If you're in the 40-to-55 age group and concerned about your job prospects and retirement investments, chances are that you've been awaiting the U.S. Commerce Department's latest data on economic growth. Those numbers were just released this morning, and while the picture definitely is getting better, the question economists are asking is whether the economy is improving fast enough.
The good news is that the economy definitely is on the rise, with the nation's Gross Domestic Product rising in the fourth quarter of 2011 at an estimated annual rate of 2.8 percent. That's up from 1.8 percent in the third quarter, and it's the biggest surge the nation has seen in the past one-and-a-half years. Additionally, exports of goods and services increased 4.7 percent in Q4, another sign that economic growth is picking up. For the first time, the nation's economy has regained the size that it had before the recession of 2008-2009.
In an age of online job applications, many people think that mid-life job changers don't have to submit a cover letter with a resume because harried human-resources staff won't have time to read it.
But nothing could be further from the truth. Done right, a cover letter can hook an HR staffer or hiring manager from the opening sentence, especially the letter articulates why you're qualified for the job, what you can do for the company's bottom line or who you already know there who could vouch for your awesomeness.
I'm a little embarrassed to admit it now, but when Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was released in the U.S. in 2008, I chose not to buy it, despite all the glowing newspaper reviews and the raves from friends who said it was the equal of Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park. I couldn't get my head around the idea of a detective novel set in Sweden, a nation I associated with strong coffee, lingonberry jam and difficult-to-assemble chairs from Ikea rather than grisly crimes, sordid secrets and suspense. After someone loaned me a copy, though, I belatedly enlisted in the legion of Larsson fans who made the late author's three novels -- and the movies based on them, including the current English-language version of Dragon Tattoo with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara -- into an international phenomenon.
But after reading Jan-Erik Pettersson's Stieg Larsson: The Real Story of the Man Who Played With Fire, I no longer feel so foolish. Pettersson informs readers that an acquisitions editor at the Swedish publishing company to whom Larsson initially sent Dragon Tattoo and its sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire, returned the manuscripts unread with a generic rejection letter attached. I'm guessing that unnamed editor has spent a lot of sleepless nights, mentally calculating the bonanza that he or she passed up. (According to Larsson's official website, his books have sold 63 million copies worldwide.)
This week was full of encouraging news for midlife athletes determined to avoid the creeping decrepitude once considered an inevitable part of one's forties, fifties and the years beyond. Initially, I was cheered by 40-year-old swimming sensation Janet Evans qualifying for the Olympic trials in both the 800-meter and 400-meter freestyle events nearly a quarter-century after her heroics in the 1988 games in Seoul. But Evans' defiance of the supposed limitations of age was followed by other news dispatches that suggest the rest of us can emulate her example.
Case in point: University of New Hampshire researchers' surprising discovery that regular runners in their sixties can match the efficiency -- that is, economy at utilizing oxygen to maintain a given running pace -- of athletes 30 or more years younger, even though they take in less oxygen. The study also found that older runners tended to have weaker muscles and less flexibility, which explained why it seemed harder for them to run as fast as their younger counterparts. But UNH associate professor Timothy Quinn, lead author of the study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, explains that those problems can be improved with more time in the weight room and on the yoga mat. "It doesn't take a lot to maintain strength," he says. "We need to set up programs that enhance strength....they'll be better runners for it."
Time to fess up.
When I'm grocery shopping and get to the meat department, I start at the bargain bin.
Shopping at warehouse stores can save a lot of money, but if you're only feeding one or two people, do you really need a dozen boxes of oatmeal or 20 pounds of potatoes? Here are four ideas for making bulk shopping work for you, even if you don't have a house full of people.
1. Use your freezer.
Chest freezers aren't just for large households. Even if you live alone, consider investing in a freezer because it will allow you to make bulk purchases and keep all kinds of food fresh long beyond the "use by" date on the package. Beyond fruits, vegetables and meats, you can even freeze flour, baking mix, cornmeal, bread and milk. So buy extras of these items when they're on sale and freeze them until you need them.
Hanna Phan (left) did everything career experts tell you to do when you're job hunting, including setting up her profile on job boards, scouring online job listings and interviewing with recruiters. Nothing worked.
That's when Phan, a presentation design specialist, decided to take her job search down a more unconventional path. She scrapped her traditional resume in favor of an interactive one that she created using software from SlideRocket, one of the companies where she wanted to work.
If you watched the 1988 Summer Olympics on TV, you'll remember the heroics of a 17-year-old distance swimmer named Janet Evans, whose lack of stature -- five feet four inches and 99 pounds -- and unorthodox (though surprisingly efficient) windmill stroke made her look like an unlikely champion.
But those seeming flaws were outweighed by seemingly inexhaustible endurance and an intense will to win, and the diminutive Southern Californian with the gigantic smile came home from Seoul with three gold medals. Evans went back to the Olympics in 1992 and won another gold, and then competed again in 1996, when she was honored by being chosen to hand the Olympic torch to Muhammad Ali. It was the pinnacle of an athletic career in which she set three world and six American records and earned a spot in the International Swimming Hall of Fame. After swimming, she went on to success as an author, corporate motivational speaker and reality TV show participant.
With the job market more competitive than ever, job hunters are forced to become more savvy. In fact, 77 percent of job seekers now use mobile job search apps to land new gigs, according to a recent Mashable.com survey.
Luckily, there are tons of great on-the-go tools available that not only give you an edge, but also guide you through every step of the employment search process.
Last week's announcement that the unemployment rate dipped to 8.5 percent was welcome news, but this may be even better: Bloomberg News reports that companies are hiring increasing numbers of new workers as executives rush to prepare for greater demand as the economy recovers.
The employers adding staff in droves range from Boeing, which is hiring 100 new union machinists each week in anticipation of boosting its output of aircraft by 60 percent over the next two years, to yogurt maker Chobani, which is hiring 300 workers to staff a new plant in Idaho, according to Bloomberg's Thomas Black.