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Staff Editorials

Invest now or cry later

Some people don’t want to stop working. They retire, piddle around a few months, get bored, then get a job to keep them occupied. But other people – most people we’d argue – don’t want to work after 65, into their 70s and even 80s. 

But the way Americans are saving for retirement, which is dismally poor by recent studies, people who don’t want to work may have to. With the holiday shopping season in high gear, money is on the brain. It’s a good time to remember that buying gifts and splurging at times can be fun - but without saving and planning now, the forecast for your golden years could be grim. 

ClarkHoward.com reports that 94 percent of seniors polled said the advice they  would like to give to younger people is to start saving earlier, save more during their career, find small ways to save that add up, and maximize work retirement programs – advice we should all take before it’s too late. Proponents for the local Seniors for Change movement, the group that wants to increase senior tax exemptions in Pickens County, argue that seniors on fixed incomes can’t afford to pay their property taxes, which is true in many cases (although not only seniors on fixed incomes would benefit from the additional exemptions).

 

Here are a few stats: 

•One out of every three Americans has zero dollars saved for retirement, ZERO, which means they would rely totally on Social Security payouts. A GoBankingRates Retirement Rates survey found that of those who do save, 55 percent have less than $10,000.  

 

•The average monthly retirement benefit is $1,371, or $16,452 per year. The overall maximum monthly Social Security benefit (which Money.com reports only six percent of people qualify) of those retiring at 65 in 2017 is $2,687, or $32,000 for the year. 

 

•People are living longer. According to the Social Security Administration, "About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, and one out of 10 will live past age 95. That means if you retire at 65, you might need money to live on for 25 years or more. 

What are we wasting our money on? 

Somewhere along the line, the American attitude about what’s required to live a decent life shifted. Older generations made things last and worked decades to build up to a new house or car. These days people want the big, fully-furnished house and expensive car right after they get married (with the average wedding now costing over $25,000), among other luxuries.

Here are just a few of the items we waste money on, in addition to things like lottery tickets, entertainment, clothes and other retail shopping, alcohol, and cigarettes:  

 

•Eating out and food waste: For giggles (or sobs) check out your bank statement one month and add up how much you spend on restaurants. Let’s say you spend $10 a day on lunch/dinner and $3 a day on a coffee/snack at the gas station. Over the course of a year that’s $4,745 for one person (The max contribution to a 401k is $5,500 if you’re under 50). This amount doesn’t even include what’s wasted throwing out food that could be eaten the next day as leftovers – which in America is estimated to be almost half.   

 

•Vehicles: The average cost of a new vehicles are on the rise, with the average now at $34,000 according to Kelly Blue Book. A NY Times report found that new cars are typically too expensive for the typical family, but they still buy them. The average term for a new-car loan is now 68 months, with some loans stretching as long as seven years.

 

We’re not advocating for super couponing or never splurging on entertainment or vacations – but with all our spending and dismal savings it’s in our best interest to put away now so we won’t be crying later.

Flirting or abuse?

By Angela Reinhardt

Staff writer

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I don’t watch the Today Show, but before Matt Lauer was fired over sexual harassment allegations the image I had of him was that of a genial, boyish, All-American-type I enjoyed seeing cover the Olympics.   

At first all we had was the vague “sexual assault” claim, then details emerged – in one incident he pulled down his pants and showed his genitals to a woman, then berated her for not engaging. All allegations of course, but when I found a video of Lauer looking down his co-host’s shirt telling her, “Pretty sweater. Keep bending over like that. I like that view,” I was convinced the guy is a jerk - not at all who I’d imagined.  

Many people are calling the rapid-fire toppling of high-powered men a sexual revolution and a sea of change in our nation’s history. I’ve personally tried to take the allegations a case at a time, while being hopeful positive changes can come from it. Just last week, for example, a rape charge against a man was thrown out in local courts. I also recall covering a story about a local professor after he was exonerated from sexual assault charges a few years ago - false allegations have and will be made. But the truth is sexual harassment and assault are real, and we can use this historic moment to keep the momentum going by talking to our kids and implementing and enforcing protocols in the workplace. 

The only problem is sex is complicated and emotionally charged, and solutions aren’t clear cut for men or women. 

Matt Lauer’s termination came up with some male friends last week, one of whom said his acts and those of comedian Louis C.K., who admitted to getting nude and performing certain acts in front of two non-consenting women, were so outrageous he didn’t see how they could be true. 

I relayed a few of the experiences I’ve had to put things into perspective for my male friend. When I worked at a golf club in another county, a man I’d never met offered me several hundred dollars to flash him on the back nine. It was completely unprovoked. I hadn’t been flirting and wasn’t wearing skimpy clothing. I’ve also had a man forcibly put my hand on his genitals. When I refused to engage him, he told me I was uptight, and made a few explicit comments trying to guilt me into sex. 

The #MeToo movement shows that most women have experiences of their own.

My son overheard me talking about the wave of allegations and asked what was happening. I told him, “Men with very powerful positions are getting in trouble because they abused and touched women when they didn’t want to be touched.” He said that was awful and shook his head, then after a second said, “Well, all those girl pop singers who sing about wanting to be touched, I guess they don’t mean it.”  

My son is in middle school and doesn’t know anything, or much of anything other than vague concepts, about sex or intimacy. In his prepubescent 11-year-old brain I could see how he would make that connection, and his observation is valid and touches on this idea that women who tease and flirt are asking for it. My friend, and other men, have wondered what led to those instances like Lauer and Louis C.K., where men felt it was okay to pull out their privates. Was everyone drunk? Did the woman initiate flirting? But there’s a difference between flirting and genuine abuse, and men should know what’s what, and when to stop. 

Like the LA Times’ Cathy Young, I’m concerned about the sterilization of healthy flirting and courtship in the workplace, and men who fear that “careers may be destroyed over minor misconduct and ambiguous transgressions.” I certainly wouldn’t want to live in a “sterile society,” as one NY Times reporter questioned if that’s not where we’re headed. For the time being, I’m going to talk to my kids in hopes of changing the future landscape to one that’s not devoid of sex (where’s the fun in that?), to one where there is “nuance,’ as Ms. Young writes, where we distinguish between healthy flirting, “abuse, minor bad behavior, and innocent miscommunication.” 

Thanksgiving and New Year's holiday editorial duo

What we are thankful for

 

• With a decisive 42-13 win against Kentucky Saturday, we are extremely thankful that for the first time in years, Georgia is a true contender for a SEC title and still in the hunt for a national championship. Fingers crossed Dawgs.

• While not publicly open yet, the fact that Pickens is about to be on the region’s outdoor recreation map with a top-notch mountain biking trail is surely a delightful blessing. Even if you don’t intend to ride it, know that this trail, west of Highway 515 at the Gilmer line, is a big step in tourism. 

• Money is not exactly falling from the sky in Pickens County, but by all accounts businesses and people are doing better this year than they have in a decade. Jobs are out there; people are buying; commerce is being transacted. After so many years of stagnant growth, the uptick of 2017 is something to be thankful for. 

• Sweatpants and elastic waistbands, especially around 2 p.m. this Thanksgiving Day, something we look forward to.

• For people that keep traditions alive. Traditions are valuable all year round, but are especially important during the holiday season when we gather for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other special holidays. But traditions don’t just happen, people make them happen. There are leaders in every family, group of friends, or community who make the effort to make sure those special dinners, reunions, festivals, and other special events go on every year and we’re grateful for that. 

• Better transparency in the school system. Since Dr. Carlton Wilson was hired as school superintendent there has been noticeable improvement to communication and more openness about happenings in our schools. We’re also thankful that he and the school board are considering outside-of-the-box solutions for important items like phasing out the Jasper Middle School campus and the school calendar. 

• An out of town tour bus driver with a group up for the Marble Fest was shocked when someone told him it’d be okay to leave his bus in a Nelson street. We’re thankful to live in a small town where people still feel comfortable leaving their doors unlocked and vehicles in the street, ocassionally. 

Happy Thanksgiving 

from the Progress 

 

Time is of the essence for New Year’s celebration decision

 

Regardless of the verdict, a decision is needed on Jasper’s New Year’s celebration 2017. Like trying to plan a party, you can’t dilly-dally on deciding who brings the fruit-punch. Now, multiply this to a city-wide scale and you surely can’t wait until the last moment for a street celebration. We worry it’s already  too late to reverse the cancellation.

The Jasper Merchants Association leaders are working their hardest to see that our New Year’s eve bash makes it into the fifth year. The obstacles are sizeable in organizing the downtown celebration – manpower to set up/take down  the stage, finding entertainment, arranging security, clean-up after midnight,   not to mention fireworks, a ball or something to mark the end of 2017.

It looks insurmountable unless the Jasper council, who voted to not fund it themselves, jumps back on board and even if they do, it still looks like a daunting task given we’ll be less than a month away when a decision is reached.

The council is not scheduled to meet again until December 4, with this item  on that agenda. We encourage them to have a special meeting ASAP and give a go/no-go answer.

In their defense, the Jasper council has probably not been asked to convene a special meeting (until now) and put this issue to rest, but time is of the essence to determine if the big party on January 31st will happen or not. 

The council has held other special meetings and this is a case where every day counts. If the merchants manage to bring this back to life, let’s give them as much time as possible to make it a success.

Our opinion mirrors the mayor’s (see page 1 story). If the private group can do it well, let’s party. But it’s better to have nothing than something so rushed that it presents a poor image of the town.

Follow this link for an article about Jasper Merchant's Association's efforts to keep the event going this year. 

Yes, it’s another shop local editorial

To the chagrin of public radio listeners, not-for-profit broadcasting stations hold their torturous pledge drives every year - and every year staff members are forced to dig down deep and find creative ways to come at it from a fresh angle to get you to donate. 

These drives are similar to our shop local editorials, which we feel compelled to pull out this time of year to encourage people to keep their holiday dollars in town – but how to get the same old not-very-exciting-but-extremely-important topic to catch peoples’ attention? We don’t have This American Life’s Ira Glass cold-calling a longtime listener to ask why she hasn’t supported the station; we don’t have Alec Baldwin to offer on-air personalities as gifts for new pledge levels for “people who make as much money as I do” - but we do have some facts that are striking and relevant for this shopping season. 

First, we’re going to pick on Amazon, the online retail giant where Business Insider reported 43 percent of all online sales were made in 2016.

•Amazon Prime is super convenient, but consider this – according to a study by Institute for Local Self Reliance, for every $10 million sold through Amazon it employs just 19 people. In contrast, independent retailers create 47 jobs for every $10 million spent. 

•The study also points out that Amazon also doesn’t have distribution centers in most communities, which means it doesn’t pay property taxes. Local brick-and-mortar shops do, so they support the local community by paying taxes that support schools and governments. The more spent through Amazon means less property tax money comes from business, which means more will have to be shouldered by homeowners.

•Amazon also isn’t involved in local communities like our small businesses are – they don’t donate to local charities or sports teams.

•If you buy in a locally-owned store, you get to talk to a real person who will likely give you good customer service.  

There are plenty of other reasons to shop local this holiday season, outside of curtailing the power of the online monolith.  

•According to the Andersonville Study of Retail Economics, local business generates 70 percent more local economic activity per square foot than big box retail.

•Of every $100 spent at an independent retailer, $68 remains in the local economy. For big box retailers, just $48 stays in the local economy. 

•We want our community to be unique, don’t we? If we don’t support local businesses that give our communities character the country will turn into a homogenous blob where every city looks the same. 

•While we most definitely support our independent shops over the mega retailers, it’s better to shop at big box stores in your community than shopping online. That sales tax money stays in town. 

•Again, sales tax money collected in our communities stay in our communities. Case-in-point, the school system’s finance officer has been thrilled with higher-than-average local SPLOST collections, up nearly $50,000 from monthly collections earlier this year. She attributes it to cars being purchased at local dealerships. That $50,000 is going directly to support our school system. Other governments are enjoying increased collections as well. More sales tax money to support our government means less of a burden on property owners. 

•Gifts you buy from independent shops are so much more interesting than big box stores. Many local retailers have items that are made locally.  

Creative ways to shop local:

•Gift cards are always nice to receive, but consider giving gifts cards from independent restaurants and shops instead of the big guys. 

•The Jasper Farmers Market has two more indoor markets on December 9th and December 23rd. This is a great place for locally made crafts. These are held at the Pickens County Chamber of Commerce. 

•Antique stores are often overlooked for holiday shopping, but are treasure troves for unique gifts. 

This holiday we’re going to try keep our dollars local so our community can thrive. We hope you will too. 

Happy shopping! 

 

Fighting the plastic shopping bag menace

The thing about plastic shopping bags is they are so darn good at their intended purpose: A super-efficient way to get your goods home from Walmart or the farmers market.

What is convenient for a moment, however, is a problem for centuries: How to get rid of the mounds of plastic bags?

According to figures found widely online: 

• In the U.S. alone, 100 billion of the bags are used each year.

• The average lifespan of each bag is 20 minutes -- one commute.

• 60-100 million barrels of oil are used each year to produce the world’s supply of bags.

• The bags are projected to take 400 to 1,000 years to decompose. There is no exact science on this. When you are talking 10 centuries, the bags could outlast the species that created them – a bunch of bags and Styrofoam cups floating in the cosmos after the earth is gone.

Industry groups that produce the bags are quick to point out that they are easily recyclable. Most stores have convenient drop-off bins and will take old bags from competing stores.

The proponents of the bags also note that many bags have a second life as  trash can liners or other uses. Apparently 90 percent of all consumers in an industry-funded survey say they re-use at least some of the bags.

The problem, according to the critics, stems directly from what makes them so economical, they are generally designed for a single use – the handles rip, they tear easily. They are great at getting one load of groceries home, but would you load them down a second or third time?

Conscientious shoppers take care to get the bags back to the recycling bin, but if the plastic bags get loose outside, they are light enough to take flight and wind up where the breeze takes them, often into storm drains in cities and very often into oceans and frequently into the stomachs of large sea creatures.

In 2014, plastic grocery bags were the seventh most common item collected during the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup.

While we don’t have a coastline here, think how often you see one of those bags tangled up in bushes at the parks, blowing down roadsides or half-buried at some open site.

Bringing the bag-hordes under control is a matter of all consumers accepting less convenience in their lifestyle -- something not very common.

Environmentalists who recognize the problem with the plastic acknowledge there is no easy substitute. Bags made of any other products (wood-pulp paper, cotton or fibers) come with a whole different set of issues due to the volume of bags needed to meet the world’s needs. 

One person joked online that the liberals are already well-positioned to make a change in bag-behavior as they can use all those tote-bags given by public television stations during fund-drives.

Many cities and some countries are adding taxes to the bags or requiring stores to charge for them, which has produced a corresponding amount of whining, but also a substantial drop in the usage.

Britain introduced a small charge at stores in 2015, leading to a plunge of more than 80 percent in the use of plastic bags, according to an article in the Guardian. Think about it this way, if you are buying a drink and candy bar would you really pay another dime for a bag to carry them to the car?

New York City, Los Angeles and at least 100 other smaller U.S. municipalities have some kind of punitive tax or rule in place to discourage single-user plastic bags.

Poorer countries have taken a lead in the fight to eliminate plastic bag litter by banning them. Both Rwanda and Kenya have draconian laws prohibiting the bags entirely – partly because the countries lack efficient garbage services and people there can literally see the scope of the waste as it buries vacant land.

Some combination of education and additional costs would prod consumers to realize you don’t need to bag every single item you purchase. Rather than imposing harsh rules or bans, if consumers recognized the impact of taking the bags and then throwing them in the trash immediately when they get home, maybe we can all cut back voluntarily.

Keep in mind those plastic goblins must go somewhere and wherever they wind up, they are there to stay forever.