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kristina cowan

Kristina Cowan

Kristina Cowan is a journalist with more than 15 years of experience. She has served as a writer, reporter and editor, covering education, business and women’s issues for a variety of publications and outlets, including The American Council on Education, Harvard University, Northwestern University, TheLadders.com, PayScale.com, AOL.com, Yahoo.com, Congressional Quarterly and Tribune Media Services. Her latest projects include writing about motherhood and women's issues, and launching several writing-critique groups. Kristina and her French-born husband live with their two small children in the Chicago area.

Most Recent Posts by Kristina Cowan
  • Unemployment During the Great Depression: Are We Getting Close?

    Each week delivers more grim news about some part of the economy, including job cuts and climbing unemployment. All the gloom-and-doom has some recalling unemployment during the Great Depression. At this point the U.S. unemployment rate is 6.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; peak unemployment during the Great Depression was 25 percent. Are we inching toward a similarly unsavory fate?

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  • NFL Player Salaries: What They Are, and Why

    NFL player salaries are excessive, aren't they? It depends whom you ask. National Football League team owners seem to think NFL player salaries are bloated: in May they voted unanimously to terminate their labor contract with the players union early, in a move to cut salary costs. Even some NFL players themselves believe salaries, particularly for rookies, are unfair. 

    So just what do NFL player salaries look like these days? According to a recent USA TODAY survey of player compensation, the top-paid player for 2008 is Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at $27.7 million, followed by Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen at $21.1 million, Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald at $17.1 million, and Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell at $16.9 million. The survey includes all signing bonuses in the initial contract year, as well as base pay and other bonuses. The story notes that teams are willing to fork over big bucks for NFL player salaries, especially for a quarterback who holds the promise of being a "marquee player."

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  • U.S. Unemployment Rates Under President Bush Continue to Climb

    U.S. unemployment rates under President Bush have reached a 14-year high. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment climbed to 6.5 percent in October, as the country shed 240,000 jobs. U.S. unemployment rates under President Bush have certainly increased--for example, the unemployment rate for October 2007 was 4.7 percent. So far this year, the country has lost 1.2 million jobs, and over half of the decrease took place in just the last three months. Some suggest the situation could grow more bleak: Goldman Sachs projects the unemployment rate will reach 8.5 percent by the end of 2009. Another source I spoke with recently believes it could soar as high as 10 percent in the near future.

    With U.S. unemployment rates under President Bush rising, there's more talk of the nation being caught in a recession. In a New York Times story, Stuart G. Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh, notes, “The economy is slipping deeper into a recessionary sinkhole that is getting broader. The layoffs are getting larger, and coming faster. We’re likely to see at least another six months of more jobs reports like this.” In a Wall Street Journal roundup of economists' reactions to the unemployment report, Joshua Shapiro of MFR Inc. says, "History tells that once the labor market weakens as much as it has in the past several months, job-shedding takes on a life of its own and tends to persist for a long while. We expect the employment data to be dreadful for many months to come and consequently for consumer spending to continue to decline."

    The job losses were far-reaching: manufacturing lost 90,000 jobs, construction shed 49,000, professional and business services saw a decline of 51,000, and retail trade employment lost 38,000. Health care, however, added 26,000 jobs.

    As the unemployment rate in America increases and President Bush's tenure draws to a close, all eyes are on President-elect Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress set to take the reins in Washington in January. Will the new leadership provide relief?

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  • Joe the Plumber and the Middle-Class Squeeze

    Joe Wurzelbacher is getting his 15 minutes of fame--raising questions about what it means to be middle class. Better known as Joe the Plumber, he stepped into the limelight earlier this month when he asked Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic contender for the White House, about his tax plan. According to a New York Times story, Wurzelbacher asked Obama if he believed in the American dream, and voiced concern about having to pay higher taxes as a small-business owner. “I’m getting ready to buy a company that makes $250,000 to $280,000 a year,” he told Obama. “Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it?" Obama gave a lengthy response, toward the end saying, “I think that when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

    In the time since, the episode has made the rounds on the Internet, TV, in print and perhaps most notably, during the final presidential debate at Hofstra University. Sen. John McCain raised the issue of Joe the Plumber, and both he and Obama went on to explain why their tax plans would be more beneficial for America. According to a New York Times breakdown of the candidates' tax plans, Obama would repeal the Bush tax cuts for households earning more than $250,000, extend middle-class cuts, like the $1,000 child tax credit and the marriage penalty relief, and triple the earned income tax credit for workers earning minimum wage. McCain would make permanent nearly all of Bush's tax cuts, increase $3,500 personal exemption for dependents by $500 a year, until it reaches $7,000 in 2016, and offer the option to pay taxes under a simplified code with only two tax rates.

    So what do the plans mean for middle-class workers like Wurzelbacher? Tax analysts in a NYT article said neither Wurzelbacher's personal taxes nor those of his business would be likely to rise under Obama's tax plan. However, a NYT graphic in the same story illustrates that the tax bill of a plumber in a situation similar to Wurzelbacher's would be slightly less under McCain's plan--$20,468--compared to $21,068 under the Obama plan, assuming no retirement contributions.

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  • Average Salary Increases: What's On the Horizon for 2009?

    Over the last several weeks, it seems the United States has come entirely unglued--at least financially. It's enough to make any worker uneasy about job security and compensation. With all the fiscal unrest, we wonder: what can we expect for an average salary increase in 2009, in light of the sorry state of the economy?

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  • Does Your Salary History Really Matter to a Future Employer?

    Your salary history tells an important story of how far you've come along a career path, so it's fitting that a prospective employer might be interested in learning more about your past earnings. Yet it's unfair to take a salary history at face value, because there are so often back-stories that need explaining.

    Career experts say you should be prepared to discuss your salary history with a prospective employer, along with any back-stories. For example, if you changed careers and took a pay cut in the process, you'll want to share that. Still you don't want to put yourself at a disadvantage, so it's important to tailor your approach to the circumstances.

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  • How to Handle Salary Requirements When Applying for a Job

    Job interviewing is like art: it requires skill, dexterity, and the right tools and environment. Make one wrong move and the result can be disastrous. This is especially true when it comes to discussing salary requirements. As a job-seeker, approaching a conversation with a prospective employer about salary requirements can be tricky.

    How soon can you expect an employer to ask you about your salary requirements? Should you ever include salary requirements in a cover letter? How can you pick a salary that doesn't aim too high or too low?

    To find sage answers to these and other basic questions about salary requirements, I tapped several career experts for their wisdom.

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  • Salary Negotiation in Tough Times: What Not to Do

    The U.S. fiscal climate is going from bad to worse, with Wall Street firms crumbling and unemployment edging ever higher. All this makes for an uneven landscape for salary negotiations, which aren't easy even during a robust economy. To succeed with salary negotiations in tough times, experts say workers should definitely avoid certain tactics.

    Holly Weeks, author of “Failure To Communicate: How Conversations Go Wrong And What You Can Do To Right Them," says it's important not to cop a combative stance during salary negotiations. She explains: " ... the typical approach is to think of this as warfare, there will be a winner and loser, someone is one up, usually the boss is one up, and the worker is one down." But turning a salary negotiation into a battlefield isn't an effective strategy, so you shouldn't be combative, or assume your manager will be.

    "At the same time, it’s possible your counterpart will shift into a combat mentality. So you will have to think about ways of handling the conversation unilaterally instead of assuming [your boss] will meet you half-way," Weeks says.

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  • What is the Minimum Wage in the United States, and Is It Fair?

    If you've recently asked the question, "what is the minimum wage in the United States?" you might be surprised to learn it went up again--from $5.85/hour to $6.55/hour--on July 24. After all, the federal minimum wage was $5.15 for a decade, until last year, when legislation mandated three increases over three years. In 2009, the minimum wage will rise again, to $7.25. In calculating the yearly earnings of a minimum-wage earner at the current rate, it comes out to about $13,100/year (before taxes). That hardly seems like a reasonable income, even if you're living in a very low cost-of-living area. It also begs a few questions: Should there be a minimum wage law? Is the current law fair?

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  • Personal Budgeting Strategies: How Americans are Managing Stagnant Pay in Tough Times

    As economic concerns among families persist, workers struggle to make the most of their incomes and refuse to give up their summer vacations.

    Kate McLaughlin’s paycheck doesn’t stretch far enough these days.

    “We already take the subway to work, walk to the library and post office, and drive used (9 and 18 year old) cars,” says McLaughlin, a cooperative education coordinator at Northeastern University in Boston, who’s been forced to tighten down her personal budgeting strategies. “The main change my husband and I have made is to stop using our credit card for gas, grocery shopping and eating out … We just set aside a certain amount of cash for food and gas at the beginning of the month (literally, one envelope for food and one envelope in each car for gas) and that’s what we have.”

    The McLaughlins aren’t the only family feeling the economic pressures of rising food and gas prices.  More families are curbing their spending habits, and developing personal budgeting strategies. What’s putting the squeeze on the McLaughlins and other workers? The uptick in food and gas prices plays an important part, experts say. As of Aug. 11, rising gas prices brought the average cost of gas to $3.81/gallon, up $1.04 from a year ago, according to the Energy Information Administration.

    The USDA’s Economic Research Service expects rising food prices to increase 4.5 to 5.5 percent in 2008. Over the last 15-20 years, food-price inflation has been around 2.5 percent per year, according to USDA economist Ephraim Leibtag. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says in June, average weekly earnings when adjusted for inflation were down 2.4 percent from a year ago.

    If your paycheck isn’t stretching far enough these days, consider switching to a high paying career, asking for a raise, or using personal budgeting strategies. 

    Here are more ways Americans are using personal budgeting strategies to navigate fiscally uncertain times. Keep reading--you might be surprised.

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