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Monday, June 29, 2015

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

This Day in History - The Statue of Liberty Arrives in New York Harbor

On this day (June 17) in 1885, the dismantled State of Liberty, a gift of friendship from the people of France to the people of America, arrives in New York Harbor after being shipped across the Atlantic Ocean in 350 individual pieces packed in more than 200 cases. The copper and iron statue, which was reassembled and dedicated the following year in a ceremony presided over by U.S. President Grover Cleveland, became known around the world as an enduring symbol of freedom and democracy.

Intended to commemorate the American Revolution and a century of friendship between the U.S. and France, the statue was designed by French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi (who modeled it after his own mother), with assistance from engineer Gustave Eiffel, who later developed the iconic tower in Paris bearing his name. The statue was initially scheduled to be finished by 1876, the 100th anniversary of America’s Declaration of Independence; however, fundraising efforts, which included auctions, a lottery and boxing matches, took longer than anticipated, both in Europe and the U.S., where the statue’s pedestal was to be financed and constructed. The statue alone cost the French an estimated $250,000 (more than $5.5 million in today’s money).

Finally completed in Paris in the summer of 1884, the statue, a robed female figure with an uplifted arm holding a torch, reached its new home on Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor (between New York City and Hudson County, New Jersey) on June 17, 1885. After being reassembled, the 450,000-pound statue was officially dedicated on October 28, 1886, by President Cleveland, who said, “We will not forget that Liberty has here made her home; nor shall her chosen altar be neglected.” Standing more than 305 feet from the foundation of its pedestal to the top of its torch, the statue, dubbed “Liberty Enlightening the World” by Bartholdi, was taller than any structure in New York City at the time. The statue was originally copper-colored, but over the years it underwent a natural color-change process called patination that produced its current greenish-blue hue.

In 1892, Ellis Island, located near Bedloe’s Island (which in 1956 was renamed Liberty Island), opened as America’s chief immigration station, and for the next 62 years Lady Liberty, as the statue is nicknamed, stood watch over the more than 12 million immigrants who sailed into New York Harbor. In 1903, a plaque inscribed with a sonnet titled “The New Colossus” by American poet Emma Lazarus, written 20 years earlier for a pedestal fundraiser, was placed on an interior wall of the pedestal. Lazarus’ now-famous words, which include “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” became symbolic of America’s vision of itself as a land of opportunity for immigrants.

Some 60 years after President Calvin Coolidge designated the statue a national monument in 1924, it underwent a multi-million-dollar restoration (which included a new torch and gold leaf-covered flame) and was rededicated by President Ronald Reagan on July 4, 1986, in a lavish celebration. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the statue was closed; its base, pedestal and observation deck re-opened in 2004, while its crown re-opened to the public on July 4, 2009. (For safety reasons, the torch has been closed to visitors since 1916, after an incident called the Black Tom explosions in which munitions-laden barges and railroad cars on the Jersey City, New Jersey, waterfront were blown up by German agents, causing damage to the nearby statue.)

Today, the Statue of Liberty is one of America’s most famous landmarks. Over the years, it has been the site of political rallies and protests (from suffragettes to anti-war activists), has been featured in numerous movies and countless photographs, and has received millions of visitors from around the globe.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

How Wages Work (Part 3)

Say you just started a new job and got your first paycheck. You expected a certain amount, but this check is much smaller. What happened? Who is this FICA person, and why is he getting some of your money?

Employers are required by law to withhold some money from each paycheck in order to pay for certain taxes. These withholdings help pay for things like income tax, Social Security and Medicare.

Income Tax
Employers must withhold federal and state income taxes for employees. The amount withheld is based on a W-4 form, filled out by the employee at the start of employment, that states his or her filing status (single or married) and number of personal allowances claimed, such as the number of dependents.

Social Security Tax
Employers withhold 6.2 percent of the maximum taxable wage base, or the maximum dollar amount subject to Social Security taxes. The employer also contributes this same amount out of pocket to Social Security on your behalf. For example, let’s say you earn a salary of $45,000 a year. During the course of a year of your employment, your employer would withhold $2,790 from your paycheck and contribute an additional $2,790 for a total of $5,580 paid to Social Security. Assuming you are paid twice a month, that would mean $116.25 is subtracted from each paycheck for Social Security.

The information filled out in a W-4 form determines the amount of taxes withheld from an employee's paycheck.

Medicare & Other Taxes
Employers also pay 1.45 percent of wages for Medicare taxes and withhold 1.45 percent. Federal unemployment taxes are required for the first $7,000 paid to each employee, and Montana requires employers to pay state unemployment taxes. Unemployment tax rates vary among the states.

A summary of payroll taxes and all wages received appears on a W-2 Form, which an employer must give to an employee by January 31. The employer also files copies of this form with the IRS and with the state. Oh, and if you’re still wondering about FICA -- that stands for the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, the law that determines how much money must be paid toward Social Security and Medicare.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How Wages Work ( Part 2)

Types of Pay
Sometimes getting paid isn’t as simple as drawing a salary or getting paid by the hour. Let’s look at some of the different types of pay.

Minimum Wage
Minimum wage is a frequent topic of debate. In 2015, the federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 an hour. For the average fulltime worker, that’s only $14,500 a year, which can make supporting
oneself -- much less a family -- very difficult, especially in big cities where property values and rents are high. The inflation adjusted value of this minimum wage is the lowest amount in 50 years. Many states do have a minimum wage greater than the federal minimum. Montana has a minimum wage of $8.05.

Minimum wage laws still apply to salary workers. A salary employee’s regular rate cannot be less than the minimum wage and is calculated by dividing the salary by the number of hours for which the salary compensates. Here’s an example:
Salary: $25,000/year Hours worked: 40 hours a week * 52 weeks a year = 2080 hours Regular rate: $25,000 / 2080 hours = $12.02/hour

For information on the minimum wage in your state, check out the Department of Labor.

As long as an employee is at least 16 years old, there is no limit to how many hours an employer can require him or her to work, though overtime must be paid for all hours beyond 40 worked per week. Employees who earn a salary rather than an hourly wage and are either an executive, learned professional or a creative professional are exempt from overtime requirements. Outside sales employees, computer specialists earning at least $27.63 an hour, independent contractors, small farm employees and some others are also exempt. Overtime rules are also slightly different for police officers and fire fighters. Many states have passed legislation concerning overtime, so if you think you may be eligible for overtime pay, consult your state’s Department of Labor Web site.

Tipped Employees
The FLSA dictates that tipped employees can be paid a direct wage of $2.13 an hour on two conditions:

  • The employee earns at least $30 a month in tips.
  • The employee’s total income (tips plus wages) is no less than the federal minimum wage.
Some states have minimum wage laws for tipped employees. Others don’t allow tipped employees to be paid less than the minimum wage, no matter how much an employee earn in tips.  Montana requires that tipped employees be paid minimum wage, however Wyoming does not. 

Special Types of Pay
Wage Garnishment
When a court orders a wage garnishment, an employer withholds money from an employee’s paycheck in order to pay off a debt. This money could be withheld to pay for child support or alimony. Title III of the Consumer Credit Protection Act states that up to 50 percent of a person’s disposable earnings (earnings remaining after tax, Social Security and other deductions) can be withheld to pay child support or alimony. Up to 60 percent can be withheld for other sorts of debts, and another 5 percent can be withheld if child support or alimony payments are more than 12 weeks overdue.

A commission is a sum of money given to an employee after completing a task, such as selling goods or services. A salesperson in a clothing store may earn commission based on a percentage of his sales. An insurance broker may earn a commission dependent upon how many policies she sells or for reaching a target number of policies sold.

Commissions provide incentives for workers to be productive, but they can cause some problems. For one thing, a policy of compensation by commission can create an intensely competitive atmosphere among workers, which may actually undermine the business by creating a hostile work environment. Another concern is when employees are paid entirely by commission and don’t draw a regular wage. Not only can this method be burdensome for the employees, but it causes them to not know how much they are going to be earning from month-to-month.

Severance Pay
Severance pay is given to employees upon termination. If the termination process goes well, this can be something like a “farewell gift.” Frequently, we hear about these severance packages when large companies are forced to lay-off many employees after a major restructuring or a merger.

Severance pay is usually based on length of employment and terms set out in the employee’s initial contract. The FLSA doesn’t require employers to offer severance pay, but if you didn’t receive the severance package promised in your contract, the Employee Benefits Security Administration may be able to help.

Hazard Pay
Hazard pay is additional pay for performing dangerous or

physically demanding work. It can involve work that is potentially life threatening, such as mining, or something that causes physical discomfort or stress such as working in extreme temperatures or frequent exposure to dust and other irritants. Members of the armed forces involved in combat operations are likely eligible for hazard pay. The amount or rate of hazard pay is usually based on the hardships involved and the amount of time workers spend exposed to those conditions.