Hard times

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During hard times peoples’ true natures are shown. Some are supportive of their community. Others resort to a selfish survival mode of existence.

President Obama and his team are working to turn around the economy, but as he said in his inauguration speech, he cannot do it alone. It’s up to all of us.

The more money that is spent, the more money companies have to employ people. The more employed people, the more people are spending money.

However, instead of being on this upward spiral, we’re headed in the opposite direction. People aren’t spending money so companies are downsizing. The more unemployed people, the less people are spending money and the more companies collapse.

The Oregon unemployment rate shot from 7.2 percent in December to 9 percent last Wednesday. Since these statistics are largely based off of people who receive unemployment benefits rather than people actively searching for employment, the actual percentage is most likely much, much higher.

An informant that works in the state capitol building explained that the unemployment rate in Oregon is realistically more like 16¬–20 percent. That staggering percentage equates to approximately one out of every four or five people who need employment.

Meanwhile, the unemployed numbers are steadily increasing. Last Friday, Intel laid off 1,000 employees in Hillsboro. Surrounding businesses are bracing themselves for the ripple effect.

Instead of actively helping other people, the wealthy are donning the cloak of fear. Wealthy people are holding onto their money in fear of losing their individual elite status rather than trying to help the collective situation by spending.

Businesses are also controlled by fear. They know that they possess a massive amount of power over employees.

When the economy is in an upswing and there is a proportionate number of qualified job applicants for available jobs, the power is in the employees’ hands. Knowing that they could potentially lose good employees to a better deal elsewhere, businesses offer competitive wages, paid time off and benefits. Businesses have to play by the rules and treat employees with respect.

However, with thousands unemployed and each job vacancy receiving hundreds of applications, businesses that have the power are misusing it.

About a month ago, one of my friends scored a position as a waitress at a local bar. She was assured that she would work 40 hours a week at minimum wage plus tips. Instead, she began at about 30 hours a week and it kept dwindling from there. Then, the management requested that she come in at her scheduled time but not clock in.

She sat there for hours while it was decided whether it was busy enough to warrant paying her to work. After three unpaid hours, they usually decided to send her home.

I’ve heard similar stories from other justly disgruntled employees. Being forced to be at work unpaid is illegal but, like my friend, they are afraid to complain because there’s always a stack of applicants desperate to take their jobs.

Customers are also to blame. If you have enough money to eat at a restaurant, don’t stiff the staff on a 20 percent tip, especially if it’s good service. Waiters and waitresses are taxed in a higher tax bracket than most minimum-wage workers because the government is including tips. This works fairly only when they are receiving tips.

The large number of individuals who are eating out yet not tipping should irritate service industry workers. Tips make a huge difference to whether rent can be paid next month. Don’t get into the trap of thinking that these people are getting rich off minimum wage.

Plus, people working in customer service jobs have an even more miserable time than usual, because the economy has everyone’s spirits down. Customers vent their frustrations at customer service positions, especially over the phone.

Another unethical business practice I’ve noticed is companies laying off employees and hiring interns to do the same work for free. Internships are a good way of gaining experience, but it’s basically just a fancy word for unpaid labor. Regardless to what it’s called, businesses should not be allowed to have people work for free. There’s a reason that there’s a minimum-wage law.

Other businesses that have more work than their existing employees can already handle are having employees work overtime off the clock to make up for the lack of labor force. Instead of hiring new people to take up the extra work, they claim that they’re in a “hiring freeze.”

Instead of being controlled by fear, people in positions of power need to adopt a caring attitude of hope. People with money need to spend wisely rather than hoard it. Businesses need to treat employees fairly and with respect by paying them for time worked and not giving them an unreasonable amount of tasks.

Rich, middle class, lower income, or no income, a good economy benefits us all.

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