unbiased! In fact, this article reads more like a PR piece than a news article.
  • It states that college grads make more money than high school grads. Since many college grads are working retail jobs, thus taking them away from high school grads, I guess that's true, but it's sure not a reason to go into enormous student loan debt.
  • The unemployment rate for college grads is half that of high school grads, but again, that makes sense when the college grads take the jobs the high school grads once had, selling books and making coffee drinks.
These articles seem to be popping up more frequently. Seems like the colleges are getting a bit panicky because word is getting out that not all college degrees will guarantee jobs after graduation. In the future, this will be even more true.

September 22, 2010

Raising Entrepreneurial Kids

Is it true that entrepreneurs are made, not born? No one knows for sure, but giving your kids opportunities to work for themselves is a great way to prepare them for the 21st century economy. Having their own business (even if it's just a side business) will be a good way to stay afloat financially.

Today's New York Times has an interesting article called "How to Raise a Business Owner." It's written by a self-employed mom. Check it out HERE.

September 20, 2010

Courting Financial Disaster to Create College Grads

According to a new study (ironically initiated in part by Sallie Mae, the government entity that holds most student loans), parents are at risk of impoverishing themselves in order to make sure they send their students to college.

It's not until the end of this long article highlighting the survey's results that the reporter states the obvious:

Although most students believe they need a college degree to earn more money and work in their chosen field, some are beginning to question whether an education is worth the hefty price tag. Only a slight majority -- 53 percent -- of those surveyed in 2010 feel college is worth the cost; 62 percent thought a degree was worth it in 2008.

At least some students are starting to catch on.

September 17, 2010

Teaching Children to Recognize and Appreciate Quality, Part 2

PART 1 (in case you missed it)

Exposure to Quality

Giving our children opportunities to create things is key, but we also need to expose them to the creations of others. Seeing what others have done inspires our children, and also helps them to recognize greatness in the work of others.

Art museums are one place our children can become acquainted with high-quality, aesthetically pleasing works.

Historical museums expose our children to the great inventions of the past, and help them understand why it’s important to make things that last.

Art and craft shows give children an up-close look at art and the artists who create it.

Quilt shows highlight the creativity of those who work with cloth. Be on the lookout for special exhibits of antique quilts; before cloth was affordable or readily available, women of the past used fabric scraps, worn-out clothes and feed sacks to fashion quilts of beauty that were used to keep their families warm. Such quilts are the ultimate examples of good stewardship of materials.

Of course, the best place to expose our children to well-made and high quality items is in our own homes. There are high-quality items out in the marketplace, but they tend to cost quite a bit more than we might want to pay. In many cases, they’re downright unaffordable. Many people just don’t have the money to fill their homes with such expensive things.

However, there is a way to find affordable items for our homes, and that’s at estate sales, garage sales and rummage sales. Amidst the warped fiberboard entertainment centers and rickety kitchen chairs of the recent past you can find sturdy wooden furniture, high-quality pre-1990s towels and linens (some with the price tags still attached!) and small appliances made with metal gears (much longer-lasting than today’s products with plastic gears).

My husband and I began shopping in such places when we were poor newlyweds. We still use some of our purchases from back then; a few are now considered antiques that would sell for quite a bit more than we paid for them, IF we were willing to part with them.

The high quality of goods made in the past really hit home with me several years ago, when I helped my daughter find supplies for her first apartment by scouring local estate and rummage sales. She especially likes the look of the 1970s (to her, it’s very retro; I, however, lived through it the first time!). In finding various items of that vintage for her such as glassware, utensils and linens, I was struck by the sturdiness of the items compared to much new versions of the same things in our home. The plastic utensils were stronger and heavier. The glasses were also heavier, and the paint on them had held up almost perfectly; quite a difference from the glassware we use that’s not very old but already has faded a good deal.

The difference in linens is especially noticeable. The sheets I found for her are not as tightly woven as those you can buy nowadays, nor are the towels as thick and soft as today’s towels, but both are made of better-quality textiles. I can tell this because they continue to wear well despite frequent washings. In contrast, today’s sheets and towels seem luxurious when you buy them, but after a few washings they begin to deteriorate quickly.

These differences need to be pointed out to our children so that they can learn to recognize quality. In fact, just living with and using well-made goods on a day-to-day basis will have a subliminal effect on them; when you’re used to quality, anything “cheap” really becomes noticeable.

But we have to make an effort to “buy quality” in order to have it in our homes. If we can’t afford to buy new, buying older, used items is the way to do it. If you have a problem with doing that, just remember, every one of those expensive antiques you see on television’s “Antiques Roadshow” is a used item.

A Resurgence of Quality

Artists put a lot of time into their creations. In the new age of increasing productivity (the faster a product can be made, the better) and throwaway products, we have to ask if the creation of high-quality items is really worth the time it takes. Does it make sense to encourage our children to recognize quality and to develop their artistic talents so that they can create items of quality when the rest of the world seems to have forsaken quality for low prices and the convenience of disposability?

I think it does. Beyond the pleasure creation brings, and the joy of working with good materials, is the likelihood that eventually, people will tire of having to buy new goods all the time. There are many reasons for this:

• It takes time to keep buying replacements, and we’re increasingly short on time.

• It’s very frustrating when things keep breaking or falling apart.

• The novelty of each season’s “hot” new items wears off after a while; we get bored with them.

• It’s expensive to keep replacing the items we use in our daily lives; this is especially important during economic downturns like the one we’re in now.

• As people age, they lose interest in continual consumption, and learn to appreciate what they have (or maybe they just get tired of all that shopping!)

• In rapidly changing times, people find security in the possessions that have meaning to them.

This last point is especially intriguing. In a throwaway society, which items will become the eventual heirlooms we leave to our children and their children? Will the museums of the future have anything in them to represent the early 21st century, or will it all have fallen apart?

I think today’s “it’s cheaper to buy a new one” mentality will eventually lead to a resurgence of the appreciation of quality. It will always have its place, even among an avalanche of cheap imported goods. In the world of job insecurity and changes that we’ve entered, it’s human nature to want some security, some things that don’t change. Possessions that have stood up over time and even have special significance for us are greatly appreciated.

In our home sits a sturdy old rocking chair that we inherited after the death of my husband’s great-grandmother. She received it as a wedding gift, so it’s over 100 years old. I rocked my babies in it; when my children were small, they climbed in it and all over it. It has held up very well, and holds many memories for us.

It’s one of many chairs we’ve owned; many of the others are no longer in our house. Having been made more recently, they fell apart from the daily use of six people. They were replaced by even newer and not-inexpensive chairs. While my husband tries to keep them in good repair, it is a constant job. It’s true, they just don’t make things like they used to make them. Yet that rocking chair remains in good shape. You can’t beat quality.

NOTE: Excerpted from Thriving in the 21st Century, now available in print and eBook.

September 15, 2010

Teaching Children to Recognize and Appreciate Quality, Part 1

NOTE: Excerpted from Thriving in the 21st Century, now available in print and eBook.

The paint is coming off of the buttons of my cell phone, which I don’t use very often (it’s a prepaid). It’s only a year old.

The nonstick surface of the pans in my kitchen is flaking off; the pans are, at most, five years old.

Towels I bought only a few years ago fade and become stiff, while those received as wedding gifts over 30 years ago continue to hold up. The elastic stretches out in fitted sheets just a few years old, while sheets I bought for my now-young-adult children, much used over the years, are still in good shape.

These are more examples of the decreasing quality of goods we buy today. Our stores are overflowing with wonderful, exciting new products, but most aren’t made to last. The hope of those who make them is that they’ll have to be replaced before long, thus requiring yet another trip to the store, and so more profits in the manufacturers’ pockets. Increasing global competition is teaching manufacturers to produce goods with low costs and a low profit margin, which they can then sell in large quantities at modest prices, thus making up the profit in volume.

The combination of innovative new products, mass marketing and planned obsolescence (making a product with a limited lifespan so it will have to be replaced) has brought us this avalanche of goods that don’t last. As soon as they hit our stores, they’re aggressively marketed so that we’ll buy them. Those that don’t sell right away are deep-discounted so that we’ll buy them on sale because of their irresistible prices. Anything left over is then marked down for clearance so that there will be room for the coming season’s “must-have” items, and the cycle begins again.

This sequence has trained American consumers to expect low-price, low-quality goods, and develops in us an attitude of “it’s cheaper to replace it than to fix it.” Compare that to the mindset required of our grandparents and great-grandparents who raised families during the Great Depression. A common expression of the 1930s was “Use it up, make it do or do without.” Most people didn’t have the money to buy new goods or replace old items all the time. So they learned to take care of their belongings to make them last, and to fix those that could be fixed.

Cultivating such an attitude helped them stretch their money as far as possible, which was a necessity during tough financial times. We need to teach our children that same attitude; it will be very helpful to them during those times ahead when they’re between jobs, or when they need to tighten their belts in order to keep their business afloat.

That won’t always be easy in our disposable society. We parents have been trained to pitch what doesn’t work. One example of how we’ve come to think that way is the videocassette recorder (VCR). When VCRs first became available to the consumer market over 30 years ago, the cheapest models cost over $1,000. After investing that kind of money, almost anyone with a VCR took it in to be repaired when it broke down.

But over the years the price of VCRs declined, and so did their quality. When you can find them, you can buy a multi-featured VCR for $50. When it breaks down, and it will, it won’t be worth investing at least as much as you paid for it in repairing it, when you can go right out and buy another for $50. And that’s what Americans do. We just keep buying more products to replace those that break down or fall apart. By doing so, we kept the economy going for a long time.

But this process creates a mindset of increasing consumption. It’s the last thing we want to teach our children, but that’s what we’re doing by our examples. We parents need to get our heads straight about what and why we buy things before we try to teach our children.

It can be done. By learning to recognize and appreciate quality, we and our children can keep a lid on our expenses by not having to replace things all the time. The choices we make as consumers will have an effect on what’s being offered in the market place. Just think, if everyone were to refuse to buy inferior goods, manufacturers and marketers would have no choice but to offer better quality goods.

That’s a nice thought, but the reality of the present is that it takes some work to find high-quality goods, things that will hold up for a while. We have to take the time and make the effort to buy well-made items, and to teach our children how to do so. If they learn to appreciate quality now, they’ll grow up looking for it in the things they buy. It will be worth their effort to take care of those things, and to fix them when they need to be fixed. Such an attitude will be very helpful in the financially uncertain times ahead.

Learning to Recognize Quality

Not long ago, I was shopping in a local discount department store when I noticed a display of baby clothes. Thinking how adorable they were, and how creatively they had been designed, I went up for a closer look.

What I found was disappointing. The tiny shirts were made of very poorly made fabric that would certainly not hold up for more than a few washings. The matching corduroy overalls turned out not to be corduroy at all, but a cheap fabric with ridges stamped into it to make it look like corduroy.

As a mom who has had four babies, if there’s one thing I know it’s that baby clothes get washed a lot. They need to be sturdy to hold up to hours of spinning in the washer and being heated in the dryer. And hopefully, they’ll last so they can be handed down to the next baby. These clothes, as cute as they were, would not likely hold together for one baby, much less four.

I can recognize poor quality in clothes because I sew. I learned to sew at age 11, and as a teen, made many of my own clothes. Sewing teaches you proper clothing construction. Once you learn that, you come to expect it in the clothes you buy as well as the clothes you make.

Sewing also teaches you to recognize and appreciate high-quality fabric, because the last thing you want to do is put a lot of work into an item made out of cheap fabric. It will eventually fade, or the fabric will come apart, and all your hard work will be wasted.

I taught my girls to sew, and it has brought them great enjoyment as well as an appreciation for quality. When we’re out shopping and my younger daughter spots a piece of clothing she likes, I show her how it’s made. If it’s made of poor quality fabric (and increasingly, it is) I show her how thin the fabric is, and how loosely it’s woven. These are signs that it won’t last long with normal use. Each time I show her something like this, and each time she sews something, she learns to recognize quality. This will serve her well in adulthood.

Sewing, however, is just one way to teach about quality. There are many skills that we can teach our children (or learn alongside them, if we don’t already have the skill), so that they can recognize quality. Any skill that requires you to work with your hands and to select good materials to work with is worth learning in order to recognize quality. For example:

Woodworking helps children learn about furniture construction and types of wood. The child who can work with wood will someday be able to recognize and buy high-quality furniture, reject low-quality furniture, and even make his or her own furniture.

Cooking and baking helps children learn to enjoy healthy, high-quality food, and to reject inferior food. The child who is accustomed to home-baked cookies doesn’t find packaged cookies as appealing; a frozen pizza is no match for one made with fresh ingredients and love.

Knitting and other types of handwork (quilting, crocheting, and needlepoint are just a few examples) give children the opportunity to make things of beauty that will last and can be handed down to their own children someday. Compare a hand-knitted sweater to the sweaters you find in the store these days (ill-fitting, and made of inferior yarn that begins to pill on the first wearing); there’s a definite difference in quality that even an older child can see and feel.

The creation of art (painting, sculpture, metalwork) lets children experience how much work goes into translating something from a concept to a finished item. It gives them the opportunity to use paint, chalk, stone and metal to make something tangible while expressing themselves. The child who is an artist will be more likely to appreciate the work of others, including the great artists of history.

These creative activities are just some areas we can use to teach our children to recognize quality. All of them help our children to develop an appreciation for the work that has gone into something. Children who understand this will appreciate heirlooms and other family treasures for what they are as well as what they represent. They’ll also be able to recognize shoddy work and reject it, which is a good ability to have in a world where inferior goods are increasingly common.

Learning to recognize and appreciate quality through such activities as those listed has other benefits:

• Recognizing quality brings pleasure; the feel of fine fabric, the aroma of home-baked goods, the patina of exotic wood.

• Making something with one’s hands is satisfying, and gives a goal to work toward that, once reached, provides great satisfaction.

• Creating something teaches you not to waste materials, but to put them to good use.

• The creative person knows how and prefers to fix things instead of replacing them.

This last point is an integral part of being a good steward. Taking good care of what you’ve been blessed with is a Christian principle. The child who recognizes and appreciates quality will be a good steward of resources. In the financial ups-and-downs likely to characterize the new economy, that ability will be a great asset.


September 13, 2010

About This Blog

In March 2001, something happened to our family. As abruptly as the slamming of a door, my husband’s work stopped coming in.

For 25 years before that, my husband had been a designer of plastic molds and the sole financial support of our family. Since 1995, he had been a self-employed designer. From the first day he started out on his own, he had more business than he could handle. In fact, there was never a single day that he didn’t have work to do for someone……until that March day when he finished a mold and realized he had no other jobs waiting for him.

By then, America was in a recession that had been building for some time. But as the spring and then the summer passed by, the phone remained quiet. When he checked with them, my husband’s clients expressed concern at how little, if any, work they were being hired to do. We began to realize that something was different from the previous recessions we’d been through. As one of the many families whose living came from the manufacturing segment of our economy, we were accustomed to slowdowns; we were well-equipped to deal with less work. But to have no work? It had never happened before.

Finally in September 2001, the work started to trickle in, though much more slowly than before. But then came the national tragedy now infamously known as 9/11, and the entire American economy shuddered for months afterward. We felt it as much as anyone else.

As the mother and homemaker in our family of six, my immediate job was to stretch the dollars as well as I could, which I did. But as a freelance writer and former reporter, my reaction to difficulties has always been research. (Somebody’s sick? I’ll find out everything I can about the disease.) When our youngest son was born with Down syndrome, it took only a few months before I had amassed my own mini-library of Down syndrome books. This is how I cope with uncertainty: I research the heck out of it.

So I began to search for answers to the questions that were spinning around in my head:

What’s causing this loss of work?

Is it true our manufacturing base is evaporating?

Why is so much work going to other countries when people here are unemployed?

How does China manage to wipe out so many of our factories?

Is it time for my husband to bail out of plastics and find a new line of work?

My research confirmed my suspicion that we’re in the midst of an enormous shift in this country. Those of us who grew up expecting the long-term jobs and resulting financial rewards (not to mention company-paid health insurance and pensions for our old age) that our parents had are in for a nasty surprise. Those kind of jobs are evaporating quickly, and in many cases are being replaced by temporary jobs and outsourcing. The more I read, the more I realized the old way of doing things was not coming back any time soon.

This brought a new concern to the forefront. As difficult as it was for my husband and me to determine what to do next, it was even harder to think about how it would affect our children. How could we prepare them for this new and rapidly changing economy, where entire industries disappear? What kind of skills and abilities would be needed to work in an economy that’s dramatically different from the one to which we’d been accustomed?

Once we figure out the answers to those questions, how do we teach those things to our children? And is it possible that we can prepare them so that they won’t just survive, but thrive? Everything I’ve learned since I started asking those questions suggests that it is most definitely possible.

What I’ve learned over the past nine years led me to the conclusions I’ll share in this blog and in my upcoming book, Thriving in the 21st Century. As parents, we’re completely responsible for our children. It’s our job to prepare them to become hard-working, independent adults. Even though many of the assumptions and rules we grew up with have changed, our responsibility to guide our children has not. So to every parent who’s concerned about preparing their child for the new economy we find ourselves in, this blog and my upcoming book are for you.

September 10, 2010

The Primary Area of Job Growth is........

....quite visible on this chart.

Yes, health care continues to be the only job area with any kind of decent growth in our economy. This growth is likely to continue, as the massive group of Baby Boomers age and require more health care than ever.

This is a great career area for your children. But the very best health care workers have an ability that helps them excel in their work: they're empathetic people. Empathy is one of the Seven Strengths you can develop in your children right now so they'll be ready to Thrive in the 21st Century.

September 9, 2010

Will Your Kids Be Able to Live on Less Than $50K a Year?

This article asks if it's possible to live on an average income of $50,000 a year. Considering that wages have been stagnating for years (when you consider inflation) and are now dropping, it's possible our kids will have to live on less than $50,000 annually.

Will your kids be able to do it? Have you taught them to handle money wisely? If not, why not?

September 8, 2010

A Professor in Favor of Teaching Practical Skills and Hands-On Work

Joining the chorus of those saying our kids need to know how to work with their hands is college professor Camille Paglia, who states:

Jobs, jobs, jobs: We need a sweeping revalorization of the trades. The pressuring of middle-class young people into officebound, paper-pushing jobs is cruelly shortsighted. Concrete manual skills, once gained through the master-apprentice alliance in guilds, build a secure identity. Our present educational system defers credentialing and maturity for too long.

While I'm not sure I agree with Ms. Paglia about college being the place where young people should be taught to work with their hands, she's right on the money about the uselessness of many current college majors, and the need for more career guidance regarding the trades.

September 7, 2010

It's More Important Than a College Degree

Parents spend amazing amounts of effort and money to get their children into college. But times have changed. A college degree is not for everyone, and may not monetarily benefit most people....not anymore.

But there's another commodity, one that I list in my upcoming book Thriving in the 21st Century as being one of the Seven Strengths our kids will need as adults, that parents should encourage. It's creativity: see what John Taylor Gatto has to say about this issue here.

September 6, 2010

Many Service Jobs are in Big Cities

As many manufacturing jobs left the U.S., service jobs have taken over, particularly in the large cities. The BLS predicts major growth in several decent-paying service jobs, including these five career areas.

Keep in mind, however, that the BLS uses the past to predict the future. Since we're going through such a dramatic economic change, read anything that quotes the BLS with a grain of salt, realizing that the need for different jobs varies geographically, too.

September 3, 2010

Working With Your Hands: A Needed Attribute

For years, parents and teachers have pushed kids toward college. President Obama has actually said it's our kids' duty to go to college.

But the push for college has kept many kids from taking classes that teach them to work with their hands. In fact, classes like the ones we called "Industrial Arts" were dropped from high schools long ago because of a lack of student interest.

Now American companies are looking for people who can work with their hands, and they're willing to pay them well. It's time to teach our kids to make things!

September 2, 2010

Help for Learning Foreign Languages

We live in a global economy now, and it's important that our children be able to speak more than one language in order to communicate with their coworkers and customers some day.

Here's a site that's a portal to all sorts of free online help in learning a foreign language. Why not expose your children to a new language and stretch their minds? Kids pick up languages more quickly than adults do....they may end up teaching you!

September 1, 2010

The Return of the American Call Center?

Finally, the tide has turned in offshoring: the call center is returning to America!

No, this probably isn't the job you dream of for your child's future career. But in our current situation, the return of any jobs is a good thing. And for stay-at-home parents and those with disabilities that limit their choice of jobs, a call center job that allows you to work from home can be a wonderful thing.

Let's face it, there's little to celebrate in our economy right now, so let's applaud this little bit of good news.