Posts Tagged Christmas

No Cheer for the Jobless –


No Cheer for the Jobless


Published: December 28, 2013


The House Republicans who refused to renew expiring federal jobless benefits before leaving Washington for an extended Christmas break have shown no inclination to revisit the issue when they return to work in January. This is unconscionable. In each of the previous seven major recessions, dating back to 1958, Congress has never let federal benefits expire when the need has been as great as it is today. And for good reason. Prematurely ending benefits inflicts needless harm on families — the average benefit is about $270 a week — as well as avoidable damage on the economy by denting essential spending.

Related News

·         Benefits Ending for One Million Unemployed (December 28, 2013)

The expiration of the federal benefit program this weekend means that 1.3 million people who had been receiving assistance will be cut off this week. In the first half of 2014, another estimated 1.9 million people who would otherwise have qualified for federal benefits will find that there is no federal program to turn to. By the second half of 2014, that tally will rise by another 1.6 million people.

There is a common misperception that renewing federal benefits means providing jobless aid indefinitely. That is not how it works. Federal benefits kick in when state benefits run out, generally after 26 weeks. The duration of federal benefits depends mainly on a state’s jobless rate. In most states, federal benefits last for either 14 weeks, or 20 to 28 weeks. Recently, the average duration was 29 weeks, a figure that is elevated by states with very high joblessness. Illinois, Nevada and Rhode Island, for example, qualify for the federal maximum of up to 47 weeks.

Another misperception is that ending benefits will help to end unemployment. In that scenario, Republicans see themselves as practicing tough love, jolting dependents into finding jobs. That also is not how it works. Long-term unemployment is high because there are not enough jobs, not because millions of Americans have suddenly lost their work ethic. At last count, there were still nearly three unemployed people for every job opening; in a healthy economy, the ratio is about one to one. At last count, the average spell of unemployment was 37.2 weeks, nearly 20 weeks longer than the prerecession level. And as demonstrated in North Carolina, which has cut state jobless benefits and effectively rejected federal benefits, slashing aid has led not to more jobs but to despair.

Congressional Democrats and some Republicans have said they will try to reinstate federal jobless benefits when Congress returns. If they don’t succeed, miserliness will be the prevailing public policy.

Meet The New York Times’s Editorial Board »

 No Cheer for the Jobless –


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Honest Cabbie Gets $10K Reward – Vegas driver who turned in $300K is rewarded

Honest Cabbie Gets $10K Reward


By John Johnson, Newser Staff


Posted Dec 28, 2013



(NEWSER) – The cabbie in Vegas who returned $300,000 in cash left in his car has gotten a five-figure reward for his honesty. Gerardo Gamboa received a $10,000 thank-you from the absent-minded gambler, reports the Las Vegas Sun. The amazing find took place a few days before Christmas, when Gamboa looked inside a paper bag in his cab and discovered six fat stacks of $100 bills. He turned it in, and authorities were able to get it back to the unidentified local poker player who left it behind. The poker player then beefed up his original $5 tip.

“I’m taking it to the bank for now,” says Gamboa of his windfall. “But after that, I don’t know what is going to happen.”

 Honest Cabbie Gets $10K Reward – Vegas driver who turned in $300K is rewarded.


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The Fear Economy –


The Fear Economy


Published: December 26, 2013


More than a million unemployed Americans are about to get the cruelest of Christmas “gifts.” They’re about to have their unemployment benefits cut off. You see, Republicans in Congress insist that if you haven’t found a job after months of searching, it must be because you aren’t trying hard enough. So you need an extra incentive in the form of sheer desperation.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Paul Krugman

As a result, the plight of the unemployed, already terrible, is about to get even worse. Obviously those who have jobs are much better off. Yet the continuing weakness of the labor market takes a toll on them, too. So let’s talk a bit about the plight of the employed.

Some people would have you believe that employment relations are just like any other market transaction; workers have something to sell, employers want to buy what they offer, and they simply make a deal. But anyone who has ever held a job in the real world — or, for that matter, seen a Dilbert cartoon — knows that it’s not like that.

The fact is that employment generally involves a power relationship: you have a boss, who tells you what to do, and if you refuse, you may be fired. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If employers value their workers, they won’t make unreasonable demands. But it’s not a simple transaction. There’s a country music classic titled “Take This Job and Shove It.” There isn’t and won’t be a song titled “Take This Consumer Durable and Shove It.”

So employment is a power relationship, and high unemployment has greatly weakened workers’ already weak position in that relationship.

We can actually quantify that weakness by looking at the quits rate — the percentage of workers voluntarily leaving their jobs (as opposed to being fired) each month. Obviously, there are many reasons a worker might want to leave his or her job. Quitting is, however, a risk; unless a worker already has a new job lined up, he or she doesn’t know how long it will take to find a new job, and how that job will compare with the old one.

And the risk of quitting is much greater when unemployment is high, and there are many more people seeking jobs than there are job openings. As a result, you would expect to see the quits rate rise during booms, fall during slumps — and, indeed, it does. Quits plunged during the 2007-9 recession, and they have only partially rebounded, reflecting the weakness and inadequacy of our economic recovery.

Now think about what this means for workers’ bargaining power. When the economy is strong, workers are empowered. They can leave if they’re unhappy with the way they’re being treated and know that they can quickly find a new job if they are let go. When the economy is weak, however, workers have a very weak hand, and employers are in a position to work them harder, pay them less, or both.

Is there any evidence that this is happening? And how. The economic recovery has, as I said, been weak and inadequate, but all the burden of that weakness is being borne by workers. Corporate profits plunged during the financial crisis, but quickly bounced back, and they continued to soar. Indeed, at this point, after-tax profits are more than 60 percent higher than they were in 2007, before the recession began. We don’t know how much of this profit surge can be explained by the fear factor — the ability to squeeze workers who know that they have no place to go. But it must be at least part of the explanation. In fact, it’s possible (although by no means certain) that corporate interests are actually doing better in a somewhat depressed economy than they would if we had full employment.

What’s more, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest that this reality helps explain why our political system has turned its backs on the unemployed. No, I don’t believe that there’s a secret cabal of C.E.O.’s plotting to keep the economy weak. But I do think that a major reason why reducing unemployment isn’t a political priority is that the economy may be lousy for workers, but corporate America is doing just fine.

And once you understand this, you also understand why it’s so important to change those priorities.

There’s been a somewhat strange debate among progressives lately, with some arguing that populism and condemnations of inequality are a diversion, that full employment should instead be the top priority. As some leading progressive economists have pointed out, however, full employment is itself a populist issue: weak labor markets are a main reason workers are losing ground, and the excessive power of corporations and the wealthy is a main reason we aren’t doing anything about jobs.

Too many Americans currently live in a climate of economic fear. There are many steps that we can take to end that state of affairs, but the most important is to put jobs back on the agenda.

 The Fear Economy –


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Confirmed: This is the worst Congress ever – The Week

Confirmed: This is the worst Congress ever

So say the American people — and history

By Jon Terbush | December 26, 20133


Time for a "do better" New Year's resolution?

Time for a “do better” New Year’s resolution? (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)


Though millions of Americans received Christmas gifts Wednesday, none got the one thing just about everybody wanted. No, not a new iPhone: A new Congress.

Two-thirds of Americans in a CNN poll released Thursday said the current Congress was the worst one in their lifetimes. And it wasn’t just one party or demographic who felt that way.

“That sentiment exists among all demographic and political subgroups. Men, women, rich, poor, young, old — all think this year’s Congress has been the worst they can remember,” CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said.

Three cheers for bipartisanship!

Meanwhile, three-fourths of respondents said lawmakers had “done nothing to address the country’s problems” through the first year of the 113th Congress. That gets at what’s primarily to blame for Congress’ horrible image: Lawmakers didn’t do much of anything this year, and the few things they did do were spectacularly infuriating. Heck, one of Congress’ most notable actions was failing to pass a bill to fund the government and, as a result, shuttering Washington for two weeks.

It’s not just a skewed, subjective view of congressional inaction either. The 113th Congress is statistically on track to be one of the least productive in history.

The 113th Congress passed only 66 laws in its first year, according to GovTrack. That was the lowest tally in four decades, or as far back as GovTrack has reliable data. Worse, only 58 of those bills became law, and many of them did nothing more than name post offices.

Meanwhile, many enormously popular bills fizzled. Nine in ten Americans supported tougher background checks for gun purchases, though Congress spiked gun control legislation. Two-thirds of Americans supported the Senate’s bipartisan immigration bill, but the House refused to take it up this year.

So yes, people aren’t too thrilled with how Congress has been functioning, a sentiment that’s been made clear throughout the year. Polls have found Congress less popular than dog turds and cockroaches, and in November, Congress’ approval rating fell to an all-time low of nine percent, according to Gallup.

Don’t count on that trend turning around any time soon either. Sure, Congress just passed a bipartisan budget agreement before fleeing Washington for the holidays, but that compromise was relatively tiny, and there are other major showdowns looming, including yet another one over the debt ceiling. Oh, and 2014 is a midterm election year, which should make lawmakers even more tepid toward major action.

In other words, the 113th Congress is already one of the most unpopular and least-productive in history, and it’s probably only going to get worse.

 Confirmed: This is the worst Congress ever – The Week.


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Join the Ugly Sweater Party |

Join the Ugly Sweater Party

Ugly sweaters have taken over. Here’s why we love to bask in their hideous warmth

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards 


Christmas Sweater

Getty Images

Don’t put away your ugly holiday sweaters just yet. The holiday theme party craze has staying power this season. If you missed your local ugly sweater run billed as the “ugliest 5K on the planet” that’s held in 32 cities in the U.S. and Canada, you can still make the ugly sweater church potluck and tacky sweater pub crawl. Remember when we used to exchange ugly sweaters at white elephant parties? These days you can’t afford to give a good one away. You’ll need it for the surge of ugly sweater white elephant parties where you wear the sweaters and bring a different gift. An ugly dog sweater, perhaps?

There used to be a time when ugly sweaters were considered vintage kitsch as people discovered them in thrift stores or relatives’ closets and wore them as statements that softly mocked the manufactured holiday sentiment of 1970s Christmases. Or at least they generated a good laugh. I’m thinking of Bridget Jones’ favorite reindeer jumper worn by Colin Firth’s Mark Darcy.

Now ugly sweaters are so mainstream that the Whole Foods of Boston held the “tackiest holiday party of the year” last week. Bank of America released a commercial this season in which a couple used the cash back from their credit card purchases to throw an ugly sweater party. Coke Zero sponsored an Ugly Sweater Generator website this fall in which participants had the opportunity to design their own hideous garments. The company hired knitters to make the 100 most popular designs.

So why do we love ugly sweaters so much? Well, besides being warmer than sparkly holiday tank tops, they’re fun in a geeky sort of way, explains Shelby Walsh, president of Trend Hunter, an agency that follows social and cultural trends. “What we’ve found is that glamorizing awkward has become the new cool,” she says, referring to the popularity of the Facebook favorite “These sweaters are getting tackier and tackier. It’s almost a competition to see who can make the most fun of themselves.”

In fact, the most devoted ugly sweater wearers have taken the fashion to a new creative level. ( published a slide show of some doozies.) People attach jingle bells, wear battery packs hooked up to blinking lights and glue on 3-D touches, such as cotton balls for snow or orange snowman noses. “It’s like Halloween for Christmas,” says Adam Paulson, a Chicago financial adviser who started a business selling ugly sweaters on the Internet with two friends in 2009.

When they launched the site four years ago, they scoured local thrift stores and sold 80 the first season. Now they have 10,000 sweaters in stock. Paulson’s favorite embellishments: A sweater with a baby doll in a cloth baby carrier that was sewn on the front. “It was supposed to be Baby Jesus in a Baby Bjorn,” he says. There was also a woman who wrapped garland around a green sweater and carried a star tree topper. “When she lifted her hand, she would look like a Christmas tree,” says Paulson, co-author of the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book: The Definitive Guide to Getting Your Ugly On.

The ugly sweater trend strikes an emotional chord by connecting you to the Christmases of your childhood. According to Paulson, that includes parties with “old school” touches, such as the Chipmunks Christmas album and the yule log on the TV. “There’s an important nostalgia element,” adds Jennifer Baumgartner, a clinical psychologist and author of You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You. “You think about a relative or favorite teacher who used to wear them. When you wear your Christmas sweater, you’re celebrating that association.”

The phenomenon also facilitates social connection, adds Krystine Batcho, a psychology professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York who studies nostalgia. “Research shows that one of the most beneficial aspects of nostalgia is that it promotes a sense of belonging. You feel like you’re part of a little club where everyone gets the same joke,” she says. “With ugly sweaters, you try to out-dork each other and laugh. It’s a great way to combat holiday stress.”

Join the Ugly Sweater Party |


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Found in Back of Vegas Cab: $300K in Cash – And cabbie turns it in

Found in Back of Vegas Cab: $300K in Cash


By Newser Editors and Wire Services


Posted Dec 25, 2013


A Checker Cab in Las Vegas, Friday, March 1, 2013.

A Checker Cab in Las Vegas, Friday, March 1, 2013.   (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)


(NEWSER) – Las Vegas cab driver Gerardo Gamboa thought someone left a bag of chocolates in the back seat. But this stash turned out to be cold hard cash. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that Gamboa was making a pickup Monday at the Bellagio when a hotel doorman noticed the brown paper bag and handed it to him. At a red light, the Checker Cab driver’s curiosity got the best of him. To his surprise, he found six bundles of $100 bills totaling $300,000.

Gamboa called his dispatcher and took the money to the company’s main office. Las Vegas police and casino officials were able to link the money to a well-known poker player they declined to identify. Still unknown: whether Gamboa will receive a big Christmas tip.

 Found in Back of Vegas Cab: $300K in Cash – And cabbie turns it in.


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US leads world in smartphone porn viewing – NBC

US leads world in smartphone porn viewing

Devin Coldewey NBC News



Traffic on Christmas goes down everywhere Pornhub tracks… except Japan.

The United States is the first to achieve a rather dubious milestone in technology: More than half our Internet porn is watched on mobile phones, judging by the habits of visitors to Pornhub, one of the Web’s largest distributors of online smut.

In the website’s 2013 Year in Review post (NSFW link), several interesting statistics are revealed — but to establish credibility, the first numbers shown are the site’s overall traffic: 1.68 million visits per hour on average, leading to a total of 14.7 billion visitors during the last year.

Worldwide, the desktop is still the favored porn platform, accounting for 51 percent of visits to Pornhub, well above the 40 percent that came from a mobile device. The U.S., however, perhaps owing to impressive smartphone market penetration, saw globe-leading consumption on mobiles: 52 percent, plus another 10 percent on tablets. Good old desktop watching is being left behind — though there’s no word on DVDs, magazines and peep shows.

There are a number of other stats, from the decline in porn viewer hours during holidays and sports events to the months and days of the week with the most and least visits. Traffic is even broken down by country, so you can feel a little pride — or maybe a little shame — on account of the national habits.

Head over to the post for a few more not necessarily tech-oriented highlights (many not safe for work, naturally).

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is

 US leads world in smartphone porn viewing – NBC


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How to help the long-term unemployed: 5 theories – The Week

How to help the long-term unemployed:
5 theories
Just in time for the holidays, Congress is abandoning those who have been out of work longest
The bipartisan budget deal will leave a wide swath of unemployed Americans with less financial help.
The bipartisan budget deal will leave a wide swath of unemployed Americans with less financial help. (T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)

ust in time for the holidays, Congress is abandoning the long-term unemployed, said Matthew O’Brien at The Atlantic. Thanks to last week’s budget deal, 1.3 million workers who have been unemployed for more than six months will see their benefits expire on Dec. 28. Another 800,000 will have their aid cut in the next few months. Conservatives love this move, of course. “They think the only reason someone couldn’t find a job today is if they’re lazy — or addicted to drugs — so we just need to kick them off the dole to make them less lazy.” But such “social Darwinism masquerading as economics” ignores the fact that this economic recovery “still feels like a recession to most people” — not least because there are still three jobless people for every opening.

Indeed, if there’s a word to describe the plight of the long-term unemployed, it’s “screwed,” saidMatthew Yglesias at Slate. Most of them “probably won’t be able to find jobs ever” because companies don’t want to hire anyone who has been out of work for more than a few months. “The country failed these people first by letting the labor market stay so slack for so long that they became unhireable, and now we’re going to fail them again.”

In fact, extending benefits yet again would be the height of cruelty, said The Wall Street Journalin an editorial. “Far more than another government check,” the jobless need the U.S. economy to create more jobs. And that simply won’t happen if employers and states remain saddled with “higher job-killing payroll taxes” to pay for extended benefits. Back in 2009, when the Obama administration extended these benefits to up to 99 weeks, unemployment was at 10 percent; do we need to extend them again now that it’s seven percent and we’re in a recovery “that President Obama often hails as miraculous”?

It’s about time we woke up to the way “generous unemployment benefits may prevent jobs from opening up,” said John Carney at CNBC. Employers know they have to pay significantly more than the benefit of roughly $300 a week to get new hires to show up; if they can’t pay those wages, they don’t bother adding jobs. The answer isn’t to extend more benefits, but to reform them “so that they aren’t job-destroying.”

Some reforms certainly “merit a try,” said Bloomberg. We could streamline our retraining programs and help people pay for moving to take a job. But in the meantime, extending benefits for another year would “directly relieve the distress” of people who want to work, at a reasonable price in government spending. When the U.S. has “jobs for all who want them,” it will be far easier to make the case against extending a hand. But “the U.S. isn’t there yet, not by a long way.”

How to help the long-term unemployed: 5 theories – The Week.


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Good Poor, Bad Poor –


Good Poor, Bad Poor


Published: December 19, 2013 


On Sundays, this time of year, my parents would pack a gaggle of us kids into the station wagon for a tour of two Christmas worlds. First, we’d go to the wealthy neighborhoods on a hill — grand Tudor houses glowing with the seasonal incandescence of good fortune. Faces pressed against the car windows, we wondered why their Santa was a better toy-maker than ours.

Amanda Koster for The New York Times

Timothy Egan

Then, down to the valley, where sketchy-looking people lived in vans by the river, in plywood shacks with rusted appliances on the front lawn, their laundry frozen stiff on wire lines. The rich, my mother explained, were lucky. The poor were unfortunate.

Dissenting voices rose from the back seat. But didn’t the poor deserve their fate? Didn’t they make bad decisions? Weren’t some of them just moochers? And lazy? Well, yes, in many cases, my mother said, lighting one of her L&M cigarettes, which she bought by the carton at the Indian reservation. But neither rich nor poor had the moral high ground.

As the year ends, this argument is playing out in two of the most meanspirited actions left on the table by the least-productive Congress in modern history. The House, refuge of the shrunken-heart caucus, has passed a measure to eliminate food aid for four million Americans, starting next year. Many who would remain on the old food stamp program may have to pass a drug test to get their groceries. At the same time, Congress has let unemployment benefits expire for 1.3 million people, beginning just a few days after Christmas.

These actions have nothing to do with bringing federal spending into line, and everything to do with a view that poor people are morally inferior. Here’s a sample of this line of thought:

“The explosion of food stamps in this country is not just a fiscal issue for me,” said Representative Steve Southerland, Republican from Florida, chief crusader for cutting assistance to the poor. “This is a defining moral issue of our time.”

It would be a “disservice” to further extend unemployment assistance to those who’ve been out of work for some time, said Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. It encourages them to sit at home and do nothing.

“People who are perfectly capable of working are buying things like beer,” said Senator James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, on those getting food assistance in his state.

No doubt, poor people drink beer, watch too much television and have bad morals. But so do rich people. If you drug-tested members of Congress as a condition of their getting federal paychecks, you would have most likely caught Representative Trey Radel, Republican of Florida, who recently pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine. Would it be Grinch-like of me to point out that this same congressman voted for the bill that would force many hungry people to pee in a cup and pass a drug test before getting food? Should I also mention that the median net worth for new members of the current Congress is exactly $1 million more than that of the typical American household — and that that may influence their view?

For the record, the baseline benefit for those getting help under the old food stamp program works out to $1.40 a meal. And the average check for those on emergency unemployment is $300 a week. If you cut them off cold, the argument goes, these desperate folks would soon find a job and put real food on the table. They are poor because they are weak.

I met a wheat farmer not long ago in Montana whose family operation was getting nearly $300,000 a year in federal subsidies. With his crop in, this wealthy farmer was looking forward to spending a month in Hawaii. No one suggested that he pass a drug test to continue receiving his sizable handout, or that he be cut off cold, and encouraged to grow something that taxpayers wouldn’t have to subsidize.

One person deserves the handout, the other does not. But these distinctions are colored by your circumstances — where you stand depends on where you sit.

When a million Irish died during the Great Famine of the 1850s, many in the English aristocracy said the peasants deserved to starve because their families were too big and indolent. The British baronet overseeing food relief felt that the famine was God’s judgment, and an excellent way to get rid of surplus population. His argument on relief was the same one used by Rand Paul.

“The only way to prevent the people from becoming habitually dependent on government is to bring the operation to a close,” Sir Charles Trevelyan said about the relief plan at a time when thousands of Irish a day were dropping dead from hunger.

This week, Mayor Mike Bloomberg tried not to sound like a plutocrat out of Dickens when asked about the homeless girl, Dasani, at the center of Andrea Elliott’s extraordinary series in The New York Times — a Dickensian tale for the modern age.

“The kid was dealt a bad hand,” Bloomberg said. “I don’t know why. That’s just the way God works. Sometimes some of us are lucky, and some of us are not.”

And in that, he echoed my mother at Christmas. Luck is the residue of design, as the saying has it. But the most careful lives can be derailed — by cancer, a huge medical bill, a freak slap of weather, a massive failure of the potato crop. Virtue cannot prevent a “bad hand” from being dealt. And making the poor out to be lazy, or dependent, or stupid, does not make them less poor. It only makes the person saying such a thing feel superior.

 Good Poor, Bad Poor –


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McDonald’s Advice To Underpaid Employees: Sell Your Christmas Presents For Cash | ThinkProgress



Las Vegas, Nevada, America

Tis the season for holiday spirit: Yule logs, egg nog, festive lights and exchanging gifts with loved ones. If you work for McDonald’s, though, be sure to save those receipts.

McDonald’s McResource Line, a dedicated website run by the world’s largest fast-food chain to provide its 1.8 million employees with financial and health-related tips, offers a full page of advice for “Digging Out From Holiday Debt.” Among their helpful holiday tips: “Selling some of your unwanted possessions on eBay or Craigslist could bring in some quick cash.”

Elsewhere on the site, McDonald’s encourages its employees to break apart food when they eat meals, as “breaking food into pieces often results in eating less and still feeling full.” And if they are struggling to stock their shelves with food in the first place, the company offers assistance for workers applying for food stamps.

McDonald’s corporate officers have a history of offering questionable advice to their low-wage workers. Four months ago, the company partnered with Visa to distribute a sample “budget.” In it, the chain suggested that workers needn’t pay for such frivolous expenses like their heating bills, and factored in a monthly rent of $600. To workers living in New York City (home of 350+ stores) and other expensive metropolises, that number is almost comical.

McDonald’s employees are some of the most underpaid workers in the country. The company’s cashiers and “team members” earn, on average, $7.75 an hour, just 50 cents higher than the federal minimum wage. Responding to rising living costs, many stores have staged walk-outsstrikes and protests, demanding a living wage. In Europe, where the minimum wage for employees is $12, customers pay just pennies more than their American counterparts for the same menu items, while the stores themselves typically bring in higher profit margins than ones in the United States.

Of course, McDonalds has shown little willingness to negotiate higher salaries for their poorest workers even as labor rights groups up the pressure. Instead, their website has another piece of advice for people who are stressed about their meager paychecks: “Quit complaining,” the site suggests. “Stress hormones levels rise by 15% after 10 minutes of complaining.”

 McDonald’s Advice To Underpaid Employees: Sell Your Christmas Presents For Cash | ThinkProgress.


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