Part III – American Dream or American Myth?At the beginning of the 1900′s the industrial revolution was the new engine of the American economy and workers were a disposable commodity. The typical worker lined up at the factory door each morning before dawn hoping to be hired for the day. Only a few skilled workers (tool and die makers and machine set-up specialists) were “full-time”, and there were no regular raises, holidays, vacations, or benefits. Corporations and “trusts” called the shots and workers took what they could get.Part of our barbaric “Robber Baron” past you say? Think again. Fast forward 100 years and the working world is beginning to look very much the same. Approximately 25% of our workforce is comprised of temporary workers and that number is projected to grow to 40% by the year 2010! The largest employer in the U.S. is Manpower Inc., a huge “temp” agency trading the latest commodity…your labor. The difference between now and 100 years ago is that its not just the labor of muscle and sweat, it is the labor of skill and specialized knowledge, and includes attorneys, accountants, college professors, scientists, software engineers, and business executives. This growing army of “contingent workers” typically works for 8 to 40% less than their “full-time” counterparts, without benefits, and on an as-needed “just-in-time” basis.Is this new employment model an evil plot by corporate America to suppress the American worker? Not really. Corporations just do what they are structured to do. They minimize costs (including labor) and maximize profits for their shareholders within the boundaries of the market place and the market for labor is now global. During the last 20 years or so the American corporation has quietly evolved and restructured. In large part they have just adapted to a new global and digital economy. It would not be a stretch to say that we are in the middle of a “new economy” revolution every bit as disruptive as the industrial revolution a hundred years ago and that labor (skilled and professional), especially American labor, is at the short end of the stick.The old corporate model was rigid and highly structured. It was one of high vertical and horizontal integration, somewhat slow to make and implement decisions, highly controlled, and formally structured. It was also highly unionized with a relatively permanent workforce that enjoyed high wages, pensions, and health insurance (i.e. General Motors and U.S. Steel). This model dominated after WWII when the U.S. dominated the world economy and U.S. corporations faced very little global competition.However, global competition, free trade, and a digital age required a new model capable of rapid change and maximum flexibility. As corporate America evolved into this new model, American workers experienced “re-engineering”, downsizing, “rightsizing” (after mergers), off-shoring, outsourcing, the death of pensions and the birth of 401K’s, shared healthcare costs, and the rapid rise in population of the just-in-time or “contingent” worker. At the extreme the “new” corporation is “virtual”, with a few key employees and executives at the core and a network partner companies and contingent employees always in flux to meet the demands of a rapidly changing global market.This new trend of contingent labor has also spread to the public sector and shows no sign of slowing down or stabilizing. Many highly skilled and educated workers have been turned into reluctant “free agents” whose value has been bid down by a global labor market. These workers may think they are entrepreneurs, but they are really just employees without health benefits, no different than the factory worker of a 100 years ago lining up at dawn and hoping to be hired on for the day.
There’s nothing that can prevent someone from dying, since physical death is an absolute certainty that no one can escape. The fear for some people, though, is not what’s going to happen to them after they pass on, but more on who’s going to take care of their loved ones, especially if the people he’ll be leaving behind are either very young children or are incapacitated, or both.You can’t have control of what’s going to happen to you after death, but you sure can decide what’s going to happen to your assets once that event transpires. It’s called estate planning. This is the process by which a person (or even a family) arranges the transfer of his assets in anticipation of his death. And in estate planning, there are several documents to consider. Here are some of them:Last will and testament – This document takes front and center in all the planning. This is the document that legally provides for the transfers of assets after one’s death. It names a person to settle the estate, a trustee who will administer any trust established, and a guardian if there minor children. For those who die without having executed a will, they are considered to be ‘intestate.’ Under certain laws, if one is intestate, property goes first (or in major part) to a spouse, and then to children and their descendants.Trust – Persons preparing a will and testament can execute either ‘inter vivos’ or testamentary trusts (trusts established through a will). The difference between the two is that with the former, assets are transferred into the living during the trust creator’s lifetime, as opposed to testamentary trusts, where the transfer becomes operative at the time of death.Durable powers of attorney – A power of attorney is the document that authorizes a designated agent to carry out financial and business transactions for the person that’s establishing the document. This grants such agent to access bank accounts (and even brokerage accounts), deal with insurance companies, and even sell property. This effectively allows the agent to step into the shoes of the person he is assisting.Healthcare power of attorney – This document is a form of a living will that is designed, among other things, to: provide instructions for the conditions should life-sustaining procedures be utilized, authorize who will make healthcare decisions, and ensure that the person chosen to make these decisions is given access to the executor’s medical records during incapacity.These are the important documents to take into account so a person can have the opportunity to make personal and financial decisions, both in life and after death, without the need for court orders.