Friday, October 2, 2015

The Age of The Telecommuter

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Imagine waking up to a horrible storm, several subway lines have been affected.  Your job is an hour and a half away, due to service changes getting there could take double that.  Lucky for you, you work from home.

Now imagine that you’ve finally booked that much-needed vacation.  Seven days of rest and relaxation with family, friends…and your work colleagues who will be joining in via conference calls and e-mails, because unfortunately, you will be working while on vacation.

Those are two very different scenarios, but both quite possible due to expansions of workplace technology that have made it easier than ever to work from remote locations. 

As of 2013, there are 3.3 million Americans, not counting those self-employed, working from home.  Working from home comes with many perks.  Schedule flexibility, fewer interruptions from coworkers, and a lack of commuting that not only saves money on transportation costs but also helps the environment by reducing pollution associated with driving to work daily.

Work from home opportunities can be found in many fields, primarily health care, information technology, education, nonprofit, and sales and marketing.  However, if your current job does not offer any telecommuting opportunities, that’s not necessarily a deal breaker. 

If telecommuting is something that you are truly interested in, experts suggest you pitch the idea to your boss.  Begin by writing a proposal, address the pros and cons and try to come up with solutions for any anticipated challenges.  Ask for a trial period, a fixed amount of time in which you could demonstrate the benefits associated with your proposal.   Lastly, be prepared to negotiate!  Be clear on the details so that both you and your employer get positive results.

If you can work from home, however, then it’s very likely that you can work from vacation as well.  Although many of us may cringe at the idea, the reality is that most of us already do it.  Working outside the office is not limited to telecommuters, research shows that 60% of all American employees work while on vacation.  Although the best option would be to unplug all together, sometimes you may have no choice.  So how can you get the work done and still have fun?

The first step is to set aside specific times.  Designate a few hours a day (i.e early in the morning or before going to bed) to check work emails and perform pressing work related duties.  Make sure you plan your time effectively, so that the things that need to get done, do get done. 

Conversely, designate “family/friends” times in which you will not handle any work business at all.  Make sure to inform your colleagues of these times beforehand so that they know what to expect.   Finally, do not be afraid to delegate less important items to other co-workers.  After all, you are on vacation!

Working remotely results in increased productivity and decreased absenteeism, benefiting both employers and employees.  The workplace has outgrown the traditional in-office setting, calling employees to work in non-traditional ways, whether that be while sitting in their living rooms in pajamas or lounging on a hammock on the beach in Costa Rica. 

Originally published in LatinTrends Magazine, August 2015

Thursday, October 1, 2015

World's Billionaires

They say that while the poor get poorer, the rich get richer.  This may very well be the case, as there are now more billionaires than ever before.  Every March, Forbes Magazine ranks the richest people on earth, compiling the renowned The World's Billionaires list. This year’s list is made up of 1,862 individuals with billion dollar fortunes, a significant increase from the 1,645 reported just last year.

The list is typically compromised of the usual magnates:  Global investor, Warren Buffet, the third richest man in the world with a $72.7 billion dollar net worth, industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch valued at $42.9 billion dollars respectively, and of course Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, who with a net worth of $79.2 billion, has held the title of the richest man in the world for sixteen out of the past twenty-one years. 
However, there are a few surprises. 
Basketball great, Michael Jordan, for example recently joined the billionaires club with a net worth of $1 billion.   A few more women have also joined the league.  This year there were 197 women billionaires, up from the 172 the year before.  Christy Walton, widow of John Walton, son of WalMart founder Sam Walton, is currently the wealthiest woman in the world, with an inherited net worth of $41.7 billion.  Liliane Bentacourt, heiress to L’Oreal cosmetics, is the second, her net worth valued at about $40.1 billion. 
What’s perhaps most surprising however, is that although many of the world’s billionaires achieved their wealth through inheritance alone, most of them are actually self-made.  A notable example is Elizabeth Holmes, whom after dropping out of Stanford at 19 years old, has not only revolutionized health care with her blood testing company, Theranos, but has managed to become the worlds youngest female billionaire in the process.   Then there’s Jorge Perez, who immigrated to the US from Argentina to become an urban planner, and is now amassing billions developing luxury condos in Florida.

There are many other Latinos and Hispanics counting their billions all the way to the bank.   For example, there’s Jorge Paulo Lemann, the richest man in Brazil, who accumulated his wealth as a beer baron through stakes in the world’s largest brewery and the richest man in Colombia, banker Luis Carlos Sarmiento, who’s investments have earned him a $12.5 Billion net. 

At 30 years old, the youngest Latino Billionaire is Julio Mario Santo Domingo, III, a New York City DJ and heir to grandfather Julio Mario Santo Domingo’s Colombian beer company fortune.  Other notable Latino billionaires include, Mexican business woman Eva Gonda Rivera, widow of Eugenio Garza Laguera, former chair of Latin America's biggest independent beverage distributor and Peruvian Eduardo Belmont, owner of the cosmetics company Belcorp. 

The wealthiest Latina woman in the world is Iris Fontbona.  The Chilean businesswoman ranks 82 among the world’s billionaires. After inheriting her late husband Andronico Luksic’s mining business in 2005, her net worth is currently estimated at $13.3 billion. 

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  In fact, two of the top five wealthiest billionaires are Latinos. Amancio Ortega, founder of the retail company Zara, ranks as the fourth richest person in the world. The son of a railway worker, Ortega’s first job was in a shirtmaker’s shop.  Now, his very own clothing company has accumulated him a worth of $64.5 billion. 

Finally, there’s CarlosSlim Helu.  With a net worth of $77.1 Billion, the Mexican investor is considered the second richest man in the world. At a point, he even out-earned Bill Gates, and was named the richest man on earth from 2010-2013.  Helu’s wide array of business ventures extends across a number of fields, from telecommunications, to retail, to automotive services to energy and construction, to name just a few. With stakes in so many places, Gates better watch out, it looks like Helu is still out for that number one spot. 

Originally published in LatinTrends Magazine, August 2015 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

A Dissection of the Prison Population

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world…by a landslide.  No other country even comes close to incarcerating as many of its citizens as us.   In the past thirty years, the American prison population has increased by about 500%, from 300,000 in the 1980s to over 2.2 million now.  It is no wonder that prisons are severely overcrowded, and if the cast of the popular Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black” is any indication, a sizable amount of those in prison are Latino.

Data on incarcerated Latinos is hard to find due to ambiguous record keeping, as Hispanic is characterized as an ethnicity rather than a race and the federal government's data source for national crime statistics does not keep data on ethnicity.  However, as per the SentencingProject, an organization that promotes reform in sentencing policies, it has been estimated that as of 2012, Latinos are four times as likely as Caucasians to end up in prison.  One out of every three people in Federal prisons is of Latino descent.  The numbers for state prisons are just as alarming.  Data records show that even though White Americans make up 78 percent of the U.S. population, they only account for 35 percent of the state prison population, while Hispanics, who make up 17 percent of the U.S. population, account for 21 percent of those in state prisons.

This overwhelming number of incarcerations continues to increase even though overall crime in America is at a steady decline.  The United States crime rate saw its peak in the 1990s.  Since then, violent crimes, such as homicides, rapes and robberies, have dropped by an average of 48% nationwide. This increased number of incarcerations but decreased number in crime can be largely attributed to escalated policing and harsh sentencing, practices, which many believe target African Americans and Latinos.

This allegation may not be too far fetched.  It seems as if there is a new case of law enforcement using deadly force against men of color who pose minimal threat almost weekly.  In Baltimore, for example, the city has seen weeks of unrest due to the death of a 25-year-old man at the hands of police.   Since the number of Latinos that reside in that city has almost doubled in the past 10 years, it is no surprise that many Latinos stand in solidarity with Black Americans regarding this issue.  Gustavo Torres, executive Director of Casa de Maryland, a Latino and immigration advocacy organization, told MSNBC that Latinos in Maryland are also concerned with the hostile relationships between law enforcement and minorities.  This volatile relationship is perhaps most obvious when examining drug-specific arrests.

Drug related offenses have increased by an astounding 1100% since the 1980s.  To the extent that those currently incarcerated for drug related crimes amount to more than those incarcerated for all offenses in 1980.  Even though government records show that White Americans use and sell drugs at a higher rate, more than 80% of those arrested for drug offenses (primarily marijuana possession) are Black and/or Latino.

This stark comparison is not surprising, considering that research also shows that Black and Latinos are stopped and frisked three times more often than White Americans.  A recent study conducted by Christopher Petrella at the University of California Berkeley, found that not only are people of color more likely to be arrested, but they are also more likely to serve time in private prisons.  Private prisons became popular in 1984, when as a response to the massive costs associated with the overpopulation of federal and state prisons, a group of Tennessee investors created an organization called Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).  The CCA uses private investment or venture capital to build and run their own prisons then make profit off of them by leasing the beds to the state.   Currently, nearly ten percent of American prisons fall under the private prison jurisdiction.  Prisons, which compared to their public counterparts, have a higher level of violence and corruption and a lower level of health care services and educational programs. 

However even though Latinos are incarcerated for minor drug offenses at a disparate rate, most Hispanic prison sentences come as a result of immigration crimes, particularly illegal crossing and alien smuggling.  As per the Pew Research Center, among all Hispanics sentenced in federal courts since 2007, 48% were sentenced for immigration offenses, 37% for drug offenses and 15% for other offenses. What’s perhaps more interesting to note is that immigration crimes, unlike most other criminal offenses, fall under the jurisdiction of federal prisons rather than state or local courts, therefore they are always tried as Federal offenses.  The average sentence for immigration crimes is currently two years.

The overcrowding of prisons, particularly by people of color and particularly for non-violent crimes, has become such a problem that many politicians are beginning to take note. In reaction to current events, 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton recently proposed an end to mass incarceration, calling for a re-evaluation of prison sentences and trust between police and communities.   New Attorney General, Loretta Lynch’s stance however is still pretty much undefined.  Yet the numbers are hard to ignore.  The United States is only 5% of the World’s population, but 25% of its prison system, a system that costs us upwards of $80 billion a year.  It’s clearer now more than ever that our criminal justice system needs some serious reform.

Originally Published in LatinTrends Magazine, June 2015

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Gambling on Hope

Fresh faced and wide eyed, I arrived in the Dominican Republic.  It was my first time visiting in years. 

The first person I wanted to see was my favorite cousin, Tati. 

“Let’s surprise her at work” my aunt suggested. 

“Let’s go!”  I beamed, “Where does she work?”

“Right up the block, in la banca

I looked to where my aunt was pointing, there wasn’t a bank in sight. 

“No, not a banco, a banca” my aunt said. 

“Oh yes, of course” I nodded, pretending to know the difference…

Bancas are small betting parlors found most prominently in the Dominican Republic. They process almost all types of gambling activity, from the national lottery to wagers on athletic competitions.  Sport Bancas accept bets on local sports, as well as American athletic leagues such as Baseball (MLB), Basketball (NBA), Football (NFL) and even hockey (NHL)!

Bancas are usually very small in size but stand out due to their brightly colored storefronts, painted in cheerful shades of greens, blues and yellows.  Inside, they are inhabited by a single clerk, who sits behind a glass window typing away in the computer used to record the bets.

Bancas are a fairly new phenomenon, with the majority emerging around 2006.  By this estimate, most bancas are not even 10 years old.  But boy have they spread quickly!

In the Dominican Republic alone, there are about 30,750 legal betting parlors.  However, it is estimated that there is a similar figure of illegal establishments, bringing the total number to a little over 60,000 bancas in the country.  In some areas, there are two or more bancas in a single street block, disregarding the law that states that Bancas must be located more than 400 meters apart. 

Setting up a banca requires a permit, which may be expensive and difficult to obtain.  Illegal bancas are more profitable for their owners because by setting up shop without a permit, they can keep most of the profit for themselves. 

Dominicans wager about RD $300 million pesos, or the equivalent of $70 million US dollars on betting parlors a day.   And this figure only accounts for the legal parlors.  Assuming that the same figure is staked on illegal parlors, it can be said, as noted by Dominican news source, Dominican Today, that Dominicans are currently spending over RD $600 million pesos or $140 million American Dollars on gambling activities each day.

Let that sink in…

In a country characterized by poverty, where unemployment is currently at 15% and about 41% of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day, people are gambling the equivalent of the listing price of the most expensive mansion in the Hamptons on a daily basis.  

Illicit gambling activity is not just limited to the Dominican Republic. Gambling is a growing problem in all of Latin America.  Largely in part due to lax gambling laws and regulations, many Latin American countries are plagued by illegal street lotteries, unauthorized use of slot machines and a wide array of both legal and illegal casinos.

In Chile, for example, recent years have seen a boom in illegal slot machine parlors, known as neighborhood slots.  There are about 150,000 slot machines accessible in local storefronts, even though the law restricts their use to casinos only.  A similar issue occurs in Uruguay, where there are about 20,000 illegal machines located in neighborhood businesses nationwide.   In Mexico, an estimated 107 of the nation’s casinos currently operate without a license.

Not surprisingly, gambling is a source of big money in these countries.  Illegal slot machines in Uruguay generate an estimated $170 million a year, not counting the $240 million generated by legal slot machines.  A Latin American Gaming & Gambling Report published by Research and Markets in 2011, estimated that if the legal and illegal gaming activities of Latin America were combined, they would generate over $150 billion dollars in revenue a year. 

But who is this money going to?  Certainly NOT to the people making the bets, that’s for sure.

Studies show that people who live in poverty gamble at a higher rate than those who are better off.  It should come as no surprise then, that Bancas and gambling establishments like them, are most abundant in poor neighborhoods.  Neighborhoods in which you may not find a paved road to walk in but you can expect to find several colorful betting parlors only steps apart. 

So why do these people, who for all intents and purposes do not have the means to do so, continue to gamble? Are they stupid?  Are they lazy? Or are they just people like you and I, driven by hope?  Hope that things will get better. That luck will finally be on their side.  That one day, “van a pegar una” and they will make it big.  At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all hope for?

Originally Published in LatinTrends Magazine, May 2015