The Pay-stubs Don’t Lie

By Gao Yang

So, you got the job! The only thing left to dread is the bore of orientation and that horrid stack of official paperwork waiting for your countless signatures­—quite the initiation!  After a few days of training, you’re on your way to your first paycheck. But what does a paycheck really mean? Current earnings, hours worked, tax adjustments – considering that it’s all listed quite systematically, all of this must be important. Unfortunately, too many people skip right to the net pay line and disregard the rest.

For decades, there has been serious controversy over a tax that is automatically deducted from our paychecks. When started in the late 1930s, the Social Security Act seemed to be a valid solution for decreasing poverty in old age. However, Alicia H. Munnel’s reports from Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research have caused many to realize that social security income is becoming obsolete.

This sparks the question: Should U.S. workers be allowed to invest their Social Security earnings in private investment accounts?  U.S. workers pay into the Social Security fund and employers must equally match that amount.  Why can’t workers take their earnings and invest them in accounts that will give them higher yields?  In reality, social security tax is not a retirement fund.  Taxes paid in now are being paid out almost immediately to those currently in retirement and other social programs.  When current workers retire, funds disbursed will be based on the future contributions of future workers, in addition to future market trends.  The concept is simple.  We pay into the social security fund now to help support our retired seniors, hoping that future generations will do the same for us.  According to Karen A. Zurlo from Rutgers School of Social Work in the State of New Jersey, ongoing debate over the disbursement of Medicare and Social Security funds gives U.S. workers a reason to want more control over their retirement.  However, diminishing the Social Security System would logically put many at risk for not having any retirement income.

If you’re lucky, that stack of official paperwork due at orientation contains information on retirement plans.  The page is probably titled “Setting up Your 401(k).”  So many proceed without investigating how it works, how much to contribute, or how retirement accounts grow. After speaking with financial advisors, human resource specialists, and tax accountants, 401(k)s seem no more than an off-limits savings account with more cons than pros.

According to Zurlo, the past 30 years have shown a shift from defined benefit packages to individual contribution plans offered in the workplace.  As more employers push workers to take on defined contribution plans, findings show that employees are unknowingly taking the loss. Contrary to popular belief, 401(k)s and IRAs are not the only retirement accounts out there.  Clients are taking advantage of annuities and life insurance products, which also gain interest and give payouts. However, due to legal terminology, only certain accounts can be marketed as retirement tools, leaving citizens unaware of such non-traditional options.

Unlike Social Security tax, retirement plans are optional.  According to Teresa Ghilarducci, director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School for Social Research, 60% of workers in New York do not have access to a pension or 401(k).  Many small businesses can’t afford to fund retirement plans. Andrew Ujifusa, a reporter on education policy, writes that in 2012, the Teacher’s Retirement System in Illinois only had enough funds to cover 40% of its liabilities. Legislators in the state of Illinois proposed closing pension plans to new teachers.  Such occurrences explain why Zurlo’s report show workers desperate to retire are willingly taking the loss of defined contribution plans.

The general lack of knowledge about retirement vehicles on the market serves as a reason to keep our Social Security system. Too many are already underprepared for retirement. Keeping a standard Social Security tax is a fair precaution taken to ensure that those without retirement in mind have some monetary support when they can no longer work.  However, the quality of one’s retirement is still his or her responsibility.  The next time you skip to the net pay line, remember that what you see is truly what you get. Your investment is already in your hands.

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The History of Invulnerability— a play for the pensive

Photo obtained from Milwaukee Rep Theatre

My husband and I had the privilege of attending the theatrical production The History of Invulnerability on Saturday, April 26, 2014 at the Milwaukee Repertoire Theatre.  We arrived 15 minutes early and managed to obtain a pair of tickets at a discount.  Our seats were half-way down the theatre next to the aisle, off to the right of the stage.  Though our seats might have been undesirable for another show, the sound effects, visual effects, and movement of the cast on stage made the production picturesque from almost any angle—compliments to artistic director Mark Clements for a visually enjoyable show.

My husband and I walked out of the theatre satisfied and with much to discuss in regard to the amount of detail that went into the script.  After having such a great experience, I read a few professional reviews with my colleagues.  Apparently, The History of Invulnerability wasn’t scripted well at all in the eyes of local critics.  The truth is the plot was very developed.  Though the story follows main character Jerry Siegel through his struggle as a writer to surpass his past acclaim with Super-Man, viewers can follow the plot through historical content, Biblical context, and man-versus-self conflict.  The play itself brings up subjects of morality, the human need to fantasize, and how corporations can exploit art.  As an account of Jerry Siegel’s life, The History of Invulnerability shows us the scorn of a writer gone discredited and his three-dimensional character with appropriateness and explanation for his lifetime of actions.

This production is not a laid-back, easily digestible play.  It takes focus and perhaps an additional amount of outside knowledge to appreciate The History of Invulnerability as a well-synthesized work.  As we all have differences in taste, it is safe to say that not everybody will like this production.

Volunteerism: Joseph’s Bowls Supper Event

By Gao Yang
josephsbowlssupperEarlier this month, my husband and I volunteered at the second annual Joseph’s Bowls Supper, held at St. Joseph Center on south Layton boulevard. Hosted by the School Sisters of St. Francis, the main event consisted of a soup dinner and ceramic auction.  The second floor of St. Joseph Center was transformed into an art gallery.  Those who attended the event were able to take their favorite displays home with a suggested $25 donation.  The ceramic bowls were donated by girl scouts, art students, churches, artists, and many others from within and surrounding Milwaukee community.

The funds collected benefit four non-profit projects at local, national, and global levels:

  1. St. Josaphat Basilica Food Pantryserving 50 families a week in Milwaukee, WI
  2. Casa Alexia Missionserving 55 families monthly in both El Paso, TX and Juarez, Mexico
  3. Guadalupe Homes Orphanageserving more than 60 orphaned and abandoned children and teens in Santa Apolonia, Guatemala
  4. Asha Bhavan Center serving 25 abandoned/destitute women in Bangalore, India

This year, soup choices for the annual Joseph’s Bowls Supper included chicken-vegetable, bacon and bean, and tomato-basil.  I loved the selection of bread, which ranged from wheat to homemade cherry-walnut.  A wide variety of desserts were also provided.  The hesitation at the end of the dinner line over brownies, cookie bars, and granola-peanut butter creations was the only complication that night.

For two hours, my husband and I served water and coffee in the dining room—nothing too difficult, just smile and pour.  Volunteers included Alverno Artourage members, Alverno Alumni, Shorewood highschool students, and many friends and family of St. Joseph Center.

As I reflect on this experience, I can’t refrain from expanding on the idea of volunteerism.  How often do people stress out over little details that minutely affect daily life?  How many activities do others let pass them by for lack of monetary gain? Shifting focus from my own life to a cause was a great way to step aside from my self-induced stress and remember that there is a whole world of worries out in the world worth caring about.

artourageJosBowlsSupperEvent

How Acting Skills can Change Your Life

By Gao Yang

dramainRealLifeCurrently, I am taking a beginning course in theater to fulfill my undergrad requirements.  Coincidentally, most of my classmates are doing just the same.  I often notice how detached my colleagues are during certain discussions on the techniques and styles of acting.  It makes me wonder if they realize the practicality of acting and how relevant it is in everyday life.

I can clearly recall the strong introduction I made while taking my first acting class in high school.  All of the students were directed to state their name and the reason why they chose to take acting.  Displaying my bold personality, I revealed that I was looking for an easy class to cover an English credit, and I thought acting would help me to become a better liar.  The class replied in applauding laughter.  Though my statements were very entertaining, my words were based on the reality that I was actually having a hard time transitioning into young adulthood.  I viewed acting as the perfect opportunity to learn how to control and depict emotion.

Years after graduating from high school, I dove into the insurance industry as a captive agent.  The company that I worked for sent new-hires off in boatloads to their version of sales school.  I drove myself to Illinois for a two-week stay at a luxurious hotel.  There, I spent my time memorizing a binder of scripted sales pitches and encoding the journals of the company founder.  When other employees realized how quickly I memorized the sales scripts, they asked me what my secret was.  Before I knew it, I was teaching everyone about acting cues, algorithms, and body posture.

In theory, we all “act” every day.  We mimic each other, depict emotion, and try to alter our attitudes.  It is a simple survival technique to try to manipulate results and manage human interaction.  I hope that each of my current classmates will soon have an “Aha!-moment” during one of our meeting sessions.  After all, isn’t education all about discovery?  Life is about discovery! So the next time you have an opportunity to take an acting class, don’t shy away.

How to Pick Classes for Next Semester

By Gao Yang
wpid-IMG_20140320_090640.jpgI took advantage of meeting with my peer advisor a week ago.  She had some really wonderful insight to share on balancing work, children, and school.  It is important to not only have a vision but also a plan of action that works with your current and anticipated lifestyle.  If you are as concerned about having a balanced lifestyle as I am, you’ll know how important it is to set up the right class schedule.

 

Many colleges and universities will soon be opening up fall course options for viewing.  During the luncheon, my peer advisor stressed the importance of completing prerequisites.  Make sure to familiarize yourself with the required coursework to finishing your degree and keep up to date on the completion status of each course.

 

Most colleges and universities allow students to view their academic progress online, listing coursework in order of rigor.  Write down the course numbers of classes appearing right after completed/in progress courses.  You will probably have to take those classes before going on to the ones listed below it anyway.  Use the list of course numbers you make to search for next semester’s classes for a broad idea of what will be available in the fall.  Also communicate with your academic advisor and let him/her know about your life outside of school, including family and work obligations.

 

I just emailed my academic advisor a potential fall schedule for review.  The hands-on experience in searching for classes makes me confident that I will be getting the richest and personally-tailored experience.

Fun Home Decorating Tools to Play With

Autodesk Homestyler Review

by Gao Yang

homestylerinlaws3DHave you put off decorating a living space for too long?  Maybe you are just dreading visits to the home improvement store.  It is common to put off a decorating venture because of the overwhelming choices in paint colors, fabric swatches, and flooring options, but don’t leave that undone living space to neglect just yet!  I have been using an online interior decorating tool for almost two years now, and it might just be your foot in the door for smooth sailing.

As any project, getting started can be the hardest part.  One way to get over this hump in decorating is to start narrowing down your selection by color and themes.  Here are a list of questions you’ll want to answer and/or think about:

  • Do I already have furniture or other items that I want to use?
  • What color scheme do I want work with?
  • What will I use this space for?
  • How do I want to move in this space?

To get started, you will need to first measure the room or area that you want to redo.  Get the dimensions for not only all walls, but windows, doors, and wall openings as well.  Also, don’t forget to measure the distances between windows, doors, and wall openings.  You can record all of this on graph paper or carefully draw a diagram using a ruler.

homestylerinlawsLR2DWhen you start inputting your design on the Autodest Homestyler, expect the software to have a few glitches.  When it comes to dimensions, not all walls, doors, and gaps are going to be perfect.  Remember that the software is a starting point for summarizing your abstract ideas, not an exact portrayal of what your room is going to look like at completion.

To use the homestyler software, you will need to create an account with your email.  It’s quick and easy—no email verification needed.  Since it is online software, you don’t have to download anything.  The best part about the website is that it’s absolutely free.

I would rate the Autodesk Homestyler as a great online tool for any home renovation or interior decorating project.  It has saved me several trips to the home improvement store.  Anyone can utilize it—whether to create a blank floor plan reference or to build an imaginary mansion!

Try Autodesk Homestyler today!